Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Ricardo Hoyos, John Ortiz, Glynn Turman, Len Cariou
PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
More than thirty years after the original Transformers animated program took Saturday morning cartoons by storm, Bumblebee gives us the first genuine evocation of that show’s bountiful spirit, a full eleven years since Michael Bay first bastardized the show into a series of non-stop action films.
A movie about family, belonging, and defending the world against external threats, Bumblebee follows the struggle of Autobot warrior B127 as he attempts to figure out his place on earth after a deadly battle left his memory banks in tatters and his voice box excised. Through his relationship with an 18-year-old human girl (Hailee Steinfeld), Bumblebee learns not only what it’s like to be part of a family again, but what it means to defend those who cannot defend themselves.
Steinfeld is a suitable lead for this down-to-earth action comedy as she guides Bee and the audience through her difficult life as her own family has moved on from her father’s death while her personal world has come apart. Pamela Adlon is superb as Charlie’s mother. Strong performances elevate the film even though they don’t really need to embellish this kind of movie.
That said, not all of the actors seem to have understood the tone or credibility Bumblebee was going for. John Cena is a veritable mess. While he has done solid work in the past, his performance here feels like it was taken out of a different kind of movie altogether. Stilted comic delivery propped up by off-putting macho bravado makes the character a tedious unnecessary element.
With Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight in the pilot’s seat, the audience is treated to excellent action sequences and thrilling adventures all with a heartfelt core that sets it apart from its bombastic Bay predecessors. Yet, screenwriter Christina Hodson doesn’t do the best job on the overarching structure. Filled with predictable events and corny dialogue in too many places, the film struggles to be more inventive than many of its forebears, both within the Transformers universe and the action genre itself.
The visual effects on display in Bumblebee are all top-notch. As much as the audience can suspend disbelief with regard to talking robots from another planet, the film feels warm, accessible, and realistic. A soundtrack fit for fans of 1980s popular music and a genuine sense of familial familiarity all mix with the thankfully modest sound design to create a film that succeeds more often than it fails.
Bumblebee is a family-friendly tale that feels a bit childish at times, but is always filled with wonder and excitement. It’s the kind of movie that you want to take your children to because it won’t talk down to them (or to you), but will be endlessly entertaining for the both of you.
April 3, 2019