The Lack of Real Heart In Bay's Transformers
The trailer's use of voiceover from the late Bernie Mac in the original Transformers hammers home the "mystical bond between man and machine". The relationship between a boy and his car Bumblebee was the true heart of the original film and what made it resonate. It's hard for audiences to relate to warring alien robots destroying the Earth, but just about anyone can sympathize with Shia LaBeouf feeling a bond with his car, which just happens to be a transforming alien robot. Bumblebee is also leaning hard into this theme, but this time, it's established that the Autobot bonded with a teenage girl two decades before he met Sam in Bernie Mac's used car lot.
This is key because as Bay's Transformers saga continued, actual heart and humanity were left behind in place of explosions and ever-more-ludicrous spectacle. Even when Mark Wahlberg replaced Shia LaBeouf as the lead character in the series, the humans were mostly reduced to running and leaping out of the way of explosions as the robots collided with each other. At best, they provided the necessary exposition to explain the films' increasingly incoherent and bizarre mythology to each other and to the audience. By contrast, Bumblebee looks to be centered around what worked in the original, the relationship between a human and her new car, in the best Spielbergian E.T. and Brad Bird The Iron Giant tradition.
A Smaller Scale Means A Better Transformers Movie
By the time The Last Knight ended, the Earth had sprouted the enormous robot horns of Unicron while Cybertron itself was in orbit around our world. This was after discovering the Transformers were on Earth fighting alongside King Arthur and his knights, there was a secret society of Witwiccans throughout history, Bumblebee fought in World War II, and Optimus Prime turned momentarily evil before he was redeemed by his loyal yellow sidekick. Who can blame audiences for throwing up their hands and rejecting how incomprehensible and utterly absurd the Transformers movies had become?
While Bumblebee doesn't seem like it's rebooting any of that established mythology, a smaller scale and budget means a more personal story, which is a wise move that should pay off. Repeating the core relationship from the first and most popular Transformers film with a new human character may seem like lazy writing, but it worked like gangbusters once before and could find new, more intriguing dimensions with Hailee Steinfeld's Charlie as opposed to Shia LaBeouf's Sam. By casting Steinfeld, an Oscar-nominated actress, in the lead, Bumblebee is also correcting how Michael Bay's female characters played by Megan Fox, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Laura Haddock were first and foremost cast for sex appeal with little in the way of personality.
The trailer also presents some intriguing questions: Why was Bumblebee hiding in a junkyard in a 1987 California beach town? Why can't he speak and why is he afraid? Why is Starscream hunting him and is he aware Megatron is imprisoned in the Hoover Dam? Why is John Cena in this movie? And, because fans have never heard of Charlie Watson before now, what happened to her in the 20 years before Sam Witwicky came into the picture? Bumblebee has a lot of potentially fascinating ground to cover but when it's all said and done, it will hopefully be the best Transformers movie since Bay's original - maybe even the best one of all.
- Bumblebee (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018