Bumblebee proves that - much like Stranger Things - you can still make a classic 80s film where a mysterious endearing friend our heroes meet is chased down by the authorities while something else sinister is out there, and it’s the mysterious being (and our heroes) that are the only things that can stop them and save the world.
Thankfully, Bumblebee manages to capture the 80s without being too cliche. The music aren’t the generic choices you’d think of most of the time (and when they are the most familiar it’s done for a joke or a brilliant reference), the fashion isn’t thrown in your face, and this definitely doesn’t feel like it apes the style of Spielberg or other directors you see contemporaries homaging throughout their work.
Bumblebee at its core is the Transformers movie we should have always got. I continue to be a defender of Michael Bay, but Transformers is where I always draw the line in admitting is where it all goes wrong. The one Spielberg reference I will say Bumblebee takes is the same Spielberg motivation set in the first Bayformers film: It’s a story about a girl getting her first car. It’s a mirror of the first half of the first Transformers, except it’s basically the entire movie.
And that’s okay. Bumblebee has the action and fan-service you want from a Transformers movie (except the cartoon theme song is absent, though you get a great consolation prize), and Optimus Prime gets his time to shine, but everything else is so small scale for Hollywood. It’s your ET. Your Escape to Witch Mountain. Your Harry and the Hendersons. It’s the tale about something extraordinary, but it’s also the tale about human beings.
Hailee Steinfeld and the CG creation that is Bumblebee are the perfect duo. Steinfeld seems to be the queen of coming of age, because this is another great outing for her. She plays her role so brilliantly here, perfectly capturing the growing pains of a teenager trying to escape the boring constricting world she lives in in the wake of her father’s death and everyone moving on but her. From the moment she finds Bumblebee and subsequently discovers he’s a Transformer, we know we’re in for something special. It doesn’t hurt that Bumblebee’s plot convenient voice and memory loss turns him into a giant adorable but destructive child that needs to learn things all over again but this time on a planet completely different to his own.
The screenplay is simple, but effective. A lot of the beats are easily called, but it’s also due to simple setup and payoff, and the payoffs are worth it. Bumblebee sets up the character backgrounds and motivations perfectly, meaning we actually care about what happens. Steinfeld’s family are your typical family that doesn’t know what’s going on until it’s too late, but comedy in exactly when they need to, and John Cena plays John Cena as perfectly as John Cena can, creating your typical military guy with a grudge for good reason, and also for the creation of good humour and side-plot.
What really lacks are the antagonists. Who I genuinely cannot name. Two generic Decepticons, because of course, this is a simple small prequel flick, so we can’t bust out Megatron or Starscream on Earth. Our villains here do the usual plotting and playing of the military to try and track down Bumblebee, but they don’t really have much to do or say except kill things in their path and talk about killing things that will get in their path.
Bumblebee isn’t really a Transformers movie. Bumblebee himself is so cute and fun and hilarious, you feel like you’re just watching a movie about a quirky alien a teenager has found. It brings in the Transformers when it needs to, but for the most part, this is a kid and their robot, and that’s all you need.
It’s a solid coming of age movie and the perfectly balanced 80s movie. It’s a fun two hours at the cinema that doesn’t drag. The cast is brilliant and it gives you the journey you want, even if it doesn’t quite blow you away if you’re expecting the blockbuster action fest some of the trailers and the legacy of the Transformers have sold you on.
Hopefully it does well at the box office for what it is, because Bumblebee is definitely the best Transformers movie out there that isn’t animated. It just has that touch about it.
It has the power.