Bumblebee tears itself away from the replicatory nature of Michael Bay’s formula; bringing fun, heart, and just a little bit of soul to a franchise that felt as robotic as that characters themselves.
Set in the 1980’s Bumblebee follows the journey of a young girl named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) - a determined, clever, but a distant girl who is still struggling from the recent loss of her father. Charlie comes across Bumblebee in a scrapyard, fixes him up, and they form a bond. This is a story about the bond between Bee and his first companion, their relationship, and the lessons they learn. The decision to go with a character-driven story sparks life back into this rusty franchise, stripping bare its paint, recoating it, and waxing it with a shiny new direction.
Bumblebee stands as the first Transformers film that is not under the misguided direction of Michael Bay. Director Travis Knight discards the heavy action spectacle and places characters at the forefront to form an enticing story. While the script isn’t perfect, there’s plenty of moments to smile at, as humor plays a major role in creating a looser and more relaxed tone over Bay’s exhausting ‘end of the world’ nonsense.
Hailee Steinfeld does an excellent job at portraying a teen struggling with the loss of her father and trying to find a way to move on from that. She has an innate ability to convey difficult emotions and elevates every scene she is in.
It goes without saying that this film is certainly aiming to strike a more cutesier tone to attract younger audiences and a larger demographic by making Bee seem more vulnerable and scared. Bumblebee’s amnesia, lack of vocals, hidden power, and bond with a young human reminds us distinctly of "The Iron Giant". It goes without saying that this isn’t the most original direction the film could have gone in, but in this franchise, it excels beyond measure.
The film is shot quite nicely, and on par with the other transformer films, except with some more quirky camera movements. Visual Effects are brilliant in relation to its budget, especially considering this film stands as the franchises best, as well as cheapest. The Autobots look more cartoonish, relating back to its roots and that cutesier tone mentioned earlier. The art direction, from sets to costuming felt severely off for an 80’s setting. This made it difficult to get immersed inside the world as there were essentially no establishing shots of towns to ground ourselves in the time period, just half a dozen locations that the film loops around.
"Bumblebee" branches away from the previous Transformers films by not taking itself too seriously and allowing itself to explore a more settled tone. This is a self-contained story that echoes themes of friendship and courage. Travis Knight has given us the best Transformers movie to date, it has heart, it has action, and most importantly, it has fun. I'm going to give "Bumblebee" an 8 out of 10.