Time: 114 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence & scary scenes
Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie Watson
John Cena as Jack Burns
Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Memo
John Ortiz as Dr. Powell
Jason Drucker as Otis Watson
Pamela Adlon as Sally Watson
Director: Travis Knight
On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee the Autobot seeks refuge in a junkyard in a small California beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), on the brink of turning 18 years old and trying to find her place in the world, soon discovers the battle-scarred and broken Bumblebee. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns that this is no ordinary yellow Volkswagen.
Bumblebee was a movie I was curious about. I watched the first three Transformers movies many years ago and while I liked some of them, they were mostly just dumb action movies. However with Hailee Steinfeld but most of all Travis Knight, who directed Kubo and the Two Strings, involved, I was somewhat looking forward to it. Bumblebee is rather formulaic with its story, but it does a great job at what it is.
Now to get it out of the way, Bumblebee has a rather familiar story, it can be compared to The Iron Giant and E.T. and so it follows similar beats to those movies. Not that this is a huge negative but you can sort of tell which direction the story will head in, with not many surprises. The movie is rather straightforward, mainly driven by the relationship between Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and Bumblebee. It also features the Decepticons hunting Bumblebee, the military trying to find Bumblebee, and that’s it. I bring this up because some of the Michael Bay Transformers movies could be overstuffed at times with plotlines and characters, unnecessarily so, Bumblebee however keeps things simple. There is nothing unnecessary in this 1 hour and 50 minute runtime. Something also really refreshing is that it feels very personal and not large scale. To get the idea about what I mean by personal story, The Iron Giant and E.T. comparisons are pretty accurate. This is really the first Transformers movie I saw really I actually care about the human characters, and the tone is very sincere and genuine. This film is set in the 1980s and throughout there is a feeling of nostalgia. For much of the movie it’s just focussed on Charlie and Bumblebee and their interactions, with much of the large scale events not necessarily being in the forefront of the movie. The stakes become world ending towards the end of the movie, but even then it still feels smaller scale and not overblown. So the third act doesn’t feel like a betrayal of the rest of the movie or anything. On top of that, while the ultimate antagonists of the film are Decepticons, it’s really just 2 of them (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux, didn’t know that while watching), and none of them are Megatron (refreshingly he doesn’t appear in the movie at all). The writing itself was really quite good, nothing groundbreaking but it felt right for the story it was telling. Not to bring up comparisons to Michael Bay’s movies yet again … but the humour here works and isn’t like Bay’s disastrously hit or miss humour. As for the connections to the other Transformers movies, I’m not quite sure whether Bumblebee is a prequel to the Bay films or if it’s essentially a reboot. I guess we’ll find out as later films come out.
Hailee Steinfeld is the lead character and as usual she’s great. Her relationship with Bumblebee is one of the driving forces of the movie. Yes, the relationship does follow beats from Iron Giant and all that, but it nonetheless works really well. Steinfeld essentially has to sell it on her own as she doesn’t even have a voice to play off of, and she is great with it. John Cena plays the main military guy and he’s pretty good in his role, however he’s a little better at the more comedic aspects than the serious aspects.
Travis Knight’s direction is great and added a lot to the movie. Almost all of the CGI is great and really works, it definitely helps that it doesn’t use an absurd amount of CGI, only when it’s necessary. I think there were a couple shots in the climax where the green screen looked noticeable, that’s it really. The work on Bumblbee was particularly fantastic. Not only does he look like he’s there when he’s on screen but there are times where Hailee Steinfeld actually physically interacts with him, so you can tell that they probably built part of a seemingly real looking Bumblebee and made it look seamless. The action was also great. The Michael Bay Transformers movies can feature some great action scenes, however it can be very shaky, too up close, or completely not shown on camera, leading to some of the scenes being incomprehensible. Bumblebee’s action scenes on the other hand show everything and it’s really smooth and works well. Along with that, we do get to see some scenes featuring Cybertron and looks really great.
Bumblebee is by far the best Transformers movie. The direction and effects are great, and the story despite being familiar, feels personal and genuine and is done well overall. I know some people really don’t like the Transformers movies and that might put them off watching it (along with the fact that December is packed with plenty of movies), but I really do recommend checking this one out in the cinema because it’s really good, and I’d love to see more of these movies, especially with Travis Knight at the helm of them.