STARRING: Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Aldon, Rory Markham, Rachel Crow, Abby Quinn, Gracie Dzienny, Ricardo Hoyos, Kenneth Choi, Stephen Schneider and Len Cariou
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.
On Cybertron, the Autobots make preparations to leave the planet as they’re on the verge of losing their war against the Decepticons. As they’re ambushed by the Decepticons, B-127 is sent to Earth to set up a base of operations where the Autobots can regroup.
Bumblebee is the latest installment in the Transformers live-action franchise and the first one without Michael Bay directing, with Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight at the helm, and it somewhat serves as a prequel as well as a soft reboot to the franchise. The film opens on Cybertron, with the Autobots making plans to leave the planet to get away from the Decepticons, with B-127 making way to Earth to set up a base of operations there for his kind. He’s followed by Blitzwing, who tears out his vocal processor during the battle and damages his memory core. Before entering stasis, B-127 scans and transforms into a nearby Volkswagen Beetle. As more Decepticons land on Earth trying to locate B-127, he wakes up suffering from amnesia and befriends teenager Charlie Watson, who nicknames him Bumblebee and Charlie helps to try and get B-127’s memories back as well as remain hidden from the Government faction known as Sector 7.
As stated already, this is the first Transformers live-action take without Michael Bay at the helm and you can feel his absence in the action sequences, the lack of stupid attempts of crude humour and the designs of the Autobots and Decepticons…..oh yeah, these are all massive improvements in comparisons to the Bayhem Transformers films. The visual designs of the Transformers, via the G1 designs, are crisp, effective and filled with nostalgia to those that grew up on the 80’s animated series and film. You can definitely tell which one is which and it helps that you bring an actual animator in Travis Knight on board to direct. Though it may be brief, the glimpses of Cybertron we see are a joy to watch as a fan of the 80’s animated series, as well as the sound mixed cues of the original that work so much better than the mechanical cluster noises we’ve endured almost a decade. The screenplay from Christina Hodson is decent enough, as the story beats itself are very reminiscent of The Iron Giant, E.T etc. but it works well with how self-contained it is and provides a lot of charm and heart thanks to the lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld here as Charlie Watson. Charlie is still overcome with grief over her fathers death, she’s practically a loner in her school and a stranger in her own home, but her interactions with Bumblebee works tremendously well in the films favour and I thought Steinfeld was really good in the role. John Cena has more limited screen time than I thought he would but as Sector 7 agent Jack Burns, I thought he was used well as a man that loses a lot of his team originally at the hands of their first encounter with the robots, particularly Bumblebee, and insists on taking them all down (plus there’s that one scene when talking with his superior about the Decepticons that made me laugh). Jorge Lendeborg Jr. is fine as Memo, though most of his performance is all reactionary.
Bumblebee, particularly in the first half of the film, suffers from one main issue that Suicide Squad suffered from….the soundtrack. There’s at least ten 80’s songs that are drilled through your brain in the first half an hour to the point that it becomes distracting. While visually the action sequences are more crisp than previous instalments, there is a few green screen issues, particularly one part in the finale when Hailee Steinfeld is trying to make a run for it and the character doesn’t really react to the debris falling around/over her. There’s also a sub-plot, kinda of feels like it was originally intended as a sub-plot and yet it’s completely dropped in the second half of the film and that’s the group of girls that are just absolute bitches to Charlie and the fella that hangs with them. One makes a remake towards Charlie about her dead father that is just cartoonishly bitchy and yet there’s no comeuppance or resolution towards that.
Bumblebee is nothing that hasn’t been told before in terms of storytelling (see The Iron Giant and E.T) but it has a lot of charm and heart going for it and that’s thanks to Hailee Steinfield’s lead performance as well as Travis Knight’s direction, especially as we finally get some Transformers action that we can see clearly what’s happening on screen for a change. It’s definitely up there along with the original animated film and it’s a step in the right direction going forward for the live-action franchise. 6/10