The Transformers cinematic franchise is a funny old beast. Seeing the first one, directed by Michael Bay, all those years ago was truly breathtaking. He made these giant transforming robots, not only look good but look like they belonged in the real world. It’s an amazing feat of CGI production and design. Plus they managed to ally it to a half-decent plot that worked well enough. The second one wasn’t quite as good in the story department but it came with added “pizzazz” (read: “more explosions”) which more than adequately compensated for it. Then the third one rolled around, which happened to be my favourite one, where they did something unexpected – something Marvel struggled with until quite recently – they killed one of the good guys. Not one of the newbies that we hadn’t seen before, one of the OG crew. It mattered. Sure, it papered over some of the other issues with the film just like the signature Michael Bay “pizzazz” did in the 2nd one; which we got yet more of here too. But in that moment, and the scenes that followed, it really mattered and gave the rest of the film a bit more edge and bite.
After that though, the jig was up. You can throw the Dino-Bots in, you can give Optimus Prime’s outstanding Voice Actor (Peter Cullen) as many inspirational lines as you can pack into your script and and you can fill 2.5 hours with all the pizzazz you’re budget can buyt; it only takes you so far. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of “dumb fun”, not everything could, or should, be expected to be a cinematic masterpiece. I’ve always been a defender of that. I haven’t seen the film that followed “Age of Extinction” though because that feeling of indifference had finally biten into me. I’d lost my connection to the Autobots, to their struggle with the Decepticons, to the human characters caught in the middle that are supposed to provide a bit of perspective. It just didn’t feel like any of it mattered anymore.
Is it a surprise then, when I tell you that I wasn’t interested when Bumblebee was announced? That my reaction to it’s announcement and trailers was “pfft, another series going down the prequel route because they’ve gotten lost.” That sentiment might well be accurate, but I didn’t come out of the cinema thinking “pfft”, I came out thinking “wow” in a positive way. I came out having rediscovered the connection I’d lost in the flashy Michael Bay’s pizzazz. In Travis Knight, the studio found a director who “gets” it. The interview with him on the IGN UK Podcast recently showcased his love for the Transformers perfectly – do check it out.
The trouble with prequels though, is you know to a certain extent what will happen. You know what characters are alive later on, so you know they’ll pull through whatever peril they are in now; the question is simply how they manage it. That’s true of Bumblebee, but not of Charlie. Charlie, the girl who finds him, who connects with him, who helps him. We don’t know anything about her until we meet her in this film. By having her in some of the action scenes they don’t just offer the viewer a good perspective of the action, they also inject a bit of genuine peril into them too. More importantly, they make sure to build her relationships properly before doing so; something the Bay directed films haven’t managed to do of late. The key relationships being your connection to her as a viewer and her connection to Bumblebee.
I’m not going to go into spoilers here, regarding the events of the film; I’m simply going to tell you that it is simply worth watching. Whether you’re a lapsed fan or have never been interested in Transformers before, it’s worth at least one viewing. I enjoyed it so much that I would urge the Film Studio and Rights holders to abandon any other plans they have, ditch the continuity of the Bay era and put Travis Knight & his writing team in charge of the franchises future. Picking up where Bumblebee finished and going forward from there with him at the helm… the thought alone brings a smile to my face.