Jacob Richardson | 18/12/2018
A fun and heartfelt new take on the Transformers franchise, without as many explosions.
It is 1987, and Bumblebee, fresh from a battle on Cybertron, finds refuge from his homeland war in a scrapyard in a small Californian beach town. The just-turned-18 Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is desperate for a car, and while trying get parts to repair the old vehicle her deceased father left her, she stumbles upon a yellow VW beetle. Little does she know that once she starts fixing it up, she’ll find much more than just a car; she’ll discover a new friend.
Michael Bay’s Transformer films have long been derided for their excessive use of pyrotechnics, their nonsensical and overly complicated storylines, and their sexist and misogynistic take on women. This new reboot is designed to fix that, and in many respects it does.
Core to this is Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie, who is a refreshingly believable and heartfelt character. Steinfeld manages to convey Charlie’s pain over her father with a tremendous degree of believability, and the character never skews over into unbelievable action hero. Charlie is flawed, and comparatively ineffective when compared with the behemoth yellow metal soldier that so often stands beside her. Director Travis Knight (he of the incredible Kubo and the Two Strings) ensures that Charlie never falls into ‘Mary Sue’ territory, while still adding value to the quest and convincingly becoming an action hero in her own right.
Indeed, Knight’s handling of his central character is commendable. In particular, his subversion of the typical romance subplot is refreshing. Knight also competently handles Charlie’s emotional state throughout; convincingly portraying her as both a caring, family-minded individual and a grief stricken teenager. Too often, we see the angry teenager as one-note, and without any depth outside of their fury at their parents. Instead, this portrayal gives us a rounded human being, whose grief is multi-faceted and whose anger frequently seems justifiable, if not commendable.
It is testament to a restrained, considered and effective movie. Bumblebee further exemplifies this restraint in action scenes. While we inevitably have the CGI robots battle each other, Knight never lets the action sequences overshadow, dominate or drive the story. They are few and far between, and when they do come, they are cut together competently and effectively so that you can understand what action is occurring when.
Bumblebee is a marked improvement on the rest of the Transformers films.