Travis Knight reveals the humanity that fuels the warriors of Cybertron.
What was that first line of dialogue from The Force Awakens? “This will begin to make things right.” Oh yes. The Bumblebee trailer is here to wash your fanboy angst away. Forget what came before (or after, as we’re dealing with prequel silliness here), director Travis Knight reaches into your childhood toybox to recreate your Transformers Generation One fantasies. It is an act of love, not aggression.
While this trailer does not necessarily dump on everything Michael Bay put forth in his epic saga, Knight appears to be more interested in the sweetness behind the girl and her pet car story than the catastrophic devastation that will fall in their wake. This is the filmmaker behind Laika animation, a company that has mastered the heartstring. While he is probably contractually required to deliver explosions and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robot fights, Knight will deliver on the emotion behind each punch as well.
Hailee Steinfeld is living a life very similar to Shia LaBeouf. Her voyage is just beginning. She’s ready to meet the rest of the world with the full force of a teenager entering adulthood, and that makes her the perfect vessel for Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. The challenge awaits her, so let’s dig into this trailer.
The angelic voice of Bernie Mac whispers out from the heavens, “Let me tell you something…” Hailee stands on a cliffside and stares out across the ocean. She’s searching for a purpose. What does she see? The franchise that will carry her celebrity into legend.
“…A driver don’t pick the car…” Hailee wanders into a junkyard. Is this the same carlot from Bay’s Transformers? It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that this Bumblee is the yellow VW bug we know and love from the original cartoon series. We don’t need no fancy Camaro with a Kill Bill soundtrack.
“…the car picks the driver.” What’s in a name? Being a prequel, Travis Knight looks to answer a few questions regarding the character’s origins. I appreciate this shot as it’s not too terribly winky, keeping those Imperial Officers away from the baby name registry. I also enjoy the idea of a symbiotic relationship between a Transformer and his bee colony. Who knows? Hailee could knock these creatures into oblivion the next second, but I’m gonna hold onto my healthy parasite fantasy.
“…It’s a mystical bond between man and machine.” Hailee gets her new car back home to her garage. We see a brief glimpse of Bumblee controlling his radio as his first step towards communication, and then a chunk of him falls from his undercarriage. Hailee crawls underneath to discover there is more than meets the eye to her new set of wheels. Bumblebee’s eyes light up, and he transforms around her. Hailee simply lies back in awe as we all would.
Standing tall. Bask in this Bumblee’s glory. While not an exact replica of the Generation One toy design, the Autobot standing here is far less cluttered than the version that would ravage through the Bay films. This Bumblee is not a mess of CGI. He’s a clean, easily discernable alien robot badass. You can at least see some resemblance of the VW Bug in the Centurian pose. I am her for it.
All Bayhem sins are forgiven. Here is the moment in the trailer that completely won me over. Bumblee huddles in the corner, afraid. He’s separated from his family, and he needs a friend. Hailee asks, “Who are you? Do you speak.” The quivering Autobot shakes his head; he hasn’t mastered pop culture to the point where he can communicate via radio.
Bumblee needs warmth and connection with another lifeform. Hailee eases her way up to her new car, reaches out her hand as a sign of peace, and Bumblee pushes his cute little face into her palm. I damn near cried.
We get a series of quick action shots. Bumblee dodging strafing fire from a possible Decepticon above. Hailee and friend are joyously allowing Bumblee to pilot the VW down the highway. Hailee is diving into the water while explosions erupt around her. She’s getting into this fight.
Then John Cena enters the frame to represent American badasses everywhere. Sorry, Josh Duhamel, you’ve been upgraded. John Ortiz stands back over his shoulder. He looks to be more scientist type than the wackadoo John Turturro CIA conspirator.
Aw yeah. That’s Starscream. I could watch this transformation from fighter jet to Megatron sycophant all day long. No other section of the trailer will be replicated as infinitely in gif form as this bit here. Smooth and killer.
Again, this Bumblee will not ignore everything we’ve seen from the Bay films. Bumblebee’s battle mode will be necessary when squaring off against Starscream. You don’t want to get dust in your eye when he’s hurling helicopters in your general direction.
“You got people out there that need you. This is why you’re here Bee.” The hero shot. Rising on the battlefield, he’s got a family to save. While we don’t see any other Autobots in this trailer, the impression is that Bumblebee is the first Cybertronian warrior to awaken on Earth. He’s gotta find Optimus Prime before Starscream awakens his brethren.
The trailer closes on a traditional gag. Hailee is helping Bumblee with his communication skills, showing him how music can help you say what you’re feeling. But the ‘bot has class, and he cannot be Rick-Rolled. Hopefully, this is not Travis Knight pulling the same gag on us as well. But if this quick teaser is any indication, Bumblee may make amends for a whole lotta billion dollar weirdness this franchise has spewed at us before. This film feels like the story that should have launched the saga in the first place. Classic Gen One goodness that is underscored by heart and not libido.
Bumblebee hits theaters on December 21st.