After the diabolically terrible Revenge of the Fallen, I had tapped out of seeing Transformers movies on the big screen. Three soulless sequels later, and Michael Bay’s franchise had finally burst with The Last Knight barely breaking even at the box office. Then, an unexpected thing happened, Travis Knight was hired to helm the Bumblebee spin-off and my interest in the Transformers was renewed.
Following a breathtaking battle on Cybertron with a rapid-fire selection of cameos from dozens of Transformers, the action unfolds in 80s America, and the pace slows to offer something never seen in this franchise before, character development. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Charlie Watson, a young woman about to turn 18 who is still struggling with the death of her father. As a way of remaining connected to him, she has been trying to restore her dad’s old Corvette. Resentful of her mother for remarrying, Charlie feels alone and like a stranger in her own home.
After an encounter with two Decepticons leaves Bumblebee unable to speak and badly damaged, he transforms into a Volkswagen Beetle to hide. Gifted the car from her friend at the scrapyard, Charlie soon discovers that there is more than meets the eye to this old banger. Unlike Bay’s blurry action set pieces, when The Autobots and Decepticons fight in Bumblebee, you can actually see what is happening!
The plot might be slight, and the shift to PG-rated action may disappoint some fans, but this recalibrated approach to Transformers has won me over completely. Sure, John Cena is a cut-price Mark Wahlberg with limited acting range, but Hailee Steinfeld shines so brightly you won’t mind the predictable plot or ham acting. Ultimately, Bumblebee is cut from the same cloth as The Iron Giant, E.T, and all those movies where a kid and fantastical being forge an unlikely friendship. Both Charlie and Bumblebee found each other at a time they each needed a friend to help them through. If you think you won’t feel anything when soldiers attack Bumblebee, think again.
Made with more heart, fun, love, and sense of wonder than Michael Bay could muster with his five live-action offerings, Bumblebee now proudly sits next to the Animated Motion Picture as the best Transformers film of all time. While it hasn’t made blockbuster money, $400 million worldwide is a solid result (it cost under half the amount of the average Bay sequel), and I hope Paramount continue to make smaller more heartfelt Transformers movies as this is what we wanted from the start.