Bumblebee  Review: When a Franchise Transforms
Yes, I am that person who has seen all the Transformers films in the theater, even the 5th one. While the combination of good-looking women and giant big scale action was suffice for fun film viewing when I was 13, the novelty wore off. The last two films starring Mark Wahlberg were giant letdowns. They did not even offer any new or exciting action that was the series’ staple. I had written off the franchise. Then came Bumblebee, and its “smaller scale” was intriguing. Also, it is directed by Travis Knight, the genius behind Kubo and the Two Strings. I was intrigued and knew I had to check it out.
Bumblebee is a Transformers film that puts character ahead of action and spectacle, whoever thought the day would come? Its trump card is in Hailee Steinfeld, who portrays Charlie. Charlie is the most fleshed out and likable human protagonist in the franchise yet. Her character and Bumblebee are both struggling and damaged when they come across each other. How they heal through their relationship is an emotional high-point of the series. It is also a joy to watch them evolve through the course of the film and both have fine character arcs. They share plenty of dramatic as well as humorous beats that ooze of charm. Hailee Steinfeld has done a wonderful job acting out such raw emotion alongside what would have been a prop on set.
The biggest special effect in this film is not a massive fight or action beat, but rather Bumblebee himself. The visual effects wizards have found a way to make this alien robot endearing, charming and a character you feel invested in. Bumblebee feels a range of emotions too, from sadness to shame and joy and the animation is spot on and extremely convincing. It is definitely hard to make robots fight, but it is harder to trick the audience into believing that they also feel. However, this film impeccably pulls it off.
Unfortunately, the film falters when it comes to its negative characters. It offers little more than generic cutouts whether it is the humans or Decepticons. John Cena offered the most pleasant and engaging performance of his acting career thus far earlier this year in Blockers. However, he is reverted to being stereotyped and underutilized here. A few plot developments feel unconvincing and are just convenient ways to progress the narrative. The action is smaller in scale than previous films and easier to follow. While this makes it engaging, it is also lacking in any “wow” moments and feels restrained by budget.
Lastly, the film coasts along at a breezy pace and light tone. It is set in the ’80s (thanks, Stranger Things) and definitely milks that fact for a killer soundtrack and wallop of nostalgia. Clocking in at under 2 hours, Bumblebee is a charming and entertaining film that’ll make you feel and smile, if not have your jaw drop at the spectacle as some previous films in the franchise have.