By Lucas Owens ’19
There has not been a franchise of movies more hated in the past few years than the Michael Bay led Transformers films. From cringey and stupid attempts at humor to loud and muddled CGI robot fights to plain outright sexism and racism and most importantly a lack of genuine storytelling, there are many reasons to hate the earlier Transformers films. But all that has changed with the introduction of Director Travis Knight, of Laika Studios and Kubo and the Two Strings fame. In only his second directorial outing and first live action movie, Knight provides a shining beacon of meaningful storytelling and perfectly shot sequences.
Even though this is a live action film, I feel Knight’s impact, outside of the storytelling and plot choices, was in the animation of the Transformers, specifically Bumblebee, which makes sense given his background in stop-motion animation. For being a mute robot, Knight had his work cut out for him in making Bumblebee truly give off emotion. However, Knight and his team do amazing work in this regard, as Bumblebee’s eyes and mannerism tell all the audience needs to know about how the yellow Autobot is feeling in a given scene. The animation of his eyes, in particular, give Bumblebee an emotional resonance comparable to lead Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). Moreover, Bumblebee is portrayed as a harmless giant robot from space that can’t talk, a big change from the cruel and savage takes on the Transformers that Michael Bay gave.
However, it isn’t just the big CGI yellow robot that can act, as Hailee Steinfeld gives a fantastic portrayal of an angsty teenager that isn’t being angsty just to be angsty but because of a backstory and history which drives her actions and emotions through the film. Her character of Charlie is complex enough, but it is very easy to understand her motivations. In addition to Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendenborg Jr. portrays Memo, Charlie’s main love interest. Memo is a nice character that provides some comic relief at times, and Lendenborg Jr. does a good job of portraying a shy guy with a crush.
While both Hailee Steinfeld and Jorge Lendonborg Jr. give very authentic performances, actor and wrestler John Cena gives one of the hammiest performances in recent memory, and I loved every second of it. At times, it felt like he was just on a role of delivering WWE-style one-liners, such as my personal favorite “There’s a door in my way!”. However, for all of the cheese that John Cena has, the rest of the military subplot felt like it was a part of a different movie. Some of their plot motivations did not really make sense, and some characters were not fun to watch at all. Actor John Cena delivers a line that says exactly how I feel about the way the military acts in the film when he says, “They’re called Decepticons, it’s right in the name”.
Outside of the way the military acts, I did not really have that many qualms with the film. I wholly recommend Bumblebee to anyone looking for a generally happy, fun, music-filled family adventure film.