This series focuses on the one and only Michael Bay. Attempting to deconstruct his filmography, one film at a time. The ideas explored here may or may not end up in my Dissertation about Michael Bay and Post-Cinema.
And to answer the question: Does it ever rain in a Michael Bay movie?
And so, we come on to the last stretch of films. First up is Travis Knight’s entry to the TRANSFORMERS series, BUMBLEBEE.
The reason for looking at this spin-off entry is to help identify what a different filmmaker does with a similar playset. What followed is perhaps the best film in the whole series.
The opening of the film takes place on Cybertron, the Autobots and Decipticons fighting their war. However, this is different from what audiences have seen before in the live-action franchise. The designs are cleaner, harkening back to the designs of the 80s TV series and movie. This is a soft-reboot and a prequel. It has the intention to set something new up after the mess of TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT.
This is director Travis Knight’s first live-action film and only his second feature film. However seeing as his first feature was KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS and has been a part of the brilliant Laika studios since PARANORMAN, he is no stranger to weaving heartfelt stories aimed at family-friendly audiences.
The film has a warm colour palette, the lighting is bright, clear and has an almost sunny disposition. Straight away the Earth scenes feel more comforting and relatable. The 80s setting is very well replicated, the aesthetic doing as good as a job as ADVENTURELAND and STRANGER THINGS at capturing that feel-good nostalgia.
BUMBLEBEE as a film is more story-focused in its approach rather than the action orientated films of Michael Bay. The plot moves based on character, not because of action. There isn’t set-piece after set-piece, it is the character moments that are more important to Travis Knight. The relationship between Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and Bumblebee is like that of Hogarth and the Iron Giant in Brad Bird’s masterpieve THE IRON GIANT. They want to protect each other, Charlie and Bumblebee are both dealing from loss. Here the film takes it’s inspiration from E.T. THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL.
It isn’t just the approach that is different. The action, when it happens, holds longer in the frame, the edits are witheld allowing for a movement of object within the space. The Transformers fight with judo like moves and punches, they have clearly defined movements. When there are explosions, they aren’t randomly destructive. For example, when Bumblebee fights back against John Cena and his troops, it is portrayed in a tragic, sad light like that in the aforementioned THE IRON GIANT.
The final fight sequence has big stakes, but is a small set-piece, which is a nice change of pace from the epicness of the Bay films. The colour differences and uncomplicated look of the Transformers means that the action is easily followed. There is a weight to the sound of metal hitting metal. The geography is undertandable and clearly defined. Bumblebee and the two Decepticons move as physical objects, something which they weren’t in the previous TRANSFORMERS films.
Hailee Steinfeld, having been a fan since her performance in EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, is really good. She shows Charlie dealing with the loss of her father, holding onto his memory in a perfectly emotional performance. John Cena is charming, charismatic as the human antagonist, he has clearly defined motivations and is enjoying delivering deadpan quips. Also, Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux are voicing Decepticons.
BUMBLEBEE is the lowest-grossing film in the franchise, but the best in the series. I would say this is a case of audiences becoming tired of the series, so all the goodwill that should be given to it doesn’t exist. Which is a shame, because this is a very solid film, and a more openly crowd-pleasing entry in the TRANSFORMERS franchise.
Also, Bumblebee hates The Smiths.
Does it rain? Nope. Sunny, sunny California.
Next up: BAD BOYS FOR LIFE