Michael “blow something up” Bay says he wants to give us origin movies on every single Transformer character now?? Say it ain’t so, Mike!! I can deal with movies about the individual X-Men superheros, the Star Wars population, and even the entire MCU, but the Transformers? However, if the movie’s are THIS good… maybe it’ll be okay.
Things are looking pretty grim on Planet Cybertron, home of the evil Decepticons and the heroic Autobots. With their planet doomed, the Autobots high-tail it for outer space and safety; the brave and feisty B-127 ‘bot headed for sanctuary on 1987 Earth. But no sooner than his arrival, than he meets up with “kill first, ask questions later” man-beef Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena) and super-mean Decepticon, Blitzwing. After a battle and near dead, B-187 ‘copies’ a yellow 1967 Volkswagen beetle and goes dormant.
Say hello to just-turned-18 Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a plucky, but lonely girl who’s not only an ace grease monkey, but is still lamenting the death of her father. Her mom (Pamela Adlon) tries to understand, as well as her new step-dad (Stephen Schneider), and her little karate-kid brother (Jason Drucker). When Charlie’s given a birthday gift of a yellow Volkswagen, she’s initially overjoyed, but later gets the shock of her life when it transforms into B-127! Scared, but curious, she makes friends with the lumbering iron giant and calls him Bumblebee (because of the sound he makes). Unable to talk–his voice box was torn out–Bumblebee and Charlie form an unlikely friendship as she drives him around town with her next door neighbor and geeky friend, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.).
Ah, but life is not all Hasbro toys and Breakfast Club videos, because two nasty Decepticons have landed here, looking for B-127. Truly malicious Shatter (voiced by Angela Basset) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) con Col. Burns and Dr. Powell (John Ortiz) into thinking that B-127 is a dangerous criminal and must be found. They use our ‘primitive’ phones and satellites to find him, constructing a world wide web… who knew they created it?!. Meanwhile, Charlie, Memo, and Bumblebee are having fun adventures like your typical teenager that owns a Transformers car, but that all stops when Burns & Co. find out where they are.
From there it’s your A-typical ‘my friend gets captured and must be rescued” third act scenario, but with alien killer robots and teenagers. What’s surprising is how GOOD this Transformers movie is, considering two factors: one, the screenwriter. Christina Hodson has only written two forgettable movies (Unforgettable and Shut In) and two, the director. Travis Knight has directed only ONE other film, and that was the awesome Kubo and the Two-Strings. So how is it a no-name screenwriter and one-time kids-film director could make a terrific actioner that blows away all the other Michael Bay movies? Simple. It’s got heart!
Unlike Bay’s other Transformers movies where he has mind-numbing explosions, battles, fights, and general mayhem every 10 minutes (guaranteed), this movie decides to throw out the Bay “bigger is better” battle plan and make this a family picture with multi-dimensional characters, a teenager who isn’t full of angst and built like a Victoria Secret model, and NONE of Bay’s signature ‘sweeping slo-mo camera’ shots! It’s (dare I say it) a fun, comedic, and exciting new look at a tired old franchise. Hodson has tapped into fresh new territory with Charlie, giving her nuance and depth, something that Steinfeld richly brings out again.
Oh sure, you have the ever-present silliness of those robots and humans and their deus ex machina ways of surviving multiple deaths in the most ridiculous and physics-defying ways. And you have your share of plot holes thrown in for good measure, but you can’t escape the real meat of the plot; a love story between a young girl and her protector giant robot. I’m guessing Hodson watched either Disney’s Love Bug series or Brad Bird’s Iron Giant once or twice. Also, Knights direction is spot-on as well. Unconventional and having a distinct flavor from Bay’s, it’s simple and doesn’t rely on explosions and robots attacking each other all the time. He gives the film time to set-up and simmer before delivering the one-two punch at the end.
And enough cannot be said about Steinfeld. From her previous credits (True Grit, Edge of Seventeen) she’s proven her serious acting chops. She sells the movie with ease and gives life to Charlie. Lendeborg, jr is great as the ‘aw-schucks’ wanna-be boyfriend, and John Cena is all stoned-faced and testosterone-oozing bag o’meat. Perfect. Oh, and for fun, look for stage veteran Len Cariou as a junkyard owner. He was the original Sweeney Todd on Broadway! For all you Transformers fans out there, yes, they do explain how Bumblebee goes from a 1967 Volkswagen to a 1977 Chevy Camaro; his identity in the later films.
Take a beloved and iconic Disney car from the 60’s and reboot it for the 2000’s with a red-haired tomboy who’s trying to show her dad she exists and what do ya get? This sometimes entertaining film that pretty much ended the career of Lindsay Lohan as a mainstream actress, but certainly not because of this movie.
Remember Herbie, the Love Bug? Back in the 60’s he was a sentient Volkswagen beetle that had many adventures from San Francisco to Monte Carlo, but after 30 years, he’s been sitting in a junkyard, rusting away. Unhappy emoji. Now meet Maggie Peyton (Lohan), an aspiring race car driver like her daddy, Ray (Michael Keaton). As a graduation gift, Maggie is given Herbie and, not only does she find evidence of his past ownership, but Herbie comes alive again, taking her against her will to the garage where her old friend Kevin (Justin Long) works as a mechanic. No, that wasn’t weird or creepy at all!
Kevin has Maggie take Herbie to a car show to buy parts for Herbie, but when they arrive, Herbie tricks Maggie into disguising herself in a racing suit and helmet and challenging the super-vain NASCAR champion Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon) to an impromptu race, where Herbie wins by a second. Naturally, this delights both Kevin and Maggie, however dad forbids her from EVER racing again! Trip meanwhile, throws a tantrum ’cause he was beaten by a bug and becomes obsessed with Herbie, does everything he can to organize a rematch.
Hijinks ensue with Maggie secretly driving in a street race, Herbie getting jealous over Maggie wanting another car, and Kevin becoming disillusioned in Maggie over her rejection of Herbie. Naturally, this sets up Herbie trying to commit “car-icide” and Maggie saving him at the last second with a heart-felt speech. Kevin and his crack-team decide to help Maggie win that BIG race rematch against Trip and give Herbie an upgrade with new parts; tricking him out to nicer, faster looking race car. This, much to the consternation her her father, who eventually caves in and lets her race.
Although not a BAD movie, it had several bad things going against it from the get-go: four writers that couldn’t decide on which way they wanted the overall structure of the movie to go, and director Angela Robinson, who had only directed one other movie (the forgettable D.E.B.S.), and lots of dramatic cable series (True Blood, Hung). This was supposed to be cutesy family-friendly film, but too much teen-angst thrown into the script ruined the pacing, along with the weird shifting in tone (goofy comedy? teen drama? both? neither?), sank the picture.
Lohan had grown up on screen with her amazing dual performance in Parent Trap, (where she was SO good, I was convinced she was twins), and shined in this role with her bubbly, outgoing personality and raspy voice. Unfortunately, it was right after this movie her world crashed ‘n’ burned all around her with drug abuse, excessive partying, etc. Yet another Hollywood cautionary tale to be taught to young actors.