Bumblebee is a gripping action movie with a ton of heart backed by great performances that leaves you wanting more. As the first movie I have seen going into 2019, I couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to my cinematic adventure.
For a moment imagine yourself as a child. You’re sitting on the living room floor surrounded by your favorite toys. Behind you on the couch is your mother, a fresh smile on her face having just convinced her husband to put on a coming of age film (for reasons that will be abundantly clear later, let’s say Edge of Seventeen) as opposed to the macho fest (Die hard) he would have undoubtedly preferred. The movie comes on and your focus returns to the toys at hand. You pick up 2, give them a once over and try to decide who suits up as the villain for the evening and who is relegated to the position of hero. Your mind is made up and the characters clash together in an epic maelstrom of plastic limbs and weapons. To the unfortunately out of touch parents you’re simply smashing a few dollars worth of plastic together making dumb sound effects. But to you, to the imaginative juggernaut that is the youthful mind, it is art. Your champions of choice continue to collide in the ultimate test of wills. The living room around you fades away as you are transported to the fantasy world of your dreams. As children, the joy of playing with your toys wasn’t just about having the plastic in your hands, but the plethora of stories they came with. The ability to pull yourself out of this mundane world and plop yourself smack in the middle of an epic alien conflict where you are the only hope for survival.
For anybody that can relate to that youthful feeling, Bumblebeeis one hell of a trip. From the opening moments on Cybertron to the classic G1 models of the Transformers throughout, it is a fun filled, nostalgia driven ride from beginning to end with a ton of heart. Travis Knight, my untainted boyhood heart applauds you.
Contrary to the title of the film Bumblebee actually plays second fiddle in this particular band. Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie instead takes center stage. Filling in the shoes of Transformers mainstays Shia Laboeuf and Mark Wahlberg, there is an immediate tonal shift from the casting alone. No longer are we feeding into the old adage, only boys can play with toys. Travis Knight aimed to switch things up and he did so for the better. Steinfeld yet again finds herself playing the brooding teenage outcast with a chip on her shoulder. It isn’t all that difficult to imagine Charlie as an older Nadine from Hailee’s previous work (same backstory too; was super close with her father, her father died, she got sad), though admittedly she does one heck of a job in that niche. You really feel for her as the rest of her family seems pretty put together. They smile, they are hilariously naïve (leading to a number of laugh out loud moments throughout the flick) and they seem completely unaware that their daughter/sister is having such a difficult time coming to terms with her loss. Boom, in comes Bumblebee, who has lost his memory in a freak Decepticon accident and you have yourselves an Iron Giant/Edge of Seventeen crossover!
The subplot of Charlie’s struggle fitting in seemed a little superfluous when put next to her burgeoning relationship with Bumblebee and Memo (the other outcast next door played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). Threads dangle or come to abrupt conclusions and it ultimately feels like it was thrown in to give people a break from the nostalgia trip and the gorgeous 80’s backdrop. It’s a serviceable storyline and doesn’t take away from the film; it just feels like more could have been done to tie it into the main conflict or it could have been done away with entirely to focus more on Bumblebee and his identity crisis.
Bumblebee himself, already a fan favorite over the course of the previous 5(?) films, is brought to even greater heights here. Director Travis Knight somehow manages to make him even more badass (full on red-eyes Iron Giant mode at one point) yet adorably goofy and sincere at the same time… All while not talking! Knight manages to pull on many more than 2 emotional heartstrings (my failed attempt at a Kuboreference, feel free to laugh at me) throughout the film and his handling of the titular character is absolutely one of them.
All of that being said Bumblebee isn’t a perfect film. Sure, it certainly hits every nostalgic note an 80’s baby/Transformers fan could hope for and is a monumental improvement over the “Bay-formers” we have gotten recently, but appealing to the child in everyone does not a perfect movie make (Though it is damn near close). The villains are paper-thin, the plot is lost around the middle (albeit for the benefit of the audience as we get more time with Charlie and Bee) and John Cena isn’t The Rock. But, ultimately, these gripes matter very little in terms of overall enjoyment.