Frances Winston reviews this Transformers prequel, set in the mid-80s
Directed by: Travis Knight – Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon
If you thought this was a documentary about bees, then your pop-culture knowledge is severely lacking, as it is, in fact, yet another movie in the juggernaut Transformers franchise.
However, if you’re only familiar with the high-octane Michael Bay blockbusters, this prequel to the first of those from 2007 may come as something of a surprise. Warning – if you don’t know what Transformers are, google them, or very little of this review will make sense.
Far more genteel than its predecessors (although the events here take place before them) this is set in the mid-80s, and sees one of the Autobots, B-127, better known as Bumblebee, crash-land on earth after he is sent to scout it out for refuge.
Unfortunately, he was attacked as he fled his planet, so his memory is fried, and his voice-box shattered, and having transformed into a VW Beetle, he sits dormant in a junkyard, until a teenager, Charlie (Steinfled) takes a shine to him.
Quickly realising that this is no ordinary car, the two form a firm bond, but the Autobots’ enemy, the Decepticons, are determined to find him, and send two scouts to earth to interrogate him. Their arrival signals a national incident, and a crisis for planet earth, with only Bumblebee capable of saving the day, if he can only remember his mission.
The 80s setting dictates a suitably nostalgic soundtrack, and this is filled with well-known hits of yesteryear, which not only help set the tone, but will also have you tapping your feet.
The look of the era is also captured perfectly, and at times, it almost feels like this is an 80s movie, rather than a contemporary offering. What sets it apart from those flicks are the effects.
One of my big bug-bears with the other Transformers movies was that so much was going on in the fight-scenes, you couldn’t actually make out more than a mass of mangled metal. Here, the robots do fight, but it feels more fluid, and you can actually see what’s happening.
However, this only makes up a tiny portion of the movie, and the biggest CGI credit must go to the animators who created the titular character. They have really given him personality, and you find yourself rooting for him and engaging with him, despite the fact that he is supposed to be a machine.
The relationship between Bumblebee and Charlie is handled beautifully. I felt there were more than a few nods to ET throughout, which would make sense, given that the subject-matter of that was also a young human’s friendship with an alien entity.
Overall, this is far more character-driven than the other movies, and has a definite sense of fun, that was definitely lacking in the more ‘in your face’ offerings.
With a 12A rating, it is obviously aiming for a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean this is childish. Indeed, in many ways, it is far more sophisticated and well-crafted than the other movies. There is plenty here for the grown-up fans of the toys, and 80s animated series, to love, while kids will love the playfulness and the titular character.
Far more fun than I expected, this has a huge amount of heart, and manages to be many things to many people without feeling bloated. It is absolute feel good fare, and a worthy prequel to the franchise.
It may be quieter than the other films, but it just goes to show you don’t need an explosion every five minutes in order to create an action adventure. I can see this becoming a bit of a family classic, and that’s not a bad thing.
In Cinemas December 24th
Previews December 15th – trailer below: