The making of Bumblebee almost slipped by me. It did not seem as hugely marketed as the other Transformers movies from the saga, and I walked in not knowing what to expect. An origin story meant tying together the comics and cartoons with which many fans grew up and the films that started in 2007. The director Travis Knight did that very cleverly – Bumblebee (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) leaves his home planet Cybertron in search of a safe haven, and lands on Earth. After managing to accidentally cause some damage to a military base, the Autobot stays in hiding in the form of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle. Fast forward and the Volkswagen is taken home by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a rebellious 18-year-old girl struggling with family issues. She quickly learns that her car is an Autobot, and in true Transformers fashion, human and shy robot become friends. Their happy time doesn’t last for long; Decepticons (voiced by Angela Basset and Justin Theroux) are trying to track down Bumbleebee’s location and force him to disclose the location of his leader, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). Add some US government officials, a love interest (Memo, played by Jorge Ledenborg Jr.), and some kick-ass Transformer fights, and you have a cleverly orchestrated film that manages to captivate the audience from the first second.
Bumbleebee touches on several layered themes. It’s a young girl’s coming-of-age story – in contrast with previous Transformers movies, where the cars and robots are usually reserved for boys – and Steinfeld does a good job at portraying the teen. At times it felt that Bumblebee was alluding to what it means to be an immigrant – the Autobot arrives on a foreign planet and tries to convince the locals that he means well and wishes to just be left to carry out his business.
Satisfyingly, the film was stripped down to bare emotions and action. There were no oversexualised teenage girls, no over-the-top fights or unnecessarily ridiculous plot twists. Unlike the previous Transformer movies, Bumblebee is a down-to-earth, humble film, where the main characters have more of a hero-next-door kind of vibe. The signature Michael Bay explosions are gone as well.
Comedy is also catered for. There are a couple of funny scenes where Bumblebee completely ignores or misunderstands Charlie’s instructions and ends up creating chaos, making him even more of a lovable character – who wouldn’t like a robot that can kick ass and yet be completely unable to understand how a coffee machine works, looking desperately to the dog for help?
There was nothing that I did not like. If I were to find anything, I would be nitpicking – not necessary for a film that was better than expected. One thing worth mentioning is that, although it captures the heart and mind, and shows some solid acting from both the main and supporting characters, Bumblebee is not a risky film. It does not try to “make or break”, but rather aims to put up an intelligently crafted performance. And it does it well. Special shout-out to characters like Charlie’s brother Otis (Jason Drucker), her mother Sally (Pamela Adlon), her step-father (Stephen Schneider), and Jack Burns (played by John Cena), which were all played well.
Bumblebee has the air of an underdog. As a film it seems smaller, less “bombastic” and eccentric, than the Transformers franchise. However, that makes it refreshing and well-built. It mirrors some of the action from the previous films while managing to concoct its own formula. When I left the theatre on the evening of the premiere, I was asked whether I would give it five stars. I have a slight aversion towards rating movies, but I think it worthy of a least three stars (for the picky viewers), if not four (for nostalgics like me).
Oh, pay attention to the Easter eggs, of which you will find quite a few sprinkled throughout the film.