‘Bumblebee’ Review: Travis Knight Revives The ‘Transformers’ Franchise With Hailee Steinfeld

After five installments in the long-running Transformers film series, fan-favorite Autobot Bumblebee finally gets the spotlight in his own standalone movie. For Bumblebee, Paramount shifts into reverse and takes us back to 1987 with a refreshing installment that might just be enough to revitalize the former box office juggernaut after the previous two films were met with declining box office returns.

Gone is Michael Bay, who directed the first five Transformers films. And so are the exhausting, mind-numbing action sequences made possible by non-sensical plots. There are no kooky lead characters here and no characters are ever inappropriately sexualized. Bay himself instead serves as executive producer. Taking the reigns is Travis Knight, the director behind 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings, making his live-action debut with the franchise’s first-ever spin-off. The result is a simpler, heartwarming action-adventure story that returns the franchise to its roots, capturing the spirit of the original Transformers cartoon.

Hailee Steinfeld stars in this coming-of-age story as Charlie, a tomboy mechanic who meets Bumblebee in his classic Volkswagen Beetle form. After she forms a connection with the lovable Autobot, the two have to figure out how to manage without Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots as they are hunted by both the Decepticons and Sector 7, led by John Cena.

Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, and Jason Drucker round out the cast, providing solid comic relief. The two standouts of the supporting cast here are clearly the ones with the biggest roles, being Cena and Lendeborg Jr., who make their one-dimensional characters work because of their unique charm and charisma. Cena is as charismatic as he is self-aware in the film and he is continuing to prove he can be a force in Hollywood as long as he continues to select roles that utilize his rather limited range.

Bumblebee also gives the fan-favorite Autobot his own voice. Best known for his roles in The Maze Runner films, Dylan O’Brien provides the voice for the titular character. In previous Transformers films, Bumblebee has used soundbites from the radio to communicate with the characters and while that is the case here for the majority of the film, for a few scenes, we actually get to hear his original voice. O’Brien does an excellent job here voicing the character. His voice feels like it fits right in with the personality of the character fans have come to know over the years and will leave you wishing there was more of O’Brien voicing the Autobot.

Much in the way that Knight’s previous film Kubo is a love letter to storytelling itself, Bumblebee is very much a love letter to the magical films of Steven Spielberg from the 1980s and is very much a story we’ve seen before. It’s a boy and his dog all over again, except this time it’s a girl and her robot. It’s E.T., Iron Giant, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. With some very in-your-face John Hughes references. But by no means does this hurt the film. It means after eleven years, we finally have a Transformers film that values its characters over its visual effects. And it’s Knight and Steinfeld who make this character-focused take on the franchise work as well as it does.

Steinfeld carries the majority of Bumblebee with a sadness and tenderness in her performance that isn’t found in other Transformers films. Combine that with the heart Knight brings to the table and you easily have the right ingredients for what is no doubt the best film in the franchise. Bumblebee, for the most part, is an engaging story that is at its best when it focuses on the friendship between Charlie and Bumblebee. The plot itself is rather thin but serviceable enough to justify the film’s existence and help drive it forward. Only once the film shifts gears into its action sequences, save for a few satisfying bits on Cybertron, the film quickly devolves back into a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot match.While the action is framed wider and shot far less chaotically than Bay’s films, the third act still feels like the kind of standard-fare we’ve come to expect from previous installments, only shorter and far more coherent. Dario Marianelli’s score is a major factor here. What is normally adding another layer of warmth to Charlie and Bumblebee’s scenes, quickly downgrades into a generic personality-free ruckus throughout the action sequences.

Knight also makes some interesting choices that strike a very fine balance in the film. Where one could easily teeter on the verge of failure, Knight succeeds with flying colors. Bumblebee is clearly aimed at children today, while simultaneously appealing to the nostalgia of those who grew up watching the original cartoon far more than any other Transformers film. Its ’80s setting allows for an extremely kitschy soundtrack that actually manages to work perfectly and not feel like it’s too much. There are also several comedic beats throughout that wouldn’t work if Bumblebee was taking place in modern day, including an action scene late in the film that involves Charlie’s Mom, her little brother, and her Mom’s new boyfriend. It feels plucked right out of an ’80s film and Knight pulls it off with such ease that it doesn’t feel out of place at all, likely due to the ’80s tropes he establishes earlier on in the film.

Overall, Bumblebee isn’t just your average blockbuster. Not only is this a fine film, but it’s also a far superior effort compared to the rest of the Transformers franchise, and a more than solid step in the right direction. Bumblebee has a ton of heart and charm that will make for a whole lot of fun at the movies this holiday season. It really is more than meets the eye. Knight has managed a very effective restart to the franchise with this prequel, featuring simpler transformations that feel much more toyetic than Bay’s films, with G1 designs and a few visits to Cybertron that will leave longtime fans of the original cartoon series yearning for a film set entirely on the Transformers’ homeworld. And with Knight behind the camera, that might even seem possible.

Score: 7.5/10

Here’s What We Learned From The ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Trailer

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Avengers Endgame Trailer Marvel StudiosToday, Marvel Studios unveiled the first official trailer for Avengers: Endgame and the preview offered fans more insight into the aftermath of Thanos' decimation.

After Avengers: Infinity War concluded with Thanos using the power of the Infinity Stones to erase half of the population in the universe from existence, fans spent the rest of the year speculating on how our heroes could reverse the Mad Titan's decimation and what would have to be sacrificed as a result. Now, the first official trailer for Avengers: Endgame offers fans their first look at how the surviving heroes have coped with the loss of their loved ones and may provide insight into how they plan to defeat Thanos.

You can click "Next" to continue the gallery and find out what we learned from the new trailer!

Tony Stark Is Adrift In Space After His Showdown With Thanos

Avengers Endgame Robert Downey Jr. Iron ManFollowing the showdown on Titan, Tony Stark and Nebula were left alone after Thanos eradicated the rest of the heroes who were present. While some assumed that the genius billionaire would find a way to return to Earth, it appears Tony is adrift in space on a vessel with limited supplies and oxygen.

Nebula Is With Tony

Avengers Endgame Nebula Marvel StudiosWhile Tony Stark may be lost in space with no chance of being rescued, it appears he will be accompanied by Nebula, the only other survivor of the showdown on Titan. How the two characters are getting along in what could be their final days remains unknown, though Nebula appears to be faring better than her new companion.

Scott Lang Escaped The Quantum Realm

Ant-Man Avengers EndgameDuring the first post-credits scene for Ant-Man and the Wasp, Scott Lang found himself trapped inside the Quantum Realm after his friends were erased by the Thanos snap and some speculated that the Avengers would have to rescue him. However, it appears Scott Lang managed to escape the realm on his own and brought the van containing the way to the alternate dimension with him.

Possible Time Jump

Avengers Endgame Marvel_Studios_Captain America Chris EvansDuring the final moments of the new trailer, Captain America and Black Widow view a video of Scott Lang asking to be let inside Avengers headquarters. Captain America wonders if the message is old, meaning that some time may have passed since Thanos' decimation and Scott's escape from the Quantum Realm.

Hawkeye Is Definitely Ronin

Avengers Endgame Hawkeye Ronin

After months of speculation, the Avengers: Endgame trailer essentially confirmed that Hawkeye will assume the Ronin mantle when he returns. Furthermore, Captain America line about losing family being said over footage of Clint Barton's appearance suggests that the archer's family perished in the decimation and their deaths prompted him to take on a new identity.

They Know Spider-Man Is MissingAvengers Endgame Marvel Studios Spider-ManDuring the trailer, Bruce Banner can be seen assessing a list of victims of Thanos' decimation and it appears the team knows Spider-Man is among the missing. This may come as a surprise to some considering Spider-Man was with Tony Stark during the events of Infinity War.

Captain America's Winter Soldier Suit is Back

Captain America Avengers Endgame Winter SoldierAfter returning in Avengers: Infinity War with a full beard and disheveled costume, Captain America will return to a more familiar look that includes the suit from The Winter Soldier.

Thanos Is Still Wearing The Burned Gauntlet

Avengers Endgame Thanos Marvel StudiosAfter Thanos acquired all six Infinity Stones and used them to accomplish his mission, the gauntlet he used to harness their power was severely damaged. However, it appears the Mad Titan continues to wear the worn gauntlet, perhaps in an effort to ensure no one else can wield the power of the stones and undo his actions.

The Avengers Have A Plan

Avengers Endgame

Though all may seem hopeless, our heroes aren't heading into their next showdown with Thanos without a plan. Hopefully, it will work, because Steve Rogers certainly seems concerned about what they will do if the Avengers fail for a second time.

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Michael Mistroff

Michael Mistroff

News Editor, Film/TV Reporter at Heroic Hollywood.