Bumblebee Movie Review
So that’s what a coherent Transformers movie looks like.
Few if any people were asking for another entry in the Transformers franchise, of which director Michael Bay has spent over a decade redefining the term “lowest common denominator,” but Paramount, seeking to exploit and partially reboot their lucrative franchise, gave us Bumblebee anyway, a spin-off prequel made, for the first time, by someone other than Bay.
Directed by Travis Knight, who made the beautiful and unique Kubo and the Two Strings, Bumblebee is a refreshingly simple movie that basically asks the question, “What if E.T. was a giant robot who could turn into a car and shoot energy blasts from his hands?” While Bumblebee has its share of action scenes that don’t really look all that much different from one of Bay’s films, albeit with less explosions and destruction but still a fair amount of explosions and destruction, the movie is notably not an insult to your senses or your intelligence.
Perhaps a more important change than director is that the screenwriter is a woman. Christina Hodson’s two other writing credits are best forgotten, but after a decade of what most would acknowledge is a misogynistic view of women in what was originally supposed to be a family friendly franchise (some of Bay’s most careful and least frenetic camerawork involves panning over the bodies of the various young actresses who have been cast in the Transformers movies), she introduces a female protagonist—played by Hailee Steinfeld—who is never sexualized and, arguably more important, actually comes off as a believable, relatable individual.
The story itself is whatever—girl finds a car, car turns out to be Bumblebee the Transformer, she helps Bumblebee elude both the military (led by a largely wasted John Cena) and a couple second-rate Decepticons who show up to kill him off—but the Transformers movies never needed amazingly unique plots.
They just needed coherent ones.
After five increasingly awful Transformers movies (for the record, I enjoyed the first one at the time), Bumblebee, no matter how good or well made, is too little too late, but if you still have some tolerance for these movies and are willing to give the franchise a fresh look, Bumblebee has all the right ingredients.
It’s by no means brilliant, but an action movie with a healthy dose of coming-of-age humor and a screenplay that doesn’t give a headache is worth it in my book. Bumblebee may not be a great movie, but it’s a good one—and easily the best Transformers movie since the original.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.