Rating 3.5/5 – Did I just see an episode of Transformers in Bumblebee? I mean an episode of the original series where Bumblebee has a solo adventure that pre-dates the beginning of the whole thing. Aside from being the Transformers movie everyone said they actually wanted – and I’ll get to that bit in a minute – Bumblebee is like an actual episode of the original series. Obviously, the big difference between Bumblebee and every other live-action Transformers movie is that the director actually cared about Transformers. People obviously like the bombastic versions without heart, soul, plot or point that Michael Bay made. It’s never going to be my favorites, in fact in not for the boy I’d never see one. Because Michael Bay is the Transformers what Zack Snyder is to the DCEU – the wrong directors for the projects assigned. The only problem is you can’t argue with numbers. The Michael Bay movies pulled in huge bucks, while Bumblebee is struggling at the box office. If this is the Transformers movie everyone said they wanted, especially those on YouTube and the blog-verse – then how come it’s not making money?
Let’s discuss this.
Bumblebee: Travis Knight vs Michael Bay
We all know who Michael Bay is. His movies tend to be big and bombastic. He has to have black stereotypes and shots of sexy women that define male gaze for every feminist within a light-year. He’s not big on plot but he powerful on the spectacle. When people say Hollywood doesn’t do anything original Michael Bay is one of those directors they point a finger at. So who is Travis Knight? He’s a lead animator on some of the most critically acclaimed movies, most of them with dark twists. He directed Kubo and the Two Strings, and Bumblebee makes his 2nd time directing a movie. His credit includes Coraline, Box Trolls and Paranorman. So how come Bumblebee didn’t open to the usual Transformers numbers? Now don’t get it twisted, Bumblebee opened stronger than Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, but way lower than Age of Extinction. The main difference between the two is with Bumblebee you can tell Travis Knight not only gets Transformers, he actually likes Transformers.
Michael Bay just like to make money and see shit blow up. That’s not a bad job if you can get it, and the man makes millions making shit blow up. YouTube has a ton of video essays on Michael Bay because they can trash his directing style, the lack of substance in his films. the racism, the sexism, the homophobia – but it’s hard to get past the billions of dollars his Transformers movies have made. Will Bumblebee catch up? Will it have that 2nd-weekend pick-up after word-of-mouth lets people know that this is a good movie and not the trash fest of a half-naked woman and lack of coherent plot the other Transformers movies were? Time will most certainly tell.
Bumblebee – Hailee Steinfeld & John Cena
I have been a Hailee Steinfeld fan since Edge of Seventeen, one of the best comedies of 2016. I saw True Grit and she was powerful in that role, but it was Edge of Seventeen that made me look up and think this girl is going to be big. I had no idea she was also a pop singer and if I’ve ever heard anything she sang I’m not aware of it. She’s good in the disaffected youth role, though that can’t last forever. She showed range in her roles so far, but in Bumblebee she’s what you expect from the lead of Edge of Seventeen. There were a lot of similarities to both roles. I have not the problem with actors playing to a perceived type. Christopher Walken made a career out of playing exactly the same character from father to criminal mastermind. Hailee has way more range. You believed in how fast she connected with Bumblebee, though there were moments you got a real “Shape of Water’ vibe between them. In one scene that’s the last statement became nearly literal.
My son has been shouting John Cena at me for a year or two. I don’t watch wrestling so I don’t know who anyone is. The only reason I know the rock is because when he first came on the scene no one would shut up about him. For some reason, John Cena has become a meme in and of itself. Like Dwayne Johnson, Cena is going to be playing the tough buy in everything. He wasn’t bad as the military man on a mission in Bumblebee. It’s a Transformers movie, so you expect it. Unlike the Bay movie, the military was more of the background lead by John Cena and not hyper glorified to the point of nausea. He did not annoy, got a character arc and fit with the rest of the movie. He also had the best line, trying to tell people maybe the giant robots with the evil name wasn’t going to work out as friends to the nation.
Bumble: More Than Meets the Eye
Why do I say Bumblebee is the Transformers movie everyone claims they wanted? It’s in the opening scene, a scene of the moment in Cybertron History that leads the Autobots to come to Earth in the first place. This scene simply rocked. You got some great Autobot vs Decepticon action, got to see why Optimus Prine is a badass, and even got to finally hear Bumblebee’s voice. The first five minutes of this movie plays like an apology to Transformers fans. Don’t get it twisted because the movie everyone claims to hate made so much money it boggled the mind, but at least the studio was willing to say “Hey, we get it. Here’s a real Transformers movie for you.” Like so many other critics I’m simply going to opine that I wish they had started here.
Bumblebee is not perfect by any stretch, but compared to Bays stuff it’s a bloody masterpiece. It’s fun, has the kind of actions you’re looking for, Hailee Steinfeld is a great character and the rest of the cast plays things straight while having fun with what they’re doing. If you Transformers fans claim to want a real Transformers movie, then go see Bumblebee. I mean Aquaman couldn’t have been so good it tops out the love between a teenager and her giant battle robot? Can it? I hope this movie at least get Dark Side of the moon money, just to show the studio that it worth trying to take the franchise a little more seriously.