When the last Transformers didn’t do as well at the box office, everyone in charge knew they needed to make a change. After that first trailer for Bumblebee it was apparent that this movie was aiming to do something different. It should have been apparent something was different when they went for a female lead, but as producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura told Entertainment Weekly, this idea had been floating around for a while now.
“Steven [Spielberg] had always had an idea that a young girl and Bumblebee would be a great combination, so we headed in that direction,” di Bonaventura says.
Charlie, played by Hailee Steinfeld, is shaping up to be a very different heroine from any of the previous movies. Female-led movies are making money now, and studios no longer have the excuse of “female leads don’t sell” in the wake of movies like Wonder Woman and Ocean’s 8.
“It’s nice it’s changing,” di Bonaventura says, acknowledging that the Transformers films haven’t exactly delivered strong roles for women. “When we were debating it, the idea of a young girl seemed to us to be a real change in our direction.”
Steinfeld, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in True Grit at just 14 years old, really impressed di Bonaventura and the rest of the Transformers team.
“I’m just amazed at how talented she is,” di Bonaventura says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor never miss a beat for the entire shoot. It was crazy. We ended up ahead of schedule because she was just so on it all the time. We could move quicker.”
Whenever you start putting women front and center into spaces normally dominated by men, or in spaces where they haven’t had prominent roles, there is going to be some pushback. There is no ignoring that times are changing, though, and di Bonaventura admits that they are looking to expand the fanbase beyond the teenage boys they have catering to for years.
“What we are focused on is expanding the experience, which does expand your fan base if you get it right,” di Bonaventura says. “If you get it wrong, you’ll probably have a little backlash, but I don’t think we got it wrong. I know we didn’t get it wrong with her, that’s for sure.”
The idea of going back to the ’80s was probably a good decision. It got them away from all of the mythology and characters from the other movies. The latter Transformers movies really got bogged down with their own internal mythology, and this is looking to tell a story just Bumblebee on Earth.
“We wanted to firmly establish when Bumblebee got here,” di Bonaventura says. “We thought, let’s try to tell as much of the origin story of Bumblebee on Earth as we can. We have elements in Cybertron, but really Earth is where we spend our time.”
It also meant they could break down design of the robots a bit and make them simpler to go along with the times.
“It gave us the opportunity to Gen 1,” di Bonaventura said, using the term fans have for the first generation of Transformers toys and stories. “When you look at the robots, they’re not exactly like in the animated show, because they would look goofy today. But they have, I’ll say, a little more of the silhouette of those.”
If there is one thing both fans and critics have said about the trailer, it’s that Bumblebee looks a lot better than he did in the previous movies. The saying “keep it simple, stupid” exists for a reason.
Summary: On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.
Bumblebee, directed by Travis Knight, stars Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Rachel Crow, and Pamela Adlon. It will be released on December 21st.