Bumblebee movie review Hailee Steinfeld

Year: 2018
Director(s): Travis Knight
Writer(s): Christina Hodson
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: PG-13
Color, 113 mins

Synopsis: On the run in 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. (Source)

Bumblebee isn’t merely the best Transformers film, it’s a good film period. Despite some loose ties to Michael Bay’s aggressively gritty films, this latest iteration rises beyond any low standard. It’s a smart, sincere course correction overflowing with heart. With director Travis Knight at the helm, there isn’t a single cynical bone in this film’s body. Smaller and more intimate, funny but not dumb, this is a deeply emotional story with coherent, fun action scenes. Star Hailee Steinfeld is a great choice as the film’s anchor, punctuating spectacle with a heroine worth cheering for. Though Bay’s approach may have seemed like a good idea on paper, Knight’s film is the one that should’ve been made a long time ago. 

When the film picks up, a battle rages in the Autobots’ home planet of Cybertron. Just as the heroic Autobots are about to lose it all, they’re ordered by Optimus Prime to retreat and regroup. A lone soldier named B-127 travels to Earth in order to create a safe haven for his fellow soldiers. There, he’s barely able to stave off another attack, irreparably damaged and forced into hiding. Suffering from memory loss, he disguises himself as a yellow VW Beetle and ends up in a beach town junkyard. Soon after, an 18-year old girl named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) finds the yellow Bug and is instantly taken to it. On her birthday, she wins the bug on a bet, but soon discovers that it’s not what it seems. As Charlie and the now nicknamed Bumblebee forge a friendship, they soon learn that it’s up to them to stop an oncoming war.

What really sets the film apart from its predecessors, is that it takes time to tell an actual, gentle-natured story. Rather than rushing from set piece to set piece, this chapter is anchored by the affecting relationship at its center. First and foremost, we’re alongside Bee and Charlie as they struggle and learn to rebuild themselves post traumas and loss. Viewed through the innocence of its time period, the film’s nostalgia never panders, using a period snapshot to evokes a timeless feeling of awe and wonder. This more delicate approach even trickles down to the action. Since Knight (and screenwriter Christina Hodson), are patient with their story, the robo-fights feel earned. When the inevitable showdowns finally happen, they deepen the depth of Bee and Charlie’s bond as they rush to each other’s aid. They’re also brought to us without a single shot of shaky-cam. Knight orchestrates chaos that is big, bright and loud, but tasteful and articulate.

Bumblebee movie review Hailee Steinfeld

Helping to make the film’s extraordinary elements relatable, are grounded, playful performances. As Charlie, Steinfield’s winning performance is by and large the film’s heart, and what it all stick. She’s a strong-willed heroine who isn’t perfect, but also full of courage and inner strength. I loved that her weapon turns out to be a tool belt, giving Steinfeld’s intangible charisma a wit that can’t be beat. Opposite, Knight and co have given Bee a more endearing personality. He’s gentle and stoic, and comes with his own emotional arc. Though he’s a CG creation, the FX are top notch. He’s also integrated into Charlie’s story in a meaningful way. Supporting, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. is fun as a possible love interest/sidekick, while Jason Drucker plays an overbearing but well-meaning little brother for Charlie. John Cena plays things loose but sincere as Agent Burns. He slightly elevates a stock character from the usual antagonistic bore. All of these performances are a bit larger than life, but are not unlike the operatic characters that line the Laika films, were Knight’s cut his teeth.

On every level, Knight tells a classic story with absolute reverence and admiration. Splicing influences ranging from E.T. to The Breakfast Club, Knight finally gives the franchise an installment that feels more in line with its roots. As times grow more complex and mired in grey, it feels fresh to have a film that is resoundingly simple and powerful. Bumblebee is the antidote to the modern blockbuster, proving that spectacle is empty without the heart and character to back it up. 

SG