Oh golly, it’s time for another Transformers movie. The last film in this particular franchise left me so completely underwhelmed that I had thought we had finally finished with this film series but it appears that we’re back once more unto the fray.
The positive buzz around this film actually ended up reaching me despite my best efforts to avoid it so I would go into the film with fresh eyes. Nonetheless, I was pleased to hear that many were calling this the “best Transformers” film to date. It was with some optimism that I went into the review screening. Did it pay out? Read on…
The film opens in the midst of the civil war on the transformers home world, Cybertron, where the beleaguered Autobots are in flight from their Decepticon enemies. One of the Autobots, Bumblebee (Dylan O’Brien), is sent to hide out on Earth and await the arrival of his comrades but, upon landing, is ambushed by a waiting Decepticon who maims Bumblebee by removing his voice synthesiser which leaves him mute. After losing all his memories and nearly succumbing to his injuries, Bumblebee transforms into the last car he sees, a Volkswagon Beetle, before entering into a stasis. Around two decades later, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) is dealing with the complex feelings of grief at the loss of her father and happens across the Bumblebee Volkswagon by chance. As she sets about trying to fix the car, Bumblebee awakes and our protagonists finally meet each other. Together they try to help each other with their individual problems and defeat the evil Decepticons.
The film’s story, I felt, tried to lean into the nostalgia factor of its 80s setting in its narrative themes. The story of a young woman dealing with the loss of a father is very Spielbergian and I thought was certainly an interesting theme for the film to tackle. The film, I feel, doesn’t really grapple with this far too deeply unfortunately as it needs to dedicate a significant amount of its screen time to the machinations of sector 7 and the prerequisite amount of Transformers action. The film did a good job of setting up Charlie’s longing for her father but I never really got the sense that she was developing any connections or experiencing any growth to really deal with that crushing loss. I am able to identify a character arc on the part of Charlie with regards to her relationship with Bumblebee but I never felt the emotional impact of this journey.
The reason for this, I think on my part, is that I didn’t entirely buy Charlie’s relationship with Bumblebee. I don’t know whether there was an uncanny valley effect in play or whether there was something about the writing mise-en-scene but I just did not buy that Steinfeld was forming a bond with our eponymous protagonist. That being said, the scenes of bonding were quite cute and inspired with the pair bonding over a shared appreciation of music. The elements were there but for some reason I just couldn’t think of anything besides the fact that this relationship was not nearly as affecting as something like The Iron Giant. My enjoyment of this film was greatly hampered by this fact specifically but, I am happy to say, that I appear to be in the minority on this particular point as my companions for the film all appear to have resoundingly enjoyed themselves.
The action scenes in the film were perhaps some of the best that I’ve seen in this entire series. The shots were all largely clean and the editing was able to show us a clear view of the robots fighting with a clear sense of the space that they were fighting in. In particular the shots of civil Cybertron are pretty awesome and quite interesting to look at. I earnestly hope that we get some more scenes of the transformers home world as a giant metal planet home to talking robots that transform and are currently fighting a civil war seems like a pretty cool setting for action movie; just saying…
Something which I think definitely needs to be addressed is the film’s violence. The film depicts, in a fairly graphic way, transformers getting torn apart and otherwise dismembered to a fairly confronting degree. Similarly, humans get turned into goop in a similarly confronting fashion. This violence is understandable for an action film but I get the impression deliberate choices were made to depict the violence in such a way which doesn’t cause the film to get a higher age rating (mainly by avoiding showing blood). Nonetheless, the violence that it does depict can be confronting for younger members of an audience so parents please be aware that you might need to have a discussion with your kids after the film…
The film’s score is a competent accompaniment to the film’s narrative in punctuating the film’s emotional beats but doesn’t leave much of an impression otherwise. The film similarly leans into its 80s nostalgia through its soundtrack which features a lot of hits from its 80s setting. You’ve got everything from A-ha to Duran Duran; Bon Jovi and The Smiths. It’s an eclectic mix of a bunch of hits from the 80s which I’m sure will be pleasant for old fans and fans to be. The film’s soundtrack is really where the film’s audioscape shines and it was a fun accompaniment but I do wish that the film had done more with it in its use of these songs for our mute protagonist.
Overall, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t really enjoy my time with this film; I didn’t hate it either though. The story and characters have some inspired moments interspersed throughout but I just wasn’t sold on the central relationship between the two protagonists which stifled it’s main narrative arcs. The visuals are cleaner and clearer than I believe I’ve ever seen them before and Cybertron seems like an interesting place that I’d love to see more of. The 80s soundtrack is a great mix of songs to really live up to the nostalgia factor of the film’s period setting. I had a difficult time writing this review because I was so unmoved by the film in either direction. I don’t think it’s bad; it certainly earns the mantle of “best modern Transformers movie” but that was never a particularly high bar to vault in my book.
If you’re a fan of the series, give it a watch and you’ll probably enjoy yourself. If find yourself in agreement with my tastes more often than not, you may want to steer clear.
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