Director: Travis Knight; Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Justin Theroux and Angela Bassett
Director Travis Knight's Bumblebee serves as an imaginative spinoff and a prequel to director Michael Bay's Transformers series that began in 2007.
It is a scaled-down, character-driven family film, where the bigger moments realign, providing an extended account of the fan-favourite characters' origin and an insight into the war between the noble Autobots and the devious Deceptions, the intergalactic robots from the planet of Cybertron.
Set in 1987, the film begins with an Autobot crash-landing on Earth, in the middle of a military exercise led by secretive government agency Sector 7 commander Jack Burn (John Cena). This leads to an intense fight as Burns and his soldiers attempt to capture the robot.
The robot escapes his pursuers and settles down in a San Francisco Bay Area junkyard after transforming itself into a faded yellow 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. That is where Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) who misses her dead father, discovers the dilapidated Bug while scavenging spare parts to remodel her dad's car.
When Charlie gets the car home, she is astounded to witness the car's sudden transition to the robot form and after getting over her initial shock, she decisively names the Autobot B-127 "Bumblebee".
The robot is named Bumblebee not because of his camouflage or because the car was swarmed with honeybees when Charlie finds it, but on account of the weird buzzing noise his broken voice box emits.
Soon Charlie and Bumblebee become fast friends. Because Bumblebee had his memory wiped from a fight, years earlier, he is very childlike and endearing. In fact, he is the best pet any teenager could hope for. Though equipped with heavy duty cannon and huge retractable sword, he is like a giant, obedient puppy the rest of the time.
But, Bumblebee's troubles quickly catch up with him when Decepticona's Dropkick (voiced by Justin Theroux) and Shatter (voiced by Angela Bassett) partner with the unwitting leaders of Sector 7 and a suspicious Burns, who hunt him down at any cost.
The film offers a significant change from the typically male-dominated franchise to centring on a teen girl, as the film's protagonist. There is plenty of formidable drama inclusive of genuinely heartfelt moments as she navigates her way with her unconventional new friend.
By taking the "Transformers" universe in a new, more intimate character-driven direction, the plot is simple and straightforward. Stripped of all complexities, it thus manages to establish itself not only as a thrilling, adventure origin story of sorts, but as one of the more heart-warming films of the season.
It is a true coming-of-age story for both the title character and Charlie, but unfortunately, the story seems too familiar and does not feel original. The humour in the film is subjective and is strewn far and in-between the narrative.
On the acting front, every member of the cast delivers rock-solid performance. As for the visual effects, the critical transformation scene demonstrates noticeable improvements in digital effects over the previous films, with sharp visual details, realistic colour shading and seamless transitions between the robot and vehicular forms, which all appear realistic and cool
Overall, Bumblebee is a fun film that would appeal to both long-time fans and a new audience of younger viewers, if you overlook the minor cinematic liberties that the director has taken.