The Transformer franchise has definitely fallen on tough times, so many of us wrote Bumblebee (2018) off from the start. Even with Travis Knight at the helm instead of Michael Bay, it was hard to believe a well-made movie featuring a Transformer could exist…but it does! Bumblebee is the movie fans of the franchise have been waiting for, and that moviegoers deserve. Knight clearly has a better grip on character development, as both the humans and the robots in this movie are able to pull you in and make you experience a range of emotions that one probably doesn’t expect from a popcorn movie like this.
Bumblebee was a pleasant surprise from a franchise I’d written off
Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) finds a broken down Volkswagon Beetle at a scrapyard and is told she can have it if she gets it to start. After succeeding and bringing her prize home she discovers it’s more than meets the eye. Bumblebee had fled Cybertron in order to find a safe place for the Autobots to retreat to, but currently has no memory of his mission. Their new friendship is put to the test by Decepticons, Charlie’s family, and the United States Military.
The opening sequence on Cybertron is really cool and something that was sorely missing from the franchise previously. The visuals are strong, and fans of the 80’s cartoon will be treated to many of their favorite characters, even if only for a moment or two. We get a version of Bumblebee here that showcases his heroism and fighting skills, plus a few bonuses I’ll exclude from my review as to not take away the experience. It’s an awesome scene, and it easily puts to shame the chaotic, disorienting action sequences in the Michael Bay Transformer films.
There are a few other action sequences that shine in the movie, but that’s not the highlight of the film – it’s simply the character moments. Charlie is a great character who is struggling with the loss of her father. Steinfeld is great at every instance in this film, and gives a performance that is deserving of praise she probably won’t receive because of the popcorn nature of this film. However, not to be outshined in his own film, Bumblebee is also a dynamic character. Knight is able to have this CG character convey so much emotion. He is childlike as he knows nothing due to the memory loss, which makes for some hilarious moments as well as emotional ones. The first meeting between Charlie and Bumblebee, which was heavily seen in the trailers, still offers more in the film, as these two personalities mesh really well.
The good characters don’t end with the two leads, as the side characters also get some development. Agent Burns (John Cena) actually has a sense of humor, as well as an understandable fear of Bumblebee. We get his motivation for his actions and yet he isn’t some dry military type, allowing Cena’s comedic sense to shine. The would-be love interest, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), is so much more than that, and we get a strong sense of who this kid is from a few short scenes. Of course, Charlie’s family – comprised of her mother (Pamela Adlon), her step-father (Stephen Schneider), and younger brother (Jason Drucker) – takes on a major role in the film. While not quite as silly as some of the family sequences in the earlier entries of the franchise, the family dynamic here gets to showcase drama and fun. They are all people and have goals that we understand, and we see the world that they’re living in.
Bumblebee does a lot, and it does almost all of it well. The plot is simple enough and there are no new revelations, but it is a great time at the movies. I loved all the characters so much, and found myself to be very invested in their outcomes. The film looks great and is tons of fun, therefore it easily earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.