Bumblebee is a Heartfelt Reboot that Fires on All Cylinders
The Shape of Metal
For a franchise that has been running in fumes and whose wanton tendencies have driven itself dangerously close to the scrapyard, ‘The Transformers’ has unexpectedly found its saving grace in ‘Bumblebee’—a streamlined and character-driven reboot of what seemed like a trainwreck waiting to happen.
Perhaps the change in direction has stopped this freight train of a franchise (that’s going nowhere fast) dead in its tracks and made a necessary course correction when it needed the most. At the wheel this time around is Travis Knight (‘Kubo and the Two Strings’), a gifted animator who also happens to be a great storyteller. In other words, something Michael Bay could never be. And the difference was obvious from the get-go.
The plot was grounded and thoughtful and the action sequences were comprehensible as they were shot in wide angles and much stable camera wherein the audience can easily follow. As opposed to the previous installments wherein the plots were a convoluted mess, the characters were hallow and the action was a mind-numbing colossal clusterf*ck. They were basically just demolition derbies on a much grander scale--devoid of palpable human emotion whatsoever. But not ‘Bumblebee’! Somehow, the 6th ‘Transformer’ film to come out in 11 years, had the audacity to try a new measured approach and give this franchise a much needed heart.
At the center of it all is the Bumblebee and Charlie (played by Hailee Steinfeld) dynamic. Two misfits who inadvertently helped each other find their voice and their place in the world. Hailee was terrific as Charlie as she brought emotional depth and gravitas to the character. She played a confused and angsty teenage mechanic, still reeling from the loss of her father, in a relatable and accessible manner. Bumblebee was also great as he was, dare I say, well fleshed out? He’s equal parts adorable and bad ass. Exactly what the film needed. The supporting cast members were good as well as they were likable and were necessary in driving the plot forward. And the soundtrack, need I say more? They were on point, purposeful and nostalgia-inducing. I found myself singing along to them, especially the anthemic ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ by 'Tears for Fears'.
Sure, ‘Bumblebee’ was derivative as it borrowed a lot of elements from ‘E.T.’, ‘Iron Giant’ etc. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So long as the source material is being handled with care and respect, it will all pay off in the end. If the formula works, why change it right? In ‘Bumblebee’s’ case, the gamble of going in a completely different direction paid off. As a matter of fact, it’s the best reviewed ‘Transformers’ film of the franchise. Plus, it’s not doing too bad at the box office. What’s not to love?
To borrow a line from the magnificently cheesy soundtrack of the 1986 animated film ‘The Transformers’ entitled 'The Touch', Travis Knight indeed has the ‘touch’ and the ‘power’. And an incredible vision mind you. Who knew that downsizing the scale of the colossal ‘Transformers’ narrative would produce a reboot that fired on all cylinders. It’s a masterful overhaul of an ailing franchise. 'Bumblebee' is well-paced, heartwarming and thoughtful; a feel-good film with no bad bone in its body.