There’s a certain buzz in the air for the first Transformers spin-off
WHEN YOU’VE THREATENED the planet five times, unleashed a robot with massive wrecking-ball testicles and featured the line, “How do you say, ‘Get the fuck out of the way’ in Chinese?”, there’s only one direction to turn the volume dial: down. Hence Bumblebee, the very first Transformers spin-off movie and one which promises to change the pace in drastic ways. “We’ve talked a lot about Logan,” explains executive producer Chris Brigham. “A great example of a large franchise that went small, in a successful way.”
The first fresh element: a new director. After delivering a quintet of gigantically scaled robo-thrillers, Michael Bay is stepping aside (although is still on board as producer), and animation dynamo Travis Knight (Kubo And The Two Strings) is coming in, with the ambition of making something smaller, subtler and sweeter. “I wanted to approach this massive, expansive franchise and really focus in on a tiny corner of the canvas,” he says. “Everything I’ve tried to do at [animation studio] Laika, searching for an artful blend of darkness and light, intensity and warmth, humour and heart, I wanted to bring to the Transformers franchise.”
There’s also a new time period. Detaching entirely from the complicated mythological tangle of the previous films, Bumblebee is set in the 1980s, focusing on the budding friendship between Californian youngster Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and the sentient yellow car she discovers one day. Expect slapstick shenanigans involving the mute robot (Bumblebee is no longer a Chevy Camaro, but a VW Beetle, as he was in the original Transformers cartoons), pop-culture callbacks and a sun-baked tale that’s more interested in warming our hearts than frazzling our eyeballs.
“At its core it’s just a beautiful love story between two broken souls who find each other and heal each other,” Knight says. “I grew up loving those classic Spielbergian Amblin films. And we’re trying to evoke that kind of emotion in this movie, fusing a rich coming-of-age story with some sci-fi insanity.”
Despite the amped-up emotion, franchise fans should be reassured that the spin-off won’t be skimping on spectacle. There are still a few dastardly Decepticons on the scene, hell-bent on swatting Bumblebee, and though the stakes might be lower, the action when it comes will be full-strength. You’ve experienced Bayhem — get ready for Dynoknight. NICK DE SEMLYEN
Love bug: Troubled Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) finds her soulmate in a sentient