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Travis Knight transforms ‘Bumblebee’ into the best ‘Transformers’ ever

The Bumblebee solo movie is the latest in the “Transformers” film franchise with the best reception of the series. Sitting at a 93 percent “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes it’s a Christmas miracle for a series saddled with typically “rotten” scores, with the highest being 57 percent.

But how good is this movie, and is it worth checking out when it comes to digital and Blu-ray? This is easily the most interesting Transformers movie to date for several reasons.

The film was directed by Travis Knight, written by Christiana Hodson and produced by Michael Bay and Stephen Spielberg. The movie centers on the titular character Bumblebee (voiced by Dylan O’Brien), a lieutenant of the Autobot Resistance, who flees to Earth following the fall of Cybertron.
After arriving in the redwood forests of California, he is pursued by the secret military group, Sector Seven, and has a brief battle with the Deception Blitzwing in which he loses his memory and voice, but not before he scans a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle.

He later befriends and has a heartfelt relationship with a human by the name of Charlie Watson (Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld). Government forces led by Agent Burns (played by John Cena) and Decepticons Shatter (voiced by Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (voiced by Justin Theroux) are in pursuit of Bumblebee, who was tasked with protecting Earth to establish an Autobot base by Optimus Prime. It’s up to Bumblebee and Charlie to stop the Decepticons from summoning an army to Earth.

I can definitively say, it is easily the best live-action “Transformers” movie to date. “Bumblebee” manages not only to be the best “Transformers” film, but a good film on its own. Travis Knight was tasked by Paramount Studios and Hasbro to direct the “Bumblebee” solo movie, with seemingly a large amount of creative freedom.

He takes great liberties with the already convoluted timeline. Knight brings his experience from working on stop-motion animation movies like “Coraline” and “Kubo and the Two Strings.”

He excels where Michael Bay failed with the previous installments, by having compelling characters and story aspects. Instead of the sound and fury of Bayhem, Knight imbues the movie with heart and charm. He understands how to create animated characters, knowing full well that the audience needs to be able to distinguish between them to be able to emotionally respond.

This is demonstrated by how Bumblebee is simplified and that the Decepticon antagonists have different colors. He makes Bumblebee “softer” by enlarging his eyes, shrinking his size, and using the round Volkswagen Beetle. This makes him more sympathetic and endearing. And he makes the Decepticons unique by making one female and devious and the other male and malicious. He also sets them up as a real threat by making them ruthless killers with no regard for any kind of life.

And simply by not being Michael Bay, Travis Knight delivers on basic elements of filmmaking. There is no shaky camera or worm’s-eye perspective framing incomprehensible action.

The human characters are not unbearably cringey. The humor isn’t juvenile and atrocious. The action is filmed competently, the main characters are endearing and the humor clean and creative.

“Bumblebee” has also returned to the franchise’s roots and taken notes on pop culture trends. The movie is set in 1987, three years after the original cartoon aired and does not hesitate to implement the decade into the movie. It’s got everything from Mr. T’s cereal to Alf to 99 cents for a gallon of gas.
Knight also seems to have done a fair amount of homework, since he uses popular songs from the 1980’s in the soundtrack, not unlike Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films. And it’s pretty kicker, including the likes of Bon Jovi, Tears for Fears and a-ha, as well as Hailee Steinfeld’s original “Back to Life.”

Moreover, this movie might be a soft reboot of Bay’s films, as the whole film mostly repudiates the previous five installments. This is most notable by the opening scene set on Cybertron, with differently designed Transformers.

This movie finally promises anyone who was fans of the original 1984 cartoon the movie series they’ve always wanted. More importantly, for general audiences, a return to the classic designs and aesthetics can prove to be more successful.

As a side note, if the studio plays smart, they could build a cinematic universe, as they originally planned after “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” It seems like they want to go in a direction like “Star Wars” or Marvel Studios with having a spinoff film not unlike Lucasfilm’s “Solo.”

A good strategy would be to mine the untapped potential of the series in unique and creative ways with other characters. The producer of the series already has hinted at an Optimus Prime spinoff film, but has expressed doubts of its feasibility, likening it to making an Obi-Wan film. He has also said there is an animated Cybertron mythology film in development, but concrete confirmations have yet to be seen.   

However, “Bumblebee” is not quite perfect, with things in the film that could have been written or edited better. My main issue with the film is that I felt like I’ve seen it before. Between the similarities to Spielberg’s “E.T.,” Brad Byrd’s “The Iron Giant,” the numerous “Herbie” movies made by Disney and the “Transformers” franchise itself, it all felt eerily similar.

There were several parts in the movie where I felt like they paralleled scenes of the 2007 film on purpose. This isn’t inherently bad, it just feels stale where it could have more original. But Travis Knight knows just how to pay homage to old and newer source material.

Another problem I had was that it felt too kid-friendly at times. There were moments when I realized the movie I was watching is mainly meant for children from ages five to 12. I like that they are making the franchise more family-friendly by cutting Bay’s atrocious “humor” out, but now it can feel like it is leaning way too much into catering to younger audiences.

The character is meant for this audience, as it is the main kid-appeal character in the franchise. If an Optimus Prime film were to happen, I’m sure it would have a more mature tone than the yellow Beetle.

A minor nitpick I have is the editing and use of the previously-mentioned kicker soundtrack. The soundtrack had a great variety of amazing music, the only problem I had was the movie would quickly cut between scenes and music too abruptly. It felt as though the movie wanted to cram as much iconic music in as possible. It worked at times, but at others, it didn’t feel organic or like it enhanced the scenes.

Overall, this film was a great and an interesting step in the right direction for this franchise. You should give this movie a chance when when it comes to DVD and streaming. It’s the film this universe needs.   


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