Review: Bumblebee

27 December 2018

Director Travis Knight’s comedic and heartfelt take on Bumblebee’s origin story is a breath of fresh air in a franchise known for excessive explosions and a lack of emotional resonance.

A prequel following the journey of a single autobot, this film also marks the sixth instalment in a wider film franchise. Thus, I approached this movie with a little hesitation – I worried that some of the aspects I didn’t like from previous Transformers films might bleed into this prequel. In particular, I feared that Bumblebee would be little more than a parked car when the human protagonist was at home, and a fighting machine when the world needed saving. It was a pleasant surprise when I was instead introduced to a Bumblebee that had heart, personality, and plenty of screen time to prove it. With a film all to himself, Bumblebee is fleshed out into more than a robot who speaks through the radio. Boasting a childlike curiosity for all things man-made and a clear affection for his human companion Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), Bumblebee has viewers resonating with him to a degree that previous silver-screen portrayals of the character haven’t been able to accomplish.

Another aspect from previous Transformers films that I feared would make an appearance here was the increasing involvement of the military, to the detriment of relationships between the autobots and human protagonists. Often these films introduce a fledgling bond between autobot and human, one that has the potential to become a meaningful friendship, only to find in the next film the robots spending more time with military forces while the human companion is relegated to sorting personal issues like getting a girlfriend or starting college. Fortunately, Bumblebee delivers a different kind of dynamic between human and autoboot and it becomes one of the film’s strengths. As soon as Bumblebee appears in front of Charlie, the development of their bond takes centre stage. The two get into various shenanigans, learning about and growing to care about each other. I was thrilled to see how much screen time was dedicated to fostering this friendship because as a viewer, connecting on an emotional level to Bumblebee in future adventures will be easier now that there’s a strong, emotional foundation to his character – a direct result of his time with Charlie.

Speaking of Charlie, Hailee Steinfeld puts in a great performance as the teen. She delivers on the comedy, showcasing an endearing awkwardness paired with a snarky wit, and also grounds the film by effectively portraying Charlie’s sensitivity. There are enjoyable performances from the supporting cast as well, particularly from Jorge Lendeborg Jr as Charlie’s love interest and Steven Schneider as Charlie’s stepdad, who were both hilarious in their interactions with Steinfeld’s protagonist.

Bumblebee is a self-contained and satisfyingly small-scale adventure that will provide laughs for viewers of all ages. A solid cast, great writing and tone, and sleek visuals make Bumblebee’s first solo outing a memorable and entertaining experience that will leave you wanting more films with the yellow and black autobot in the spotlight.

Bumblebee is in cinemas now.  

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