By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by Paramount Pictures©
Early on, it becomes quickly evident that Bumblebee isn’t like other the Transformer movies that came before. Firstly, Michael Bay, who directed the first six movies of the franchise has taken a step back, instead paving the way for Director, Travis Knight to take control.
The absence of Bay is instantly notable, and though his filmmaking style is sprinkled throughout the film, it is refreshing to see a much more reserved approach to a film series, which has in the past been accused of sacrificing substance for style. Bumblebee navigates away from this and finally we’re given a Transformer movie which satisfies as well as excites.
That excitement begins in the opening sequence of the film, as we watch Cybertron – the home of the Transformers – fall. There are wonderful references to iconic characters which avid fans will recognise immediately and squeal with joy. But the opening beautifully sets up the context and tone of what follows, a story of heart and companionship.
Bumblebee, who this time around is childlike, seeing the world with wide-eyed wonder, is on the run, eventually finding refuge in a junkyard, in a small Californian beach town. Here he is discovered by Charlie (Hailee Steinfield), an 18-year-old who is still struggling to cope with the death of her father.
It is here where Bumblebee finds its heart, with a unique relationship between two characters who both are trying to find their place in the world. As the companionship between Charlie and her Volkswagen Beetle, turned alien robot grows, what you discover is a distinctive similarity to the iconic movie, ET and it highlights that good things are to come.
The innocence with which Steinfield plays the teenage tearaway doesn’t feel faked or forced. This, alongside Bumblebee’s Bambi-esque attitude creates a genuine, honest and touching relationship which quickly becomes the backbone of the movie.
And whilst this seems like an evolution for a Transformers film, which has always favoured action of story, that divisive action is still present. Though this time around, it is less consuming and it is obvious both Knight and screenwriter, Christina Hodson have both understood, less is more.
Most of said action stems from the antagonists, Dropkick (Justin Theroux) and Shatter (Angela Bassett), who you can tell revel in the visceral, brutal and sneering nature of their bounty-hunting Decepticons. But, amongst the villains, only one stands out. John Cena – the WWE wrestler, truly packs a punch as Agent Burns. His typical 90’s villain is both amusing and cold and never fully steps into the realm of cheesy. His presence is truly threatening and, whereas in the past, Transformer villains have felt hollow and brought little to the previous films, this time around that isn’t the case.
As the plotline progresses and the relationships become more meaningful, Bumblebee fully showcases its brilliance. That brilliance stems solely from Travis Knight, who you can tell holds a deep-seated affection for the Transformers universe and in places feel very nostalgic. But this nostalgia is never overwhelming, it is served piece by piece ensuring that Bumblebee shines and doesn’t become submerged with references only hardcore fans would understand.
It has taken six movies, hundreds of explosions and a changing cast which has been impossible to keep up with, but finally we have a Transformers movie which doesn’t disappoint. Bumblebee is truly blockbuster movie making at its best. And whilst Michael Bay steps into a producing role, another producer’s style and touch steps forward. Every character and scene have a touch of Steven Spielberg about it, perhaps this is why Charlie and Bumblebee’s relationship is so distinctive of Elliott’s and ET’s.
It may have taken a while, but Bumblebee has been worth the wait, encompassing all the impressive set pieces from the previous movies, but finding an equal balance between action and heart.