Remember that moment of shock on watching X-Men: First Class and walking out of the theater and thinking, wow, that was actually really good? That’s about the same feeling you can expect after watching the latest installment of the Transformers franchise, Bumblebee.
In the same fashion that it took bringing in fresh writers and director for Fox to find a workable combination for First Class, it took prying Michael Bay out of the director’s seat and replaced by relative newcomers Travis Knight and scriptwriter Christina Hodson. There’s plenty of Autobot vs. Decepticon battle action, and opening with a huge set-piece fight on Cybertron, but this time between them there’s an actual story and arc going on with Oscar-nominee Hailee Steinfeld in the leading human role as Charlie Watson.
With the war on Cybertron going badly, Optimus Prime sends Bumblebee to Earth to protect it from the Decepticons and to set up a base while waiting for Prime and the other surviving Autobots to arrive. Charlie discovers Bee and befriends him while trying to keep him hidden from the government, her family, and anyone else who might be on the hunt for a 15′ tall mech.
What sets this film several paces ahead of the earlier Bay installments was that they were created wholly for the purpose of watching robots fighting. With each film trying to outdo the last – there was less storyline to them than your average porn movie. In Bumblebee, there’s a narrative thread that carries the story along – which happens to include a number of fighting robots moments, but those aren’t the end-all, be-all of the film. Charlie is similar to her character in Edge of Seventeen, in that she’s a realistic version of a modern high school student. Her challenge is that she’s cooler than the losers, she’s too geeky for the cool kids, and dealing with a highly disfunctional home life (so basically like a large portion of the population at that age). The story doesn’t treat her as a side-note, instead her story is the main one, and Bee and the rest are the pivots that her’s works around.
It’s a fun time, Bee is well executed, and it has the same spirit and character that the original ’86 Transformers the Movie had before Bay appeared on the scene and made them utterly forgettable other than as cautionary tales in moviemaking. Here’s hoping that Hasbro learns their lessons more than Fox did.
Bumblebee opens December 21st at theaters everywhere.
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Bumblebee is currently in theaters now.