When “Bumblebee” (2018) released in theaters in December, there was a quiet buzz surrounding the film.
This sixth installment of the “Transformers” film franchise was different from its predecessors. Unlike the other five films, which had been directed by Michael Bay (who is known for his excessive use of special effects), Bumblebee had landed in the hands of filmmaker Travis Knight.
Knight gained popularity as a film director in “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016) and as an animator in “Kubo”, “ParaNorman” (2012), and “Coraline” (2009). However, when he took over the directoral reins for Bumblebee, Knight made his live-action debut. It was a risk that could potentially end the franchise as a whole.
Under Michael Bay’s direction, his films were often dragged in the mud by critics. With plots that left much to be desired and an oversexualization of their female protagonists, the focus of the films were less on the Cybertronian characters and more on their human counterparts’ good looks. However, the films generated enough money that surpassed their budgets. For example, the first film “Transformers” had a budget of $150 million, and it had a domestic total gross of $319 million. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” was granted a budget of $200 million; it had a domestic total gross of $402 million.
However, in June 2017, Paramount released “Transformers: The Last Knight.” The movie’s budget sat at a modest $217 million. Despite the advertisements and the promotional tour, the film failed to eclipse its budget. Their domestic total gross sat at $130 million.
As different these two filming genres may seem, Knight did not seem to think so. In an interview with Polygon, he said, “I definitely see a parallel. Essentially I treated any scene with the robots as if they were animated scenes… I broke down the script, storyboard it all out … it was a lot kind of like Sorcerer’s Apprentice type stuff, very much an animator’s thing. That whole thing was completely boarded out within an inch of its life.”
Starring Hailee Steinfeld and the lovable Bumblebee, “Bumblebee” provides a classic 1980s film that pulls in nostalgia. Reminiscent of John Hughes’ films (”The Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles,” and “Pretty in Pink”), Steinfeld’s character, Charlie Watson, is portrayed as a teenager. There is no unnecessary oversexualization. Besides being in charge of an Autobot, she faces traditional teenage dilemmas: a desire to be independent, wanting to belong in a family where she feels like the outcast, and finding her path in life. Her love interest is not portrayed by a chiseled god with perfect abs. Portrayed by Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Memo is an awkward kid who wants to charm Charlie.
This film is cute and innocent. One moment the viewer is laughing; the next their heartstrings are being tugged incessantly. It takes nostalgia and engrains it in small doses throughout the films. The plot is coherent, and the female protagonist is given a true chance to grow and learn from her mistakes. As she battles through learning to accept the death of her father, she learns to accept her new family dynamic and father figure. Bumblebee is both a hero and a friend. As they learn to navigate the obstacles thrown at them, Charlie and Bumblebee are on their coming-of-age stories together.