By Steven Sheehan.
After five very tiring Transformers films, you’d be tempted to think the franchise had reached its conclusion.
Director Michael Bay isn’t exactly a critical darling, but after making over $4 billion at the box office for Paramount, he had the freedom to do as he pleased.
Bay chose to move on from Transformers, but a fan favourite now gets his own spin-off. Travis Knight takes over the directorial reigns with Bumblebee. It breathes much needed new life into the franchise with a much smaller story.
Gone are the mega-fights involving hordes of robots. Instead, Bumblebee mostly focusses on a relationship between the yellow Volkswagen and a teenage girl.
Set in 1987, we first meet Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) as an 18-year-old trying to find her place in the world. Her father has passed away and she is struggling to adapt to the new family set-up.
Up in space, Cybertron has been destroyed. Optimus Prime sends Bumblebee to Earth to make a hiding place for the Autobots.
Charlie stumbles across Bumblebee hiding out in a Californian junkyard. He may be battered and rundown but she quickly sees he is no ordinary car. Soon enough the pair strikes up a strong and meaningful friendship.
The government are also looking for Bumblebee, led by Agent Burns (John Cena). But two Decepticons trick them into tracking him down. Shatter (voiced by Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) are soon on his tail, dragging Charlie into their battle.
After six films Bumblebee achieves a first in the franchise – it finally has characters to care about.
With his big blue electric eyes, the yellow VW will win the hearts of the audience. These transformers show more emotion than before and it makes the film more relatable.
Some people will remember Steinfeld as the feisty young girl in True Grit. She is older but just as committed to her role here. The relationship between the two is genuine and full of heart. It might even raise the odd tear or two.
This is very much an 80s nostalgia trip made in the style of Spielberg. It follows the trajectory of E.T. in building an emotional bond between a timid alien and a young human. The action is never overblown and the characters are always given priority.
The soundtrack is filled with songs of the decade. We get to hear everyone from A-ha to The Smiths and Simple Minds. There’s a little too much, perhaps, but they never get in the way.
While it isn’t laugh out loud funny, it will raise plenty of smiles. A scene where Bumblebee staggers around Charlie’s house causing mayhem plays like classic silent slapstick comedy.
In many ways, Bumblebee feels like the Transformers film everyone wanted years ago: a shameless piece of nostalgia about one of the most popular kid’s toys of the 80s.
It’s far from perfect, but it’s a huge improvement on the terrible films that have so far dominated the franchise. This is a long overdue transformation we hope leaves the mistakes of old firmly behind.
Bumblebee opened nationwide in UK cinemas on Christmas Eve.