Well, it’s the rise of a new dawn, a New Year and a fresh start, so what have you got for me film industry? A Transformers spin-off movie? You are too kind.
Sarcasm aside, I thought I’d be going to see a slowly-paced French film at the cinema before a Transformers film, but I thought, what the hell? It’s a New Year (well, almost, I saw it on the 29th December, but that’s practically the New Year, right?) so why not broaden my horizons, for better or worse. Besides, other critics seem to think that it isn’t God-awful, so how bad could it be?
It’s 1987, the Autobot B-127 escapes the war on Cybertron to the planet Earth, where he disguises himself as a yellow VW Beetle, whereupon he is found by social outcast Charlie Watson, and an unlikely friendship blooms. Meanwhile, the Autobots arch rivals the Decepticons have tracked B-127 (AKA Bumblebee) and will burn the planet to ashes to retrieve him.
I understand that the above plot synopsis might fly over many heads, it would have flown over mine before I watched the film, while it just looks like technobabble to the untrained eye, but the film, to its credit does a good job of making it all understandable.
It surprises me more than it could ever surprise anyone else to say that I enjoyed this film. I know, I enjoyed a Transformers film, is the sky about to fall?
No, you hypothetical sarcastic sods, and the reason I liked it so much is because of how much it DOESN’T feel like a Michael Bay Transformers film, first and foremost, it treats its female lead as an actual human being and not a sex-doll in a miniskirt, and for this reason, the character is actually likeable and sympathetic, in fact, there’s a significant improvement in characters overall, they’ve taken a big step away from cookie-cutter archetypes (for the most part, more on that later) and they’re all much better for it.
I also liked that it took time to explore the Transformers conflict, between the Autobots (good guys) and the Decepticons (bad guys) in the bad Transformers films, that was put to the background for copious explosions, lazy stereotypes and puerile leeriness. We get to see a part of a battle on the Transformers home planet, Cybertron. Even though its CGI base creates a certain amount of disconnect, it’s still somewhat exhilarating to see the base of the war that we see so little of in the main series.
As for the characters I mentioned earlier, I really liked the lead character, Charlie (played by Hailee Steinfeld) she has very relatable character traits, there are parts that seemed shoehorned in, the catty girls at school and the dead dad spring to mind, but that doesn’t bring her character or the film down, Steinfeld should be commended for carrying the weight of the films narrative, emotionally at least, and for making us buy into a relationship between a teenage girl and a robot.
Elsewhere in the cast, there’s strong, if unspectacular performances. John Cena was far better than I thought he would be, his strong charisma carries across from his wrestling persona, he sparkles when given comedic lines, but when things get a bit more serious, it is more difficult to buy into, then there’s the predictable nature of his soldier character, but the strong base is there to build on. There’s also Memo, Charlie’s neighbour and love interest (played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr) who was good in a somewhat limited, not to mention cliched, role of nerdy love interest, his performance brought the character to life in his hands, he’ll be one to watch in the future I’m sure.
I do have complaints, though. As I mentioned earlier, some characters are predictable and tread the same ground, there’s the bitchy high school girls, the step-dad who tries too hard to be liked and the corrupt government officials. There have been steps forward taken, but these cheap and lazy characters drag down the overall quality I find. Also, I was quite annoyed by a certain narrative device in the climactic battle, it’s a well-worn cinematic cliche that hasn’t aged well, at all. It again quickly drags down the moment by artificially heightening tensions.
Overall though, this film is worlds apart from the terrible, awful main series films, part of that is down to a fresh director, a fresh perspective and likeable characters, that’s how you bring people back to a franchise, now I just hope they build on this success, and don’t regress into their old form, it’s all very well to praise steps taken forward, but we now need to hold them up to that standard going forward, which will be its real challenge, that being said however, this film did endear me to the Transformers much more than Bay’s out put, which is unprecedented, and says all I need to say really.