Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura,
Tom DeSanto, Don Murphy,
Michael Bay, Mark Vahradian
Written by Christina Hodson
Based on Transformers by Hasbro
Directed by Travis Knight
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena,
Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz,
Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon
With the Transformers franchise having long since transformed into nothing more than a cinematic punchline due to imbecilic, repetitive and overly long sequels, expectations for Bumblebee are unsurprisingly rather low.
However, while some have already written the solo venture off in the expectation of another overdose of unbridled, megalomaniacal Michael Bay madness, there are those who have remained hopeful that Bumblebee might bring the film franchise closer to its cartoon roots.
Thankfully, the latter group is rewarded for their positive outlook, as Bumblebee takes a giant leap in the right direction for what the Transformers franchise could be.
Unlike the previous installments in the franchise, Bumblebee dials down the overly elaborate spectacle of its predecessors, focusing instead on its characters. However, that is not to say that Bumblebee is lacking in spectacle, but much like the overarching narrative feels stripped down to a simple, but engaging storyline, the action is equally toned down. As such, the film therefore strikes a tone that is much more reminiscent of the Transformers cartoons of the 1980s than anything the previous films helmed by Michael Bay have ever managed to achieve.
What has in part ensured this more down-to-earth feel is the choice to shift the film to be more of a coming-of-age story than an action blockbuster, striking several notes many will undoubtedly recognise from the 1980s films Bumblebee continuously seeks to emulate. To pull this off, making the bond between teen and machine believable is essential, and thanks to the performance of lead actress Hailee Steinfeld in particular, the film succeeds in being surprisingly warm and heartfelt.
With Steinfeld’s performance as protagonist Charlie standing as a stark contrast to the headache-inducingly over-the-top performances of Shiah LeBoeuf and various others in the previous Transformers films, this contrast therefore reminds you how likable the cartoons were and why we do not need to settle for frustrating CGI fests with hyper-emotive performances.
However, as sincere as the bond between Charlie and Bumblebee is portrayed, the various supporting characters are not given anywhere near as much room to develop, thus serving as little more than endearing clichés. From the annoying little brother to the overbearing mother, the awkward stepdad and the stereotypical clueless boy next door with a crush, these characters are little more than familiar caricatures. That being said, these characters nonetheless serve their purpose just fine, leaving the character arc of Charlie and Bumblebee to carry the film.
Additionally, as fun and unexpectedly heartwarming as Bumblebee is, it still relies heavily on the forgiving, rose-tinted goggles of nostalgia. The soundtrack overflows with pop and rock classics from the 1980s as well as tropes and imagery from the teen flick classics of that decade, increasing the film’s superficial appeal to those who have a fondness for the pop culture iconography from back then. While this approach may be considered cynical, it is thankfully innocuous enough to not take away from the fact that Bumblebee is an enjoyable popcorn flick for the whole family.
It has never been a secret that the Transformers franchise is first and foremost a marketing vessel to shift toys, however, that does not mean that it cannot inspire genuinely endearing narratives. In the case of Bumblebee, the filmmakers have stepped up to the plate to create a film that will make fans of the source material feel like they are finally seeing something that feels nostalgic for the right reasons, and while Bumblebee may not be a masterpiece, you will not feel like you are being taken for a ride with this one.
Verdict: 7 out of 10.