Release: 13th May 2019
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Cybertron has fallen. When Optimus Prime sends Bumblebee to defend Earth, his journey to become a hero begins. Charlie Watson (HAILEE STEINFELD), a teenager trying to find her place in the world, discovers and repairs the battle-scarred robot, who’s disguised as a Volkswagen Beetle. As the Decepticons hunt down the surviving Autobots with the help of a secret agency led by Agent Burns (JOHN CENA), Bumblebee and Charlie team up to protect the world in an action-packed adventure that’s fun for the whole family.
If, like me, you’ve yet to see a Transformer film you actually enjoy, then Bumblebee will likely be a pleasant surprise. Written by Christina Hodson and directed by Laika alumni Travis Knight, Bumblebee proves to be just as heavy-handed as its predecessors, but in all the right ways.
Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie inhabits a significantly wistful 1980’s San Francisco. It is a place that can only be outdone for its nostalgic vigor by Adam Sandler classic The Wedding Singer. Knight goes so far as to even skin his transformers in their classic iterations for the original cartoon and toy series. But all this big hair, bubblegum pop and analogue design does not detract from a genuinely comical and engaging riff on E.T….or is it Mac and Me? At its core, Bumblebee wants to pay homage to its roots, and does it best to keep the tradition of high-octane clashes with forgettable villains. There is the compulsory military man chasing both parties, and a nebbish loner caught in the middle of it all. But where Bumblebee comes in to its own, is with something none of the other films have had; heart. It begs, borrows and steals from every 80’s classic you loved as a kid, but gets away with it. The end result is The Goonies meets Suburban Commando via John Hughes.
The central relationship that blossoms between xxx and Bumblebee is actually quite touching. Steinfeld adds a layer of humanity that makes it easy to invest in her narrative, and a cast of reasonably funny supporting characters add to the levity; with one particular birthday present unwrapping simultaneously providing one of the film’s most comic and tragic moments. Even John Cena gets to bring some funny in a thankless role that would normally consist of a furrowed brow and a swollen bicep.
As the film spirals in to a 3rd act more reminiscent of the toxic carnage Michael Bay has worked so hard to weave into the franchise’s DNA, things become less interesting. The film does not go down without a fight, however, with Knight and Hodson adding in ironic twists on the usual pileups and motorway chaos and find an opportunity to keep a consistent interest in the human characters.
There is little reason to see a sequel here, with one and done, (all)sparking a sense that there is still some life in these characters. But with a general sense that critics and audiences both responded to this film in a way they have not responded to the franchise in a long time, we can no doubt expect another, and likely inferior, follow-up. Thankfully, there are still plenty of cracking 80’s anthems to populate its soundtrack.
Film Grade: B-
Plenty of little and easy going special features including an easter egg spectacular. The most enjoyable is a look at how the retrofitted Bumblebee’s aesthetic.
Special Features Grade: C
Fan service at its best.