Simon Dillon reviews the new Transformers film.


Here's something I thought I'd never say: The new Transformers film is actually quite good. No, stop checking the date to make sure it isn't the 1st of April. I really mean it. Bumblebee is exactly what the Transformers franchise should have been all along, before Michael Bay got his crass little mits on it: an entertaining blast of fun with plenty of heart for all the family.

With Bay, the Transformers films inexplicably morphed into a militaristic orgy of incoherent CGI destruction porn, replete with attention-span-of-a-goldfish whiplash MTV editing, not to mention racism and sexism of the most boring and utterly superfluous kind. Who honestly thinks racist robots and cameras set to leer mode at the lead actresses have any place in what should be a film for children? After a clutch of films with inappropriate jokes about masturbation or Transformer testicles (something that made me wonder whether the editors of Viz Magazine broke into the edit suite), finally the franchise has been handed to someone who gets what this really ought to be about: sentient "robots in disguise" (as cars, planes and other vehicles).

With Bay relegated to producer duties, and Travis Knight now at the helm (along with screenwriter Christina Hodson), Bumblebee is something of a reset, opening with a prologue on the Transformers war ravaged home planet Cybertron (something guaranteed to please fans of the 1980s cartoon series). When Bumblebee is sent to Earth in the year 1987 to start a new base for the "heroic Autobot" Transformer faction, the "evil Decepticon" group are in hot pursuit, resulting in a dust-up that causes Bumblebee to lose his memory. He is lucky to escape with his life, and is then found (disguised as a VW Beetle) by teenager Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld).

Charlie is a character built from a variety of 1980s teen tropes. Her love for The Smiths somewhat lazily marks her as an outsider, and this status is confirmed by her interminably cheerful mother and stepfather, both of whom think she should smile more. She has a sassy, girl-next-door charm, but misses her father following his tragic death, and follows in his footsteps as a mechanic, working on a long-term project to fix up a classic car.

Needless to say, Charlie and Bumblebee form a bond, and despite the clichés, there is a great deal of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial-style charm in their relationship. Indeed, the influence of Spielberg is keenly felt, with the film echoing the structure and style of classic Amblin pics of the 1980s. The soundtrack is also full to bursting with the likes of The Smiths, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, A-ha, Rick Astley, Steve Winwood and so forth, further enhancing the 80s nostalgia factor.

Visual effects are superb, with the deliberately scaled down action scenes surprisingly exciting. Someone really ought to explain to Michael Bay that endless vistas of collapsing skyscrapers don't necessarily make for compelling viewing, whereas here, a (comparatively) straightforward punch-up between two robots has a lot more thrills.

More important still, Travis Knight understands even that would be meaningless if it we didn't care for the characters. Bumblebee has some good jokes and a lot of heart, channelling the very best films of its kind - the afore-mentioned E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and also The Iron Giant, for instance. It isn't in the same league as either, but all things considered, Bumblebee is, at the very least, a decent blockbuster. You could do a lot worse. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.