Review - 'Bumblebee'
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Bumblebee, that is, until I remembered that it was directed by Travis Knight, the immensely gifted head of Laika and director of my favorite film of 2016, Kubo and the Two Strings. Now, Bumblebee isn’t Kubo good, but it is far-and-away the best Transformers film I have ever seen…by far.
Set in the 80’s, Bumblebee is sent to earth as the Autobots and Decepticons battle in Cybertron. Bumblebee is disabled and loses his voice because of the military and the attacking Decepticons. Barely escaping, he transforms into a Volkwagen Beetle and is subsequently acquired and repaired by Charlie, who quickly discovers that there is much more under the hood.
Bumblebee is a breath of fresh air for the Transformers series in so many ways, so many ways that I don’t think that I even have time to address all of them. Starting from the top, this film has heart, which by default puts it above all five of the films that came before it, which are all films that I would argue are completely devoid of any modicum of heart. In Bumblebee, I cared about the bond between Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and Bumblebee in a way I never thought I would.
Another massive heel-turn for the franchise is how Knight does away with the crass, abrasive humor that used to be a staple of the previous entries. In it’s place is well-written, light-hearted and above-the-belt humor that occurs naturally. There are no humping dogs in the back yard, no weed jokes and no robots urinating on the heads of respected actors. Thank God.
Finally, the action is much easier to follow and for once there’s not too much going on in each frame. I could actually tell which hunk of metal was pummeling the other, because for once the camera was steady and focused.
The characters in Bumblebee are also like-able, for once. Charlie played by Hailee Steinfeld has immediate charm as a bit of a tomboy that desperately wants a car and is trying to repair her own in her parents’ garage. John Cena also knows just the right amount of camp to employ his Army Ranger character, Jack Burns, with. Pamela Adlon and Stephen Schneider do a great job at playing goofy but endearing parents to Charlie. I also enjoyed Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Memo, Charlie’s easily-frightened neighbor and potential love interest. As I thought about it, It’s actually a bit funny how many of the characters in Bumblebee mirror the ones in Michael Bay’s original trilogy, but are just written so much better here.
Though the movie is a MASSIVE step up for the franchise, it isn’t perfect. The main issue, and I even hesitate to call it that, is that there is nothing particularly remarkable about the film as a whole. The movie is simply well-made and over time it charms its way into your heart, and there’s nothing wrong with that, I just won’t be gushing about how excellent the film is to anyone.
Bumblebee is a good movie, never thought I’d write those words, but it is. The film has charm, heart and well-staged, colorful action. It’s nostalgia-driven, family-friendly sci-fi done the way it should have been done from the start.