Bumblebee (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A girl meets Bumblebee

When I heard about “Bumblebee” for the first time early in this year, I did not have much expectation on this prequel/spin-off of the Transformers series. After all, I suffered no less than four sequels after “Transformers” (2007) came out, and I was understandably worried about the possibility of enduring another brainless SF action movie filled with lots of noises and explosions to numb and bore me.

Fortunately, as other reviewers have already said, “Bumblebee” is a fairy good blockbuster product. Sure, it does not break any particularly new ground as serving us some familiar elements and then providing several action sequences as required, but the movie is still entertaining while equipped with enough personality and spirit to hold our attention, and it is surely better than the previous Transfromers films in my trivial opinion.

The movie opens with a prologue showing how its titular robot character came to Earth around the 1980s. After being defeated by a bunch of bad robots named Decepticons, Bumblebee (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) and his fellow good robots, named Autobots, had no choice but to retreat from their home planet Cybertron, and he fled alone to Earth with a certain message from their leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). Shortly after his arrival in Earth, Bumblebee happens to clash with a bunch of special forces soldiers led by Jack Burns (John Cena), and then, to makes matters worse, he is also attacked by a Decepticon robot following after him. Although he manages to survive in the end, Bumblebee gets himself seriously damaged besides losing his voice, and he is eventually transformed into a rusty yellow 1967 Volkswagen Beetle before his system is shut down.

And then the movie introduces us to Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage girl living in a suburban area near San Francisco. While her 18th birthday is approaching, Charlie is not exactly happy as still missing her dear father who suddenly died a few years ago, and that certainly affects her relationship with her mother and stepfather. They try their best for getting along well with her, but they have not succeeded yet as shown from their strained interaction with her, and she is not so pleased when they give her rather disappointing birthday presents instead of what she really wants: her own vehicle.

However, she unexpectedly gets her wish later. There is an old abandoned vehicle at a local junkyard she has frequented, and the owner of the junkyard kindly lets her have it for free. Of course, that old abandoned vehicle in question is none other than Bumblebee in disguise, and Charlie soon has a big surprise when she takes Bumblebee to the garage of her house and then tries to fix him a bit. Although he cannot speak, Bumblebee gradually becomes a new friend to Charlie while she repairs him bit by bit, but, of course, their circumstance becomes quite serious later as a pair of Decepticon robots, voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux, come to Earth after accidentally receiving a signal inadvertently transmitted from Bumblebee.

Instead of hurrying itself into action mode, the movie takes its time for further developing the relationship between Bumblebee and Charlie, and the screenplay by Christina Hodson imbues their relationship with humor and warmth. While it is amusing to observe how Bumblebee finds a new way of communication via various popular pop songs of the 1980s, the intimate depiction of his growing friendship with Charlie in the film will probably take you back to “E.T. the Extra-Terrestial” (1982) and “The Iron Giant” (1999), and the movie is also filled with nice cultural period details such as the poster of “The Thing” (1982).

Furthermore, unlike the previous Transformers movies, “Bumblebee” has human characters we can care about. While Charlie comes to us as a likable heroine who comes to regain her spirit via her special friendship with Bumblebee, several other human characters around her such as a boy who has carried a torch for her are not mere plot elements at all, and they are surely more engaging than any cardboard character in the previous Transformers films. As Hailee Steinfeld, who has steadily advanced since her Oscar-nominated turn in “True Grit” (2010) as shown from her wonderful performance in “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016), ably holds the center along with her CGI co-star, Pamela Aldon, Jason Drucker, Stephen Schneider, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., and Len Cariou fill their respective small spots around Steinfield, and John Cena tackles his thankless role as much as he can while looking quite serious as demanded.

The movie becomes relatively less interesting when it eventually shifts itself onto full-throttle action mode during its last act as expected, but its action sequences are at least skillfully handled under the competent direction of director Travis Knight, who previously made Oscar-nominated animation feature film “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016). With a vivid, palpable sense of physical impact and movement, these action sequences are effective without confusing us at all, and the overall result is far more impressive than those messy action sequences shown in the previous Transformers films.

In conclusion, “Bumblebee” is a small nice surprise at the end of this year, and I had a satisfying time along with other audiences when I watched it at a local theater this morning. Although its goal was not that high from the start, it did its job as well as intended while also giving us real fun and excitement, and I sincerely hope that its modest but significant success will lead to more better things to come in the future.

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