I’m starting to feel like a shill when it comes to December movies this year because this is another big property/franchise movie that came out this month that I kind of love, following up Into the Spider-Verse.
I guess some preamble is needed. In short:
- I am a fan of the G1 Transformers cartoon.
- I don’t hate the Michael Bay films.
- Except the second one.
I should add that I don’t love any of the films and they in no way represent anything resembling what my own ideal Transformers franchise would look like but I’m not somebody who despises them or acts as if I don’t understand why they existed and thrived, which was essentially at first nostalgia and and a kind of big dumb action movie with the type of comedy (a term I use loosely) that easily translates to burgeoning foreign markets.
I also love several Bay films like The Rock and Bad Boys and I’m also one of those people who don’t pretend to hate Armageddon, the opponents of which feel like some popular film twitter club I didn’t have quite the neck beard to be initiated into.
I also like Megan Fox and think she’s a target for simply being too damn sexy because she was really good when she filled in for Zooey in New Girl and Jennifer’s Body is kind of a low key completely watchable Karyn Kusama-helmed horror movie starring Fox and Amanda Seyfried. I will stipulate that Michael Bay should never do comedy unless it’s through the voice of Mike Lowery or somebody pretending to be him.
They (the Transformers films) are, however, even at their heights, are 100% pure disregardable nonsense compared to the energon cube powered glory in comparison Travis Knight has given us with Bumblebee.
I don’t know Travis Knight but I’m on the internet and this blog is my personal monoculture warren so I have constructed a fake backstory solely for the purposes of narrative of this blog. He’s the son of the founder and chairman of Nike, which in many ways makes him like Sneaker-jesus. He can literally do anything he wants and what he chose to do was get into animation.
Not just any animation, stop-motion animation. Stop-motion is a beautiful but time consuming, tedious, and an expensive art. It is not a random vocation, it’s done by people who love it.
Phil Knight, Sneaker-God, owns Laika, the company that animated and created such films like the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, ParaNorman, Boxtrolls, and most recently Kubo and the Two Strings. Kubo, which was fantastic, was directed by Travis Knight
I think the world spoke in unison when the trailers for Bumblebee came out and all of us who watched it got just about everything we always wanted to see in a Transformers movie whether we enjoyed the Bay films or not. It’s weird what happens when you give Transformers fans something that looks like Transformers in a Transformers movie.
There’s also this underrated aspect to this film that’s lost on genre specific nerds in this space: people have love for Hailee Steinfeld.
This December is packed with big releases even in the absence of a Star Wars films (doesn’t it feel forever ago when the new Fantastic Beasts came out just last month?) and many venues have been making predictions which one will take the L as something has to slip through the cracks and under perform.
I’m not sure that it won’t be Bumblebee but I am sure it’s a film that merits dollars that admittedly many may have thrown out at the last two Transformers films and vowed never again. And more than our dollars it merits our appreciation because through Steinfeld and Bumblebee we get a very Spielbergian heart to a science fiction movie. Steinfeld, as anyone who has seen The Edge of Seventeen can testify, is intensely likable on screen and carries the film that admittedly does have episodes of being a few beats too long in parts.
She’s perfectly cast at a perfect time in her career to bring back the Transformers in what should immediately be viewed as a clean reboot opportunity as the Bay films continuity was a mess to begin with and the Marvel Studios-esque episodic aspect of the franchise was never a selling point. There is no continuity, there certainly isn’t a good one.
Bumblebee is not just the Transformers movie we’ve been waiting for since 1986, it’s the perfect starting off point with a young lead who is already very famous but is ready to take that leap to the next level.
And let me say this, the first Bay Transformers film – which to be clear is nowhere near as a good a film as Bumblebee – went through some of these very same motions with Shia, who for all his problematic peculiarity is actually a pretty fine actor, but the material he was working with wasn’t lacking a second layer so much as there was barely even primer. The silliness of giant alien robots stayed silly, with a mechanical John Wayne* Optimus story that’s kind of shit because John Wayne is shit.
I’ve said I never revolted against the Bay films but at the same time I was never connected to them in any way and found instances and choices in the films to be wildly and unnecessarily dumb. They also started coming out 11 years ago, before the idea of peak television, which I think raises the floor of what we expect out of our big dumb objects – indeed it could be said Marvel Studios has achieved historic success for raising and being that very floor (and often times going well above it) and stomping all over it with damn near two dozen straight films.
Bumblebee begins with a promise. It’s an awesome scene that we don’t truly see it’s kind of in the film again as the story scales down to a girl and her robot but it’s a scene we keep with us because it truly is Transformers as we knew them come alive and what it can be in the future. I realize it’s really trite to say a scene alone is worth the price of admission but that’s what it is.
In Bumblebee there is an attempt at a real connection. We wanted to like Transformers so much and some of us got there even though we had to do so with qualification. This very post started with one. We can now once again love Transformers unconditionally.
It ends leaving you wanting more and they have the right director and star in place to be optimistic. They got the touch.
A little later I’ll do a post about the possible ramifications of a Hasbro-verse. Besides that the core base are people I often find to be disappointing and have to avoid due to being kind of awful I’m a giant G.I. Joe fan.
- *also just called “John Wayne”