BUMBLEBEE (2019)

  • Release Date: 4/1/2019
  • Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Ricardo Hoyos, John Ortiz, John Ortiz
  • Director: Travis Knight

I loved the first three Transformers film but the last two in the franchise were loud, bloated and uninspiring spectacles that hardly felt epic or entertaining. It was painful for me to see one of my beloved series go down the rut. Hence when it was announced that Bumblebee would be directed by Travis Knight (Kubo And The Two String, 2016) and would concentrate on Bumblebee and ever since its first trailer made it amply clear that the film that would concentrate more on the emotional bond between man and machine rather than cheesy and over-mechanical explosive action sequence, I was hooked. Bumblebee is successful in clearing a lot of clutter left behind by its predecessors and while it is a far better film in terms of visuals and drama, it has its own set of problems arising out of things that were supposed to be its USP.

The war for supremacy over Cybertron rages on as the Autobots are being pushed to the wall by the Decepticons. Optimus Prime sends his trusted aid Bumblebee to earth to gather other Autobots and wait for his arrival to take charge of a renewed rebellion. Bumblebee arrives on earth and instantaneously has to face off against Agent Burns (John Cena) and his company of soldiers. That’s not all. He is also attacked by a Decepticons who was in his pursuit. After a bloody battle, Bumblebee triumphs over both his adversaries but he loses his voice and his memory in the process. He transforms into a Beetle before going dormant.

Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is having a difficult time coping with a life without her father. She isn’t fascinated to have a stepfather Ron (Stephen Schneider) and neither is she too happy with her mother. The only solace she has is in re-building the car that she and her father were planning to build together but she fails at that too. On her 18th Birthday, she somehow brokers a deal with a garage owner to get her hands on a Beetle that has been lying there in a decadent state. The Beetle turns out to be Bumblebee and thus starts a whirlwind adventure that only gives Charlie a ray of hope at a new life but also makes Bumblebee a hero in a vicious war with the Decepticons that threatens earth’s survival as a planet.

There are many things that this film does right. To start with, a lot of time is devoted to building the bond between man and machine and it does work. The comedy and the emotional connect feel real and there were ample sequences where I found myself chuckling. Travis Knight knows how to humanize the CGI characters and he does a marvelous job with Bumblebee. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Transformers never felt so real. Apart from the interactions between the girl and machine, a lot of time is also spent in fleshing out the character of Charlie. Her emotional issues, her inability to connect with her mother and stepfather and why she finds a true friend in Bumblebee are documented well enough to make us care for her and understand her inspirations for trying so hard to protect Bumblebee. Her semi-romantic relation with Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) is also very cute.

Bumblebee has some scintillating action sequences that are very well executed. Gone are the quick cuts and handheld camera movements of Michael Bay that made it extremely difficult to follow the action and get involved. Knight brings his own style to the action sequences that not only improves the overall feel but also gives us some new angles to the proceedings. The transformations are as all ways awesome and no matter how many times I see it, it will never get repetitive. I loved the first action sequence which I thought really set the standard sky high. Sadly enough the film is not able to top that sequence and the climax, that unfolds at night falls way short of its mark. Some minor set pieces here and there do capture your imagination but nothing like what we see in that initial fight.

Travis Knight tries to humanize the content and in trying to do so, he overdoes certain aspects of the drama. After the first fight, the film turns into a quiet and almost harmless children film that has nothing more than a girl bonding with her new found robot with nothing but a lot of hiding to do. Even though I liked portions of it, I seriously missed some quality action and grit. I come to Transformers films for its action, grit, inspiring background score and a lot of cool stuff happening with it. In Bumblebee all that takes a backseat and the film stagnates for a very long time before finding its tone again towards the end. However, by that time, the majority of the film is over and we have spent all that time watching precious nothing.

Knight shows his ability to handle action well and I would have loved to see what he could do in some elaborate set pieces. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Here is a film that has limited action even though most of it happens for well defined and genuine reasons (which I liked by the way). Strangely enough most of the action and set pieces are kept low key which didn’t auger too well with me. Hailee Steinfeld is a good actress but she is unable to keep you hooked to her act. The result is we often have spates of boredom setting in that is all too noticeable. John Cena is great to look at but the lines that he is given to mouth really get on your nerves. He doesn’t do much of a convincing job with his character either and in one of the scenes, he is laughable.

Having said all that, Bumblebee is still a welcome change and a step in the right direction after the two dismally bad Transformers films. This film could usher the series in a new era of thoughtful and engaging Transformers films that would not only amaze us with its visuals and actions but also affect us with its storytelling and characters.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

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