When Transformers: The Last Knight (or as I came to call it The Last Straw) trundled into multiplexes last year it wasn’t so much a case of “Autobots, Roll Out!” as “Autobots, Roll Over!”.
Overlong, overstuffed and over-shit, the nearly 3 hour behemoth couldn’t be over quick enough, taxing the patience of even this devoted Transformer fan.
To be fair, the franchise had been routinely testing my final nerve for a while now with the still, pretty kick-ass original being followed up with sequels that grew more leaden and painful with every release.
So it’s with a Cybertron-sized amount of relief that I can report that Bumblebee is most likely the best Transformers release to date and a damn good movie in it’s own right.
It turns out that to course correct such a maligned franchise all you had to do was take the first movie, wring all the Michael Bay out of it (war porn, questionable racial stereotypes, transformer genitals) and concentrate almost all the focus on the teen and her car bonding plot. A good script, good characters and a sense of restraint also helps but Bumblebee’s real secret weapon is Kubo And The Two Strings director Travis Knight, a man obviously deeply invested in the history of the 80’s toy line.
It’s the 80’s, and fleeing the war on his home planet, Bumblebee is intercepted on earth by villainous Decepticon agents. During the scuffle Bumblebee suffers memory loss, is rendered mute and after taking the form of a Volkswagen Beatle (finally!!!) shuts down only to be found by troubled teen Charlie (Haliee Steinfeld. Morning the loss of her dad and in desperate need of new transport Charlie fixes and inadvertently activates the cuddly Disney-eyed Autobot, however shady secret agency Sector 7 (led by John Cena obviously having the time of his life) and a couple of Decepticon assassins are on their tail.
While it must be said that the basic premise is basically exactly the same as the more Spielbergian elements from the 2007 movie (teen meets car, car becomes robot, cue bonding and shit), a much more focused plot gives us something much more enjoyable than the CGI splurges of movies past. An utter purge of The Last Knight’s ridiculously convoluted “secret history” plot (featuring ‘Bee fighting in WWII) proves to be stunningly beneficial and what we end up with is a family film that harks back to Amblin’s heyday and plays like E.T. but with cooler explosions.
While everyone here does a bang up job, it’s obviously Bumblebee himself who is the real star of the show. Shorter, rounder and achingly adorable, this ‘Bee is a vulnerable, earnest leading man and even the overused gimmick of him finding his voice via talking though the radio are refreshed to great effect.
The other selling point is the franchise going all the way back to it’s routine roots with Cybertronian flashbacks revealing toy-accurate redesigns of classic characters. Soundwave, Ravage, Cliffjumper and yes, Optimus Prime all cameo, effectively opening the whole thing up for a much needed reboot.
So this Christmas, transform your expectations and hook back up with an old friend.
Bumblebee is back. Believe the buzz.