BUMBLEBEE review by Rahul Vedantam – Hailee Steinfeld stars in this Transformers origin story

BUMBLEBEE review by Rahul Vedantam – Hailee Steinfeld stars in this Transformers origin story

The new movie BUMBLEBEE, when compared to the first five Michael Bay TRANSFORMERS entries, is a perfect example of the current issues with the MPAA rating system. Because while the first 5 movies were raunchy action flicks filled with explosions and jokes about robots peeing on people, BUMBLEBEE is essentially E.T with maybe a couple of cannons. Director Travis Knight comes into his second film with this effort, his directorial debut being the much-acclaimed stop motion KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS. And BUMBLEBEE is very similarly a coming-of-age youth movie. Everything in the film is a callback to simplicity. And while that may add another building block in an equally annoying nostalgia age of cinema, I am happy to say goodbye to hyper-bombastic “dark” films and welcome the campy take on this franchise.

The new installment, which is in fact a prequel, leans heavily into each decision. Where one film might slightly reference the 1980s setting, BUMBLEBEE gives you close ups of ALF and THE BREAKFAST CLUB playing on the television. Where another might use the coming-of-age structure as a general format, this has Hailee Steinfeld outright proclaim, “Thank you for teaching me how to be myself!” during the final minutes. These aren’t necessarily good or bad, but its important to understand the tone of the film before going in. Characters killed by the evil transformers will pop into goop rather than grime and blood. A high school bully will say something so comically cruel that our main characters can get revenge guilt free. Miss Steinfeld will risk her life to save the world in a mindlessly dangerous way, but come out scratch free as soon as she overcomes a personal fear. Bumblebee’s blocky design and teenage demeanor will provide comedy for most of the film until he saves the day at the end. I could go on, but the point is clear: BUMBLEBEE is for the family, not the brain.

Steinfeld is also fantastic throughout the film. Lost in the pop songs and PITCH PERFECT movies is the fact that she earned an Oscar nomination for TRUE GRIT as a child, and she carries this movie. As Bumblebee is wordless for most of the film, and the nerdy love interest does appear during the first act or climax, she carries most of the production on her shoulders. Donning a new The Smiths shirt in every scene, she sells the misfit persona well, and gets to flex her acting chops whenever the character’s late father is brought up. John Cena, in fact, is disappointingly absent for much of the film. If you are buying a ticket for his star charisma, you might find yourself disappointed. Hailee Steinfeld is the central focus of the narrative, without a doubt.

Overall, BUMBLEBEE is a fun family Christmas film. It’s not very profound, and I wouldn’t call it sequel worthy, but that seems to be inevitable either way. However, if you are hoping for a Transformers film to bring you back to that feeling you had watching the cartoon as a kid, this is the best one yet.

BUMBLEBEE opens December 21, 2018

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