Everyone’s favourite brightly coloured Transformer returns to the big screen in a film that is stacked with plenty of magical 1980s nostalgiac moments in Bumblebee.
On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns this is no ordinary, yellow VW bug.
While we’re used to the Transformers franchise going all out on large scale action spectacle director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), in his first ever live action film, goes right back to the beginning and seeks to tell a far different Transformers story in Bumblebee. Focusing his attention on the arrival of young Autobot lieutenant Bumblebee as he crash lands on Earth following the fall of Cybertron, Knight pulls his audience into a tale that is pure 1980s nostalgic bliss.
Balancing a story that acts as an origin story for our favourite Autobot, Knight fills the film with a sense of Spielbergian magic that reminded me a lot of first contact films such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While Knight does give his audience plenty of awesome action moments, his focus is placed on a more grounded film and the relationship that forms between two lost souls: alienated teenager Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) and beaten and broken Autobot Bumblebee. Mixed in with this beautiful friendship is a nod to the past and the youthful optimism of 1980s California that will set your soul alight and make you want to take off on a road trip down the coast in a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. It’s clear with this film that Knight wanted to craft a cinematic experience that would fill his audience with a sense of wonder and joy and he absolutely achieves this here with Bumblebee.
Front and center in the film is rising talent Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie Watson, a tom-boy, gearhead teenager who has an affinity for The Smiths and is trying to find her place in the world while desperately desiring the sense of freedom that comes from the open road. Charlie’s presence as a protagonist comes from Steinfeld’s total immersion into the character and what results is an inspired performance. You really buy into her presence as Charlie and you feel the deep sense of loss that has gripped her soul and left her lost in the world. But that all changes when she meets a certain yellow Autobot named Bumblebee.
What grows from here is a thoroughly organic relationship that really pulls at your heart. When we first meet Bumblebee he’s broken and torn apart and desperately scared, a long way from his original heroic self. But slowly through Charlie’s help, he’s able to heal himself and in doing so he heals Charlie as well. Love is the key here and through their trials together they become ever stronger. Not to mention that there’s a helpful dose of comedy and there are plenty of moments when you’ll be laughing out loud at the hilarity that ensues up on screen. This heartfelt love at the center of the film works thanks to Steinfeld’s performance and I have no-doubt that she was the perfect choice for the role.
Providing back up in the film is John Cena as Colonel Jack Burns, a commander of the clandestine Section 7 who is present for the first contact between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Cena occupies the space between good guy and bad guy and brings a sense of unflinching authority to the film, but you can also expect his sense of dry humour to shine through as well. Cena provides great back up as Burns and when he finally does see the writing on the wall you can be sure this action man mounts up and pulls out the big guns to ensure that the world is indeed saved.
What really moved me with Bumblebee was just how much emotion was present between Charlie and Bumblebee up on screen. This film is a love letter to the power of friendship and just how important love is to the successes in our lives. While Bumblebee might be a CGI character his emotional performance thanks to those digital wizards at Industrial Light and Magic is simply breathtaking to watch. The character’s performance here derives itself mostly from the art of mime and there’s a real Charlie Chaplin-esque presence within the character that only adds to his charm up on screen. Because of his inability to speak his actions, and the use of 1980s music form his words and this secret language only increases the bond between him and Charlie.
But while Bumblebee might be a smaller, more contained Transformers film, action fans should not worry because Knight really delivers on the spectacle here. His emphasis on the action is ‘less is more’ and it really works as you feel every jab, kick and bodyslam that Bumblebee throws at the Decepticons. Knight gives Bumblebee an acrobatic speed to him, with a dash of Capoeira thrown-in there, plus a healthy doe of WWE slamming action, as he jumps head first into the fight against the Decepticons. The pacing of the action works brilliantly because when it does hit you it really captures your attention and when Bumblebee finally does draw his sonic cannon….well get ready for the boom!
With it’s classic 1980’s nostalgia, heartfelt narrative, breathtaking action scenes and a thumping soundtrack filled with classic 80s hits, Bumblebee is a guaranteed winner this Christmas. It’s a film that will enchant the whole family and if you’re looking for that special kind of magic this year then Bumblebee is a ride you’ll want to take.
Image: Paramount Pictures