The Transformers franchise has given us a breath of fresh air with their latest venture, Bumblebee; the first film in the franchise filled with ample amounts of heart, humor, fun and memorable action!
Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) takes on directing duties here and he gives Bumblebee a refreshing, yet familiar tone, packed with his own unique style. It’s unlike any of the previous films in tone and storytelling. This Transformers story isn’t focused on a MacGuffin, rather the focus is on the relationship between a girl, her car, and the unbreakable bond they form together.
The story is quite simple and speaks to a bond many of us can relate too, however, we don’t have a car that is a Transformer. The story is very engaging thanks to Christina Hodson’s well-thought out and emotional script, which gives our main protagonist Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and Bumblebee depth and character arcs that allows us to get invested in their friendship. Once the audience has that bond with Charlie and Bumblebee the subsequent action that threatens their relationship feels real and intense.
Bumblebee is a coming-of-age story for both Charlie and Bumblebee as they are both coming into their own, discovering their place in this world while finding a powerful friendship between them. Their encounter comes at a time where both need someone to lean on and trust. Charlie is moving on from past trauma and Bee is a fallen soldier, who is lost and vulnerable. Together they find their purpose and Bee can become the fearless soldier he once was and a hero. Unlike, Michael Bay’s entries to the franchise, Knight’s relies on emotion and powerful performances from its leads.
Academy-award nominee Hailee Steinfeld gives an emotional and nuanced performance, similar to her role in Edge of Seventeen. As the movie progresses she continues to nail the emotional punches and make us feel for Charlie and her situation.
While Steinfeld is able to bring great depth and emotion to the story, it is our titular character that truly shines! Thanks to Knights background in animation Bumblebee is made to feel like a real person, with genuine emotions and character. The tradition of having Bumblebee not speak is used cleverly in the film as the character is able to emote so much more just through his eyes. Without saying anything, we know exactly how he feels and what he thinks. There is a childlike playfulness to Bumblebee; some could make the comparison to a lost puppy. He is in a lot of ways just like the Iron Giant from Brad Bird’s cult favorite animated film. Charlie is the Hogarth stand-in, teaching her own Iron Giant everything she can about herself and life on Earth; which makes for some great comedic moments.
The comedy is quite delightful and every character has a chance to show off their comedic chops. There is a joke on how the name ‘Decepticons’ is already a red flag, which encapsulates the type of fourth-wall breaking comedy of the movie. Fans of the animated series and movie will certainly love having a chance to laugh at the silly things that made Transformers so memorable.
The standout comedic performance comes from John Cena who plays Jack Burns, an Agent of Sector 7. He creates a nice balance with his stoicism and comedic line delivery. The same can be said with Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) Charlie’s geeky friend who has a huge crush on her. He never once acts annoying and becomes part of the emotional journey.
As for the poorly named Decepticons, Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) are the primary antagonists chasing after Bumblebee. The three of them remain to be the only vital Transformers in the film. Shatter and Dropkick are the closest in resembling the designs from the previous films, which makes them terrifying to look at when compared to the softer Bumblebee design. The menace from the Decepticons come from Bassets voice performance which truly captures the frightening nature of these beings. Meanwhile, Theroux’s Dropkick offers more of a comedic relief by constantly wanting to kill someone.
The action is very enjoyable, especially if you’re a fan of the G1 Transformers The presentation of the action is very clear. You can see what’s happening and a large part of that is courtesy of the cleaner redesign of the Transformers. The Decepticons are finally given their own color palette which allows us to differentiate who’s who. With Bumblebee being considerably smaller to other Transformers, his movements feel fluid as he jumps, evades, and attacks the antagonists. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of action, but what we do get is sure to leave an impact.
For the first time in a long time, I am excited to see where the Transformers franchises go to next!
Bumblebee rides into theaters everywhere December 21st.