This is definitely not a Michael Bay film. Yes, there are robots fighting and cars driving fast, but it’s (as I read it compared to) more like an Amblin movie about a teenager who doesn’t fit in than anything else from this franchise. It proves that – like zombie movies – there’s plenty of life in the Hasbro property yet.
In fact, it’s even more about the element that got both Bay and his exec producer Steven Spielberg interested in the first place. Bay told reporters at the time of the first film that when Spielberg pitched it at him, he hung up and told himself there was no way he was doing that “stupid toy movie”. It was only when Spielberg told him it was about a kid and his first car Bay got interested.
Bumblebee is about nothing less when a grease monkey, Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) – a girl who feels like a stranger in her ever-perky family while she misses her dead father and spends her days trying to fix up the car they were working on together – finds her soulmate in the titular Autobot.
The opening scene shows us the war raging on Cybertron, cleverly positioning the Autobots as a struggling resistance force fighting the fascist tyranny of the Decepticons and capturing the cool rebellious motifs of blockbusters since the age of Star Wars in the bargain.
With their forces facing defeat, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, and isn’t he happier than anyone they’re resurrected this whole toy empire?) tells Bumblebee to take off for a new planet they’ve identified, and which might provide safe haven for the Autobots until they can regroup – Earth.
But Bumblebee no sooner arrives than two of the Decepticons who’ve followed him attack, ripping out his voice processor, beating him to a pulp so bad his memory banks fail (making him forget why he travelled there) and leaving him for dead. Bumblebee has only enough strength left to flee, where he stays for years disguised as a yellow VW Beetle to be discovered by Charlie on her regular run to the scrapyard where she finds him.
She offers the grizzled yard owner she has a running deal with a bargain – if she can get the beat-up Beetle in the yard running, it’s hers. Charlie sets to work, takes Bumblebee home and meets the best and most incredible friend she’ll ever have as he transforms into his robot self in her garage like you’ve seen in the trailer. As Charlie tries to keep Bumblebee under wraps, she befriends the gentle robot while fixing him up, even giving him his iconic voice back with the radio.
But the two Decepticons who’ve followed him are setting about bringing the full weight of Decepticon destruction to Earth, appearing to team up with the military force that’s been pursuing Bumblebee in order to find him while offering technology the humans can only dream of – but intending to double cross and destroy them at the first opportunity. Charlie and the Hispanic kid across the street who takes a shine to her, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr), will be dragged into the fight and Bumblebee will do anything to save his friend and the Earth.
The script makes it seem like a so-so YA studio blockbuster and it is but the tone by Laika Entertainment head Travis Knight is kept light, cute and heartfelt, making you care more about a CGI robot than you have in all four Michael Bay Transformers movies put together. Steinfeld, with her huge brown eyes and shaggy outcast attitude, does the rest, and just the right amount of clangy action tops it all off. Knight emulates Spielberg rather than Bay and the result speaks for itself.
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