Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series has had a hard time escaping its trend of nonsensical action, horrible characters and poor attempts at comedy. However, the franchise’s latest entry, “Bumblebee,” finally breaks this streak. Helmed by a new director, Travis Knight, “Bumblebee” is a prequel to 2007’s “Transformers.” Although still a “Transformers” movie, “Bumblebee” is not just a basic shoot-’em-up action film like its predecessors. Instead, “Bumblebee” is a surprisingly entertaining character piece that expands on characters the audience wants to care about, while still bound within the familiar “Transformers” world.
The film tells the story of the iconic yellow autobot Bumblebee, who becomes acquainted with Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager dealing with the recent loss of her father. The plot focuses on Bumblebee and Charlie’s mutual support for each other’s respective hardships, as Bumblebee attempts to hide from a group of decepticons who are tracking him down.
Much of this film’s success can be attributed to its two well-written lead characters, Bumblebee and Charlie. Charlie is a struggling teenager who faces great tribulations in her social and family life before being roped into harboring an alien robot inside of her home. Steinfeld delivers an exceptional performance as Charlie which may be linked to her similar role in “Edge of Seventeen” in which Steinfeld plays another angsty teenager. Bumblebee’s performance is also entertaining, as his awkward interactions with humans is hilarious and heartwarming to watch. The supporting cast, however, consisting of Charlie’s family, a boy named Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) who acts as a love interest for Charlie and government agent Agent Burns (John Cena) are all poorly written and give fairly wooden performances.
The “Transformers” movies have generally struggled with their attempts at comedy. Fortunately, most of the humor in “Bumblebee” is genuinely funny. This is especially true concerning Bumblebee’s assimilation with his new environment on Earth and the antics that ensue. One particular scene when he destroys someone’s car while helping Charlie prank a school bully sent the entire theater into an uproar. All the funniest moments are centered on the two leads, while everything involving the supporting cast mostly reverted back to cringe-inducing one-liners that didn’t land.
“Bumblebee” follows the current trend in movies of being set in a different time period and utilizes nostalgia from that decade. Hot Dog on a Stick, old school cars and classic ‘80s pop songs like “Never Gonna Give You Up” and “Take On Me” make the film’s vintage setting come to life.
Inevitably, the “Transformers” series is an action-driven franchise, and “Bumblebee” is no exception. Fortunately, much of the action in this film minimizes the use of shaky cam and unnecessary jump cuts. A subtle change that Knight implemented was a boosted color scheme for the actual transformers, which made the action easy to follow along and enjoyable to watch as it played out, traits that the other “Transformers” movies seemed to struggle with. Additionally, the endearing lead characters give the audience a reason to care about their respective plights and ensure that the action throughout the film isn’t meaningless. However, one major exception is the opening scene, which featured horrible computer-generated imagery to the point of looking like a cartoon. This scene stuck out awkwardly against the tone and look of the rest of the film.
Surprisingly, “Bumblebee” made steps toward a better “Transformers” franchise, likely because a new director took control. The film has better humor, more well-rounded characters and more clearly filmed action. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to start up a new franchise. “Bumblebee” is by no means a great film, as it often feels like safe, mainstream entertainment with a plot that is inevitably simplistic. Still, the film is overall entertaining and represents a step in the right direction for a new and improved “Transformers” series.