The miracle of Travis Knight’s Bumblebee is that it exists in the same cinematic universe as the horrid Transformers films of Michael Bay.
A very sincere place
Bumblebee isn’t a bumbling B-movie that passes of as a blockbuster because of the millions of dollars spent on computer-generated explosions like Bay’s offerings are. The film feels like it comes from a very sincere place – a real affection for Hasbro’s toys and the cartoons they inspired.
Its biggest obstacle is the umbilical cord that connects it to the discombobulated lore that Bay cooked up for the franchise, but even with such a daunting obstacle, it managed to be genuinely fresh and surprisingly uplifting, giving the much-maligned franchise a desperately needed fresh perspective.
Knight, more famous for infusing a distinctly human soul in stop-motion animated characters in his directorial debut Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), opens Bumblebee with a fully animated sequence that shows Bay how spectacle that is brash and blunt in noise and clutter can still manage to be spirited.
The film opens in a scene that would have been a medley of excessive mayhem in Bay’s hands. In Cybertron, an ongoing battle has Optimus Prime, still voiced by Peter Cullen, sending his trusted lieutenant B-127 to Earth to hide until the rest of the good robots can join him there.
The opening sequence confirms the immense respect Knight has for the original material.
Here, the extraterrestrial robots, while bathed in eye-popping sheen and backgrounded by structures being demolished in the most glorious of fashion, never feel like they were snatched from childhood memories only to be remolded into creatures that ape adult coolness. These robots, although obviously visually upgraded from their hand-drawn days, move closer to the characters that delighted young adventure-addicted minds than the Megan Fox-ogling men Bay believes most Transformers aficionados have become.
That child-hearted spirit consumes Bumblebee.
Knight’s film champions humility. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), the rebellious teenager who discovers, repairs and renames B-127 to Bumblebee, is a refreshing protagonist. Her adventure is reminiscent of many more famous adventures of many teenagers from 80’s flicks. Her endearing affection resembles the extreme lengths young Elliott had to take to protect his beloved alien in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982).
There is a familiarity for all things 80’s that Bumblebee expresses with such endearing fluency. Knight doesn’t go for empty nostalgia the way Bay does by picking distinct elements and bastardizing them to fit his bizarre aesthetic.
Knight mines the beloved decade for artifacts, whether it be pop songs or memorable scenes from iconic films, and uses them to turn this singular piece of a money-making franchise into an ode to more innocent times. Bumblebee isn’t running on chaos and violence rendered bland by unimaginative repetition. It is fueled by true mirth and humor.
The film wants you to care for its characters, whether they be a misunderstood girl or a rusty yellow Volkswagen who talks through 80’s radio hits. It is absolutely joyous.
Convincing ray of hope
Bumblebee is a convincing ray of hope that there can be good things from a franchise that has been terribly abused for profit.
Finally, a Transformers entry in the Bay-led franchise has been made that truly more than meets the eye. – Rappler.com