Tell me where your friends are hiding.
I’ll never talk.
Is that right? Then let’s make it official.
I’ve had something like zero affinity with the Transformers franchise going forward, but Bumblebee really, really works. I guess just about every review of Bumblebee starts with some approximation of that sentence, but I stand by it, unoriginal it may be. Bumblebee a phenomenal film, heartfelt, sweet and action-packed. The film really comes down to its two leads, both of whom are absolute perfection. Hailee Steinfeld, always an interesting actor, gives one of her best performances here as Charlie, a disaffected teen still mourning her father’s death. It’s a really emotionally open performance and, when you consider that a good portion of her performance was done to a tennis ball on a stick or however they do those effects these days, it’s even more impressive. Likewise, the title character himself really comes to life wonderfully. It’s a really great pantomime performance and the animators really give Bee a tremendous amount of personality and emotion purely through body language. I’m not sure if there was a motion capture performance at the heart of this; probably so, I guess, and if so, kudos to whoever that was. The misfit alien and misfit kid get together and form a relationship that heals them both is not new and this film is definitely a riff on The Iron Giant, but when the story is told as beautifully and sincerely as it is here, the old story still works. Setting aside the effective emotional story told here, this film succeeds in another way as well: it’s finally the Transformers movie I’ve been waiting for. The movie doesn’t skimp on action sequences, opening with a pretty great extended fight scene and the final confrontation is wonderful as well. This film dials in on the action and concentrates mostly on much smaller scale action scenes than the Bay films in the franchise and that’s a very good thing. Knight does a great job with these scenes; you can actually tell what’s going on and there’s actual choreography to the fights. There’s a brief scene of Optimus Prime delaying the Decepticons long enough for Bumblebee to escape at the beginning of the film that is finally, finally, finally the badass scene Optimus has deserved. And a shot in the final fight of Charlie running through the middle of a big fight in a single shakycam shot is the moment that finally captures the way it should feel to be a human in a world of Transformers like nothing in the franchise to this point has. Bumblebee is a knockout, full stop, heartfelt and thrilling in all the right ways. Will this be a corrective to the franchise? That would be nice, but it’s still just one movie, so the franchise might easily go right back to the bombastic nonsense of the previous films. Even if that happens though, heroic little Bumblebee has pulled off a magnificent feat anyway and, when the others in the series have been forgotten, this little marvel will, I think, endure. 4 stars.
tl;dr – both an emotionally effective drama and a thrilling adventure, Bumblebee is the best Transformers film so far and a darn great flick for non-fans of the franchise as well. 4 stars.