Bumblebee movie review: Travis Knight's direction brings heart and soul to the Transformers franchise

Mihir Fadnavis

Jan 04, 2019 14:37:43 IST


Fix everything that was broken, so basically fix everything. This was presumably the message that the makers of Bumblebee were given when the mighty Transformers franchise crashed in the horrendous last film.

 Bumblebee movie review: Travis Knights direction brings heart and soul to the Transformers franchise

A still from Bumblebee. YouTube

As someone who grew increasingly gray haired watching each Transformers film suck the soul out of cinema as an art form, Bumblebee felt like a warm embrace, and a clear vision into what should have been done five films ago. Without a doubt, this is a reboot, and a pretty good one.

Do you really need to know the story? Nope. If you’ve seen all or any of the Transformers films, you would know what happens here – kid finds a car, car turns out to be a robot, robot turns out to be a small variable in an intergalactic war. A lot of robot on robot action happens. Not exactly reinventing the wheel here. These are story beats we’ve seen before, but what makes Bumblebee interesting is how the filmmakers execute these beats with the following fixes:

The Transformers movies were widely ridiculed for the unsubtle direction by Michael Bay. Poof, he’s gone now and is replaced by Travis Knight, whose experience with being an animator at Laika and Kubo and the Two Strings seems to have worked as an asset here. He brings both heart and soul into this film — two elements that were sorely missing from any of the previous installments. All the money in the world could buy giant CGI spectacles, but those would be rendered useless if the characters are cardboards. Knight’s flair for character dynamics, his understanding of the bond between a human and a subhuman work wonderfully well here between the firefights – which are also decently choreographed.

The misogyny is gone. While the previous films were known for female characters utilised for the sake of ogling, this film incorporates Hailee Steinfeld in the lead role, and she is a fully realised, nuanced character played with genuine conviction to the point where you feel for her during her journey. She does not need a dude from Gold’s Gym to save her every five minutes; she’s a hero in her own right, and her friendship with the autobot Bumblebee has a surprising amount of emotional resonance.

Bumblebee promotional banner. Image via Twitter

Bumblebee promotional banner. Image via Twitter

The visuals aren’t a flaming disarray. If you’re a true Transformers fan, you would be glad to see some of the classic designs of the universe incorporated into the film, and the action beats are timed to make an impact, as opposed to serving as soulless iron chunks hitting each other. The camerawork by Enrique Chediak fully embraces the late 80’s Americana nostalgia that has become the Hollywood trend lately. It’s the one area where more of the same actually works in the film’s favour.

In what is the boldest decision by the execs, there’s a female writer at the helm – Christina Hodson – who brings something no eyeball has witnessed with the Transformers franchise until now - the narrative not being a total mess. There is a clear through-line for the audience to follow the story, told through the point of view of Steinfeld’s character Charlie, and you do experience some of the sense of joy and wonder that she does. The dynamics are a callback to what the first film tried to go for – the stakes may well be as high as the universe ending, but the core of the film still is about the relationship between a kid and his new car. The Transformers were after all toys, a part of out childhood that deserves sensitivity and respect, and to see that finally rendered in a film feels like a long overdue drink of water.

If you need more of these films, you should head over to the IMAX screens on an immediate basis. Any film that reaches out for redemption deserves a chance, especially if it’s a film about giant robots punching each other but making you feel something for them.

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Updated Date: Jan 04, 2019 14:37:43 IST