Director: Travis Knight
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena
Synopsis: On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scared and broken.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action violence)
Release Date: December 21, 2018
Very few blockbuster franchises have been ridiculed the last decade as much as Michael Bay's Transformers films. While the first entry was generally well received, the sequels-- though major box office successes, were accused of lacking a human touch--possessing lazy writing and overblown, mind-numbing action sequences. While I do believe there were some unappreciated merits in Bay's films, a change in direction was a necessary step for the franchise.
Bumblebee is the next step--a film that feels almost entirely different from Bay's interpretation in every way. Right from the opening scene we experience an action sequence that feels like we are watching the animated series--not a live-action film. The action is much less stylized, the transformers themselves look cleaner and shinier and the sound effects are more cartoon-like than the sound design used in the previous films.
But the film doesn't stop with just a shift in the design of the action scenes. Whereas Bay's films were plot-driven and less concerned about its human characters, Bumblebee is a character-driven film that centers around Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), an emotionally-torn teenage girl still grieving over the loss of her father. She meets Bumblebee, who is basically in the same position she is--he's alone, confused, and scared of his surroundings and the world. They relate to each other and connect on an emotional level, each able to help the other overcome their own struggles. This human-non-human relationship and dynamic is very familiar but it works here, especially since for the first time in the franchise we have a female protagonist who's able to able to interact with a "male" robot.
The film also sports a much lighter mood and atmosphere than the previous entries--cities aren't leveled, humans are not trampled or tortured and yes, the overt sexual references and gags present in Bay's films are completely absent in this film. Instead, the humor is very light-hearted--though at times corny--and derives from the interactions between Bumblebee and Charlie and Charlie and her infatuated neighbor Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) Despite the tone-down of sexual innuendos and violence the film somehow still received a PG-13 rating--the same as Bay's films, which is shocking in itself since the film clearly aspires to be a kid-friendly PG film.
Bumblebee is a major shift for the Transformers franchise, replacing Bay's action-heavy, more adult-oriented films with a light-hearted, character-driven film that plays off like a sci-fi coming of age story, with Hailee Steinfeld delivering a particularly strong and memorable performance. The film's stark shift in tone and direction may not please some fans of Bay's films and its corniness is a little off-putting at times, but it succeeds in delivering a fun, emotionally-stimulating ride--one that you're likely to go on again.
Written by Anthony Watkins, December 30, 2018