Made for kids, this Transformers' prequel is simple, straightforward, and fun in its limited way.
Director: Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings)
Screenplay: Christina Hodson (Shut In)
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld (true Grit), Jorge Lendeborg Jr.(Love, Simon)
Runtime: 1 h4 54 min
By: John DeSando
Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen voice): “Bumblebee, our war rages on. You must protect Earth, and its people.”
For Transformers geeks, Bumblebee is the prequel, the most recent iteration since 2007. The Autobots have retreated from the war on Cybertron; this time the bad bots, Decepticons, follow B-127, a transforming mid-sixties VW Beetle, to earth in 1987 in order to snuff out the Autobots, who will be following Bumblebee, as the VW will be known.
This spinoff is not directed by Michael Bay but by Travis Knight, who reduces the agonizing length of Bay’s usually-long films and also reduces the number of fights, but not enough for me. That you can actually see the fights clearly is a breakthrough from Bay, whose fight scenes are usually inscrutably jumbled. Anyway, Bay is a producer, but more importantly Steven Spielberg is an executive producer who probably helps infuse as much humanity as Knight can include in such a thin premise. Hasbro is the big winner with a likeable robot, and we win with an impressive heroine, Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld).
Besides the emphasis on character, hallmarked by Charlie’s sometimes excessive affection for the faded yellow VW, the film emphasizes the female presence, a big departure from the previous male-centered installments. Charlie is a loner with a heart for music and mechanical things, especially cars, and when she’s not bewailing Bee’s absence, quite effective protecting Bee and her new friend, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.).
Although the film keeps Spielberg’s youth orientation and pursuit of family love, it also keeps Bay’s penchant for going too long with chase and fight scenes. Yet, the loving engagements between her robot and her family humanize Transformers’ franchise much better than previous renditions, which uniformly neglect the softer side of humanity in favor of the masculine, fight set pieces.
CGI has improved noticeably with the transitions of the robots to and from autos. Seamless and smooth, the changes happen rapidly and almost believably. As for the transformation of the VW to a Camaro in the next film, count on it:
Optimus Prime: Old friend, you kept this planet safe. Because of you we have a future, B-127.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com