December 12, 2018

CINEMA | 'Bumblebee' Transforms into Throwback '80s Fun

"They literally call themselves Decepticons."
Hailee Steinfeld Travis Knight | Transformers: Bumblebee

Laika animation director Travis Knight has completely refreshed the noisy live action Transformers franchise taking over from the bombastic Michael Bay (a producer here) for this prequel spin-off. Stripped down and set in the 1980s heyday of the actual toy and its iconic children's cartoon adaptation, Bumblebee is a totally charming, scaled-down take on the transforming robots in disguise.

A completely winning Hailee Steinfeld stars as the sad loner gearhead Charlie in an essentially repurposed Spike/Sam Witwicky role to much greater effect. Steinfeld's earnest acting is what makes Bumblebee the robot and the story of live action toys come to life feel at all real. Her active role in the chaos and action really harkens to both throwback action and coming-of-age flicks nicely.

Wrestler turned actor John Cena really hams it up as the stereotypical '80s military villain while Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Charlie's neighbour gets the "girlfriend" sidekick role with a nice twist on the typical action movie character archetypes. Pamela Adlon and Jason Drucker as Charlie's mom and hilarious stepdad also prove worthy supporting characters fitting of the retro aesthetic.

Hailee Steinfeld Travis Knight | Transformers: Bumblebee

Christina Hodson's script really mines the 1980s style of storytelling namechecking John Hughes among other cinematic touchstones. The basic story makes sense, only features mainly three robots, and the audience feels a part of the moving action and fairly female-forward story beats.

It's really amazing how much Knight eschews all of Bay's noisy Transformers style. The crisp direction, simplistic character designs, and cinematic style in general really make the whole thing fairly pleasing and certainly entertaining. The basic fan-favourite "Generation 1" character designs make the functionality of the world all the more tangible interacting with human characters and everyday settings.

Bumblebee both celebrates and self-referentially mocks the whole premise of transforming robot toys as a narrative story with lots of fun and tons of cheesy heartfelt nostalgia. Its '80s style rejects the darkly mean-spirited and self-serious tone of the Bay Transformers films set in the present. Knight has finally made a worthy adaptation fans have always wanted.

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