Review: Bumblebee (2018)


Never gonna give you up… : Allspark Pictures/Bay Films

Finally, a decent TRANSFORMERS movie. Was that really so hard? Something you should know about me is that I’m a Transformers guy, that next to STAR WARS it’s the franchise of my childhood (one day I’ll post my BEAST WARS retrospective…). I’ve never done a full-length review of any of the previous movies on this blog because, frankly, there wasn’t enough to talk about. BUMBLEBEE cost about half what the previous two Michael Bay joints did, and it’s at least twice as good. They get the basics right for a start, always asking, why should we care about what happens to these characters?

Grieving for her dearly departed dad and drifting through life, teen Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) stumbles across Transformer hero Bumblebee hiding in a scrapyard. The pair form a bond quickly, but before long are being pursued by enemies both human and alien.

They definitely hired based on the eyes for this one. Who better to befriend the Transformer with the biggest eyes than the young actor with the most expressive eyes in Hollywood? Charlie and Bee’s relationship is simply charming. Their relationship being a tactile one makes a big difference as well; Steinfeld was presumably always acting to the air or to a ball on a stick, but she’s always physically connecting with her big yellow robot bud and Bee saying everything he needs to in response all without the speech he has lost. Rarely after their initial meeting are they not sharing the same shot and interacting, which goes a big way toward selling both the effect and their bond-at-first-sight. It’s also refreshing to see the tag-along for the adventure not forced straight into the role of the love interest. There’s chemistry certainly, but as Charlie says gently to Memo (Jorge Lindeborg Jr) towards the end, “We’re not there yet”.

The robo-brawling is still big and loud but isn’t it nice to always be able to tell what is going on? It’s great to see the momentum of transformation being used in fights with a strong sense of space too, giving them weight and avoiding the two indistinct-special-effects -fighting-each-other problem. There’s also only three Transformers with a major part to play in the movie; one goodie and two baddies, which is enough really.

I’ve never really understood why the Transformers still need to transform on their home planet Cybertron. Wasn’t the whole point to be Robots in Disguise to blend in among the humans and more easily traverse Earth? Also having John Cena (I didn’t know they made military uniforms in his size…) point out that the baddies have very obviously evil bad guy names doesn’t make the stupidity of the film’s American government any easier to swallow.

Not only are the period details very 80s, but so is the style of the film at large. It’s a sun-dappled teen coming-of-age movie with well-meaning but annoying parents, hissable authority figures and cheery musical montages, of course. It’s a bit John Hughes, a bit Spielberg and a bit Zemeckis basically. It’s this sameness that holds the film back a bit to be honest. Yes, it’s different to the other Transformers movies, but it’s so similar to so many other genre movies from 30 years ago, which probably knowingly is when the story is set. Still, if a formula works, it works.

We may have seen many of the beats and this shape of story before, but it is the emotional resonance and the character relationships that make Bumblebee border on special. I had a tear in my eye at the end of this film about this awkward girl and her robot bestie who turns into a car, and nothing Michael Bay has ever done really made me feel anything. Travis Knight’s (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS) live-action debut cements his position as a storyteller gifted in both presentation and human connection (or humanoid robot, or humanoid animal representations of your parents….). SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

Writer and film fanatic fond of black comedies, sci-fi, animation and films about dysfunctional families.
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