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Bumblebee – Movie Review

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Bumblebee – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Paramount Pictures

It’s not difficult to see the appeal of Hasbro’s Transformers toys, with their robots that change into vehicles. Their cartoon and movie iterations have tended to descend into loud and silly battles of robots fighting each other. Hiring Laika CEO Travis Knight to direct the newest film Bumblebee has resulted in a charming ‘80s throwback that puts character first. There is a sincerity within this project, right down to perfectly capturing the appearances of the original toys. Even the decade it’s set in isn’t presented in a particularly tongue-in-cheek way. While one could argue Bumblebee shares many similarities to The Iron Giant, these derivative moments don’t affect the film’s quality.

While Bumblebee gets top billing, the story is really about Hailee Steinfeld’s aspiring car mechanic Charlie Watson. Knight and screenwriter Christina Hodson immediately make her a sympathetic protagonist with genuine problems and it becomes easy to root for her. Steinfeld never rolls her eyes at having to star in a Transformers movie and she shares some lovely chemistry with Bumblebee. Steinfeld and the computer generated robot interact so wonderfully in sync and it believably looks like he’s actually there and not merely inserted in post-production. Credit also goes to the visual effects team, who do so well in conveying Bumblebee’s body language after his voice box has been ripped out of him.

The supporting characters flesh out this story nicely, too. John Cena’s Agent Burns could have been written as a standard, frothing at the mouth antagonist. However, his motivations are made clear and his point-of-view is understandable. There are even a few points where he knowingly says a few things the audience is obviously thinking. Previous Transformers movies have had trouble writing parental figures, opting for low brow jokes most of the time. By contrast, Charlie’s parents are well acted and genuinely funny, with Knight showing the tricky character relationships between them. Charlie is also given a friend to tag along on her adventure and although he’s not entirely needed, the filmmakers do subvert the usual boy-girl relationships often seen in blockbusters of this sort.

Knight directs the action scenes with enough clarity, with the most impressive being the opening sequence. Helped by the faithful character designs, the battle that immediately starts the film feels like a big-budget computer animated recreation of the cartoon show. Knight’s background in stop-motion animation was definitely an asset in that regard. The final act does descend into the standard robot-on-robot punching, which has gotten a little tired at this point. Then again, some fans would probably be disappointed if there weren’t Autobots and Decepticons fighting one on one, so it’s easy to let it slide. It’s also appreciative that it doesn’t run too long, as opposed to the hour long action scenes Michael Bay would direct in his Transformers movies.

Bumblebee is directed with a lot of love for the property, as well as an admiration for adventure films of the 1980s. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial appears to be the biggest influence, but it also never becomes an outright copy. Travis Knight brings a sincerity to the film, but Hailee Steinfeld also deserves to be commended for a touching performance. Despite being based on a popular line of toys, at no point does Bumblebee feel like a commercial for the latest Transformers action figures. It’s an engaging and solid story with good messages that can resonate with people of all ages. Between Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mary Poppins Returnsand now Bumblebee, this is truly the season of beloved IP being treated with respect by filmmakers and the audience comes out the winner.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison