On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.
The live action Transformers film franchise commenced in cinemas in 2007, the first film was from writers Orci and Kurtzman, with direction by Michael Bay, who has gone on to direct a total of five Transformers films. Finally, more than a decade later, Travis Knight has come along and delivered the first Transformers spin off film Bumblebee, which also happens to easily be the best live action Transformers film across the entire franchise, and a good film in its own right.
Taking us back to the late 1980’s, Bumblebee taps into a lot of that Generation 1 Transformers nostalgia, but what is so amazingly refreshing (and long overdue in this franchise), is the story underpinning the film. Finally elaborate set pieces, almost indecipherable action sequences, and an overabundance of characters aren’t the focus of a Transformers film.
From a story and screenplay by Christina Hodson, Bumblebee delivers a straight forward plot set as a prequel to the rest of the franchise, which brings classic Transformers settings and elements into the film in a fun way. The story isn’t convoluted, or over engineered, it is a straightforward tale with a focus on character. The relationship between Charlie Watson and Bumblebee is the core of the film, and it exists in a far more detailed, and enjoyable way that was ever demonstrated between Sam Witwicky and Bumblebee.
The films spends a lot of time on these two, Charlie is fleshed out with detail and a defined arc throughout the film, which is supported by her character’s motivations and background as these elements surface throughout the film. She’s in a very different place by the films end to where she starts, and while the action and set pieces in this film might be less ambitious than what we’ve seen before, the emotional stakes are higher, and the action more compelling as a result, because the film presents characters in a way such that the audience will actually care about them.
Bumblebee receives no less consideration than Charlie, and while he ultimately doesn’t embody quite the same depth or substance as his human companion in this film, there is an arc around the character as he rediscovers his purpose, and the film benefits greatly from the exploration of friendship and loyalty between these two characters, while still having room for the action around it.
While the film treats the audiences to some short battle scenes on cybertron, the majority of the action takes place on earth, with just a few characters. The scenes are well crafted, and modest, the editing weaves them together coherently, and while in places the visual effects aren’t as polished as in previous films, the interaction between Charlie and Bumblebee is sound, and where visual effects fall short, the characters more than make up for it.
Hailee Steinfeld was a great casting choice, the film works to her strengths in terms of costume, and character so that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Other than Bumblebee, no other characters receive as much focus as Steinfeld’s Charlie, however the film still manages to give John Cena’s Agent Burns, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr’s Memo a simplistic but appropriate arc rather than leaving them entirely one note characters. The film does tend to lack the presence of a memorable main villain, but Travis Knight’s priority here is clearly the Charlie/Bumblebee relationship, which is the heart of the film.
Bumblebee is both a well-balanced film, and it strips away all the clutter which plagues the other installments, though in doing so there is still scope for Travis Knight to have gone a little harder on some of the story/character elements, in the interest of maintaining the films pacing a little better, particularly in its closing act which tends to run on too long.
With that said however, by jettisoning so much excess found in the other installments, and retaining the most important elements of a Transformers film, Bumblebee has positioned itself as the best of the series. This film is long, long overdue, but it’s wonderful to finally have an enjoyable Transformers film on the big screen.
I’m giving Bumblebee 7.5 out of 10 stars, it’s in cinemas around Australia from Thursday 20 December 2018.