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MOVIES: Bumblebee - Review

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Whisper it carefully, but the Transformers movie franchise has finally given us not just a good, but a great instalment. After years of being blighted by the over-indulgent, incoherent and just flat-out disasters that were the Michael Bay movies, it would be a hard task for anyone to try and salvage the franchise but Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight has stepped in and done just that. And not only that, he’s created one of the best blockbusters of the year in the process, crafting a genuine delight that regardless of your opinion of the franchise prior to this point, needs to be seen.

Set in 1987, Bumblebee is a back-to-basics, reasonably grounded approach that will appeal to fans of 80s movies and those influenced by them on both the big and small screen, such as Super 8 and Stranger Things. It has echoes of E.T. and The Iron Giant, and plays homage to The Breakfast Club in a way that fans of the movie will adore. Its soundtrack is full of 80s pop-culture classics, with The Smiths, Duran Duran, Tears for Fears and Simple Minds songs all being used really well in ways that not only advance the plot but also provide plenty of comical moments when it comes to Bumblebee’s voice system, which is damaged fairly early on in the film and he is forced to communicate through the radio.

The film is a clean slate for the franchise, standing on its own as a coming of age movie that provides a great arc for both the humans and the robots involved, something that the previous Transformers movies have often failed to manage. The plot is fairly straightforward, with Hailee Steinfeld’s ex-diving champion Charlie Watson finding a run-down yellow VW beetle in a junkyard, and quickly discovering that there is more to it than meets the eye. But as Charlie and Bumblebee spend more time together - with Charlie teaching Bumblebee how to adapt to life on Earth, they soon find themselves drawing the attention of Deceptions that want to find the location of Optimus Prime and the last remaining Autobots that have escaped Cybertron following a Civil War.

The fight scenes are clear and easy to understand - something that we get a taste of in the bombastic opening sequence set on Cybertron - as is the plot itself, which was never one of Bay’s stronger moments. The old-school look of the Transformers is a welcome one, and when Dylan O’Brien voices Bumblebee during the rare parts where you get to hear his actual voice as opposed to the radio, and brings a touch of authenticity to the character. Steinfeld (The Edge of Seventeen, True Grit), who also has a new single that is used as part of the soundtrack, is able to bring some depth to Charlie, a rebellious teen who has plenty of issues of her own. She's still struggling to come to terms to her father’s death and the fact that everyone expects her to simply move on as though nothing has happened.

The film nails the more emotional moments just as well as the action sequences, finding a perfect split between both, and sends you on a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs over the course of the film. Refreshingly it keeps the attention small scale, with Bumblebee being the only major Autobot to have a significant role, although Peter Cullen does reprise his role voicing Optimus Prime for an extended cameo appearance, but in a way that never detracts from the film itself. There is also no ending that begs for a sequel, and nothing feels shoe-horned in to connect it to the wider Transformers universe.

Simple and to the point, Bumblebee may tread familiar ground plot-wise and isn’t entirely original, but a back-to-basics approach is just what the franchise needed given how convoluted previous entries have been. It’s one of the most satisfying big-screen experiences of the year, pleasing for both fans of the animated series and non-fans alike, containing a few Easter eggs that audiences well versed in the Transformers universe will appreciate. It’s also incredibly well-directed, as Knight makes a smooth transition from the stunningly animated Kubo and the Two Strings into live-action, further establishing himself in the process as a major force to keep an eye out for in the future.

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