What's this? A Transformers film worth your time? Surely not! Amazingly, six films in, the robots-in-disguise have managed to transform into a decent time at the movies. This is in no small part due to jettisoning the sleazy feel of previous films (the franchise has often circled sexist and racist content) and focusing on a more human-side.
Jumping back to the late '80s, after a crashy-smashy opening, Bumblebee finds its eponymous hero broken and ditched in a scrapyard in the form of a VW Beetle. It is up to Charlie, a just-turned eighteen-year-old who is similarly broken, to help Bumblebee unlock his true potential and save the day.
Bumblebee is a film that shouldn't work. Its central hook, giant blocks of CGI clashing, remains intact and, for at least the first half, it often seems to grind the narrative down whenever it turns to the pesky business of the titular robots. And yet it is a film that manages to be effortlessly endearing. Where previous instalments (under the guiding hand of Michael Bay) were forever expanding, with bigger set pieces, increasingly apocalyptic stakes, and ever more noise, here the film goes smaller, more intimate. Director Travis Knight (an alumni of stop-motion animation geniuses Laika Studios and the director of Kubo and the Two Strings) and screenwriter Christina Hudson take Transformers back to a more approachable, likeable, endearing setup.
Another asset in this film's arsenal is Hailee Steinfeld. She shines here, producing the franchise's only fully-developed performance. Steinfeld has an ability to bring a warmth and humanity to any role she's in, be it voicing a superhero (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), the lead role in an indie teen gem (The Edge of Seventeen) or breaking out in a Coen-directed classic (True Grit). Bumblebee reinforces this and she manages to have heaps of chemistry with her CGI co-star.
In fact the girl-and-robot-car teen comedy that the film resembles for much of its running time is where Bumblebee bursts into life. The surrounding Transformer business is really not very engaging, lumbering John Cena, who has emerged as a surprisingly strong actor in recent years (check out Blockers and Ferdinand), with scenes that just don't interest the audience as much as they should.
It is unclear what the future holds for the Transformers franchise. Just as most audiences have left it, having become increasingly bored by the track