Directed by Travis Knight.
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Dylan O’Brien, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, John Ortiz, Peter Cullen, Jess Harnell, Jason Drucker, Abby Quinn, Rachel Crow, Ricardo Hoyos, Gracie Dzienny, Kenneth Choi, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Grey Griffin, Steve Blum, Marcella Bragio, Andrew Morgado, David Sobolov, Jon Bailey, Megyn Price, Glynn Turman, Vanessa Ross, Len Cariou, and Tony Toste.
On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.
At this point, a new Transformers film might be considered an exercise in redundancy, but for Paramount and Hasbro’s sixth instalment in the franchise they’ve managed to really shift gears and deliver a Transformers film that succeeds in nearly all areas. For the spin-off Bumblebee, Kubo and the Two Strings‘ Travis Knight replaces Michael Bay as the director of a Transformers film to tell a tightly crafted story from screenwriter Christina Hodson that focuses on the Autobot scout and 18-year-old Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and their search for identity. Bumblebee is the first Transformers film to truly capture the spirit of the franchise, Generation 1 specifically, with its character-based story and Knight’s direction.
One might wonder just how much mileage Bumblebee could get in his own film, but Knight and Hodson manage to make an engrossing story about Bumblebee and the film’s main human, Charlie. After Bumblebee gains amnesia due to a battle wound, Charlie discovers him in a junkyard and they form a bond with parallel journeys. Both Bee and Charlie are in the midst of discovering who they are and the sterner stuff they’re made of, in the wake of personal tragedies no less. There’s a lot of great chemistry between Charlie and Bee as they bond and she teaches him some Earth customs and how to adjust to the loss of his voice. Their relationship feels organic from the beginning and has a nice balance between its levity and seriousness as it bounces between the two with ease. Steinfeld’s performance draws you into her plight and makes you care for her character. She’s relatable, easy to root for and has a bigger emotional arc than just wanting to buy a car. Steinfeld conveys the emotions of Charlie’s coming of age in a way that feels fairly authentic.
When it comes to the title Autobot, Bumblebee is as funny and charismatic as he was in the 80s cartoon. The film does a very good job conveying everything he’s feeling despite the loss of his voice and though he’s partially amnesiac for most of the story, he’s still very much the Bumblebee many fans will know and love. The effects on Bee were utilized very well as his facial expressions were quite clear. The various ways his eyes or mouthpiece reacted to Charlie, the Decepticons and other humans was rich in detail and helped further endear him to viewers. This is definitely the best Bee has been depicted in the whole of the franchise.
The rest of the ensemble does fairly well for the most part. John Cena has his moments as Sector 7 agent Jack Burns, but overall he’s actually the weakest part of the cast and film. There’s very little to his character other than a gruff army vet who believes Bumblebee is a threat (though he is the only one in the room who humourously realizes bots calling themselves Decepticons probably aren’t good) and his deliveries aren’t always on point. Jorge Lendeborg Jr. shares some nice chemistry with Steinfeld as her neighbour and friend, but doesn’t get a whole lot to do or much development beyond the awkward boy who has an obvious crush. Meanwhile Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux give good performances as the Decepticons Shatter and Dropkick respectively, but its Bassett who is the more memorable of the two due to her commanding vocal presence and Shatter’s overall physical demeanor.
Bumblebee features a pretty straightforward and generic story. The stakes aren’t too high and the action doesn’t have the usual end-of-the-world battles the previous films have had, but that’s actually a huge advantage for the film because it allows it to focus solely on the relationship between Bee and Charlie. Its very refreshing to have a story that places so much emphasis on the characters rather than action or an overcomplicated story. But when Bumblebee does an action sequence, it very much delivers. The action flows really well with the bots easy to tell apart. Its not a jumbled mess of metal and CGI, but something that is easy to follow.
Some examples of just how great the action is the choreography of the bots and the ease in which they transform during battle, especially with the film’s triple changers. Whether its Bee quickly transforming into his Beetle form to ram an enemy or Dropkick changing into a car, speeding up a ramp and then to helicopter, their movements are incredibly fluid. Longtime fans of the franchise, specifically of the Generation 1 cartoon, will be very pleased at just the look of many of the bots in how they are reminiscent of the original series. The highlight for them will be the action depicted on Cybertron with many of the Autobots and Decepticons appearing as their original forms. While Optimus Prime had one of the better modern updates in Bay’s films, he’s never looked better than here in his G1 glory taking on a number of Decepticon seekers. Combined with how sleek the action looks, this is the best presentation of the Transformers we’ve gotten in live action yet.
Transformers fans will be very happy with Bumblebee for its focus on characters over action. Knight and Hodson deliver a well rounded tale with a lot of reverence for the original series that is boasted by a great performance from Hailee Steinfeld. The visuals are excellent, from the G1 references to the expressions on Bee and Shatter, and the action it does have is entertaining, well choreographed and easy to follow. Bumblebee is definitely the Transformers film fans have been waiting for.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★