Director – Travis Knight
Cast – Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, John Ortiz, Pamela Adlon
Rating – 3.5/5
To call Bumblebee the best movie in the Transformers series wouldn’t be a stretch. But it would be damning with faint praise – like saying that Baby is the best Justin Bieber song, or that frying is the best way to cook a horse’s intestines.
For over a decade, the metal monsters have clashed and clanged on the big screen for our enjoyment, to decidedly diminishing returns and set to an increasingly ‘leery, laddish’ tone, as critic Mark Kermode describes it. And along comes Bumblebee, a spin-off with the heart of a Miyazaki movie and the innocence of a bygone era, just about tolerable enough for you to not actively dislike it.
Not only will it be nostalgic for the children of the ‘80s – a decade that is currently experiencing a cinematic resurgence – but it also holds an unmistakable fondness in its heart for the first Transformers movie, which was instrumental in breeding a whole new generation of fans.
For all his faults – and there are so many – director Michael Bay’s original Transformers film remains my favourite movie of the lot; a loud, emotional adventure with stunning action and a terrific central performance by Shia LaBeouf. Even the most annoying of Bay’s tendencies – rancid humour, cringeworthy product placement, lurid visuals – were ignored. There can be no defence, however, of his terrible follow-ups, which hit rock bottom in 2017 – exactly a decade after the first film – with the almost unwatchable Transformers: The Last Knight.
For years, Bay has adamantly refused to relinquish his throne as the overlord of the Transformers universe. Until now. When his last film suffered the only sort of blow that is considered irrecoverable in the movie business – a poor showing at the box office – Bay was forced to vacate his position. No longer bound to his immature vision, Paramount hired the unlikely Travis Knight to direct the first in a planned series of spin-offs, intended to distance the future of the franchise from its past.
Knight’s affection for the world of the Transformers – particularly for the toys that he grew up playing with – is palpable in his film. Certainly, it hits many of the same marks as Bay’s first movie – it could even be argued that Bumblebee is a better thought-out remake – but crucially, has an entirely different tone. A misfit teenager does stumble across a ramshackle, unwanted car; villains arrive on Earth like meteors from outer space; and cartoonish government agents chase everyone around – but on no occasion does someone get peed on, and there is not a single masturbation joke in sight.