Bumblebee is the 6th film in the extremely hit or miss Transformers series. I say hit or miss but so far the only true hit is Bumblebee. I absolutely loved this film, and this may be the first step towards a brighter future for the Transformers series.
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena and Dylan O’Brien, the film takes place in 1987 and serves as a quasi-prequel/reboot to 2007’s Transformers. The performances were for the most part great. Hailee Steinfeld is delightful and charming as Charlie Watson, the films rebellious protagonist. She serves as a parallel to Sam Witwicky, the original companion to Bumblebee, but, as opposed to being a steaming dumpster fire of a character, is actually likeable and does not want to make you claw your own eyes out. Dylan O’Brien is excellent as the brash and brazen bot Bumblebee, that is, until his vocal chords are stabbed and his voice is reduced to snippets of radio chatter. John Cena seems to have forgotten he is in a film for most of this, as he mostly just shouts his lines with little tonal change or inflection. There are moments when his “character” works, but also many moments where it doesn’t.
The plot sees Bumblebee sent to Earth to scout for a future Autobot base, where he is pursued by threats both terrestrial and not so. Along the way, he forges an unlikely bond with Steinfeld’s Charlie, who longs for a life greater than that of her family. Many of the complaints of the original 5 Transformers films is that the action and general portrayal of the Transformers is bad. I can’t argue with those complaints, as the other 5 films are filled with garbage writing, abysmal action scenes and the Autobots coming off as rude, bloodthirsty or racist. Bumblebee fixes all of these issues. The action is superb, with the Transformers fighting with some expertise and strategy as opposed to the way they usually fight. These fights are choreographed well, and do not look like a child smashing his toys together. Bumblebee in particular shows excellent fighting prowess, which makes sense for his character as he is supposed to fight skilfully and speedily to make up for his lack of size and stature.
There is also less of the Transformers just blowing each other up making things on screen easier to see and track. The reduction in quick cuts means the action has more of an impact and seems grittier and more realistic. The biggest standout for this film of course is the designs. The rest of the franchise suffers from extreme Michael Bay influence. This therefore means the designs have to be edgy and “cool”, but ultimately come off tacky, uninspired and impractical. The decision to go for the classic G1 designs for this film is definitely an improvement. These designs endeared and appealed to the fans in the first place, and it was a mistake to think that anything but the classic cartoon colour schemes would have as much of a lasting effect.
One of the few issues I have with the film is the fact that the human antagonists for Charlie are just classic 80’s bullies. Were this any other film I would take more umbrage with such shoddy characterisation, but due to the fact that they are a minor occurrence and do not overshadow the rest of the film it is a forgivable offence. The film also is good in that it partially subverts the classic love story. Usually, by the end of an adventure like this the characters would be fawning over one another, but fortunately and more realistically Charlie lightly lets down Memo, the tertiary protagonist, by stating “We’re not there yet”. Contrast this to Transformers 1 which end with the two leads kissing on Bumblebee, when mere days before the two were barely known to one another.
VERDICT: Overall, I would rate Bumblebee a solid 8.5/10, for being everything a Transformers film should be, and for being a memorable and lasting addition to the franchise, as well as being the first step in making things right and faithfully adapting everybody’s favourite robots in disguise