Director: Travis Knight
I didn’t think there’d be a day the words ‘charming’ and ‘Transformers’ could appear in the same sentence, but lo and behold it’s happened! Bumblebee, a spinoff film and the origin story of the yellow shape-shifting Transformer, is, for the most part, yes, a charming affair.
It’s a very different film from the overlong metal-on-metal CGI orgies that Michael Bay has inflicted upon us since 2007. In the hands of director Travis Knight and screenwriter Christina Hodson Bumblebee is essentially E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial but with a robot-automobile hybrid at the centre of the story.
Disguised as a rundown Volkswagen Beetle, hiding out in a junkyard, former Cybertron citizen B-127 is discovered by Charlie, a teenage girl with a love of old cars. The bonding scenes between girl and Autobot are fleshed out with great feeling. He’s like a scared puppy crouching in her garage; she comforts him, gives him a name, hides him from her folks and the big bad world out there.
The beats are familiar, but Hailee Steinfeld brings warmth and a touch of comedy as Charlie, and the giant robot has a cuddly pet-like quality that makes the whole relationship undeniably endearing in a Spielbergian sort of way. It’s all soaked in 80s nostalgia complete with Walkmans and Cyndi Lauper tunes. There’s also that distinct sense of an adventure away from the gaze of pesky adults.
But I hope I didn’t lead you into thinking there’s none of that crash-bang-boom mayhem that is the staple of the Transformers franchise. Two Decepticon assassins are hot on Bumblebee’s trail, following him all the way from his battle-ravaged planet, so that should give you an idea of what ensues. There’s also John Cena as a not-particularly-happy army man who has unresolved issues with our metal hero.
Nevertheless this is the most ‘family friendly’ film in the Transformers universe, and unlike the earlier instalments the action here is thankfully coherent. At its core it’s really a coming of age movie – the story of a troubled teenager whose life is changed by an unexpected visitor.
I was pleasantly surprised. I think you might enjoy it too. I’m going with three out of five for Bumblebee.
Rating: 3 / 5