The Transformers franchise, that originated from a range of toys, is all about special effects and bone-crunching (metal, actually) action. In this prequel, Bumblebee, directed by Travis Knight, there is the missing heart.
Set in 1987, the film stars Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie, an 18-year-old grieving the death of her father and losing connection with her immediate family. She comes across a decrepit old Volkswagen Beetle in a junkyard and drives it home. She soon discovers that the dinky yellow car is an Autobot. Bumblebee, aka B-127, was sent to Earth from war-ridden Cybertron, by Optimus Prime (the leader of Autobots in a brief appearance here, voiced by Peter Cullen) to set up a base for his fellow rebels, who are battling the evil Decepticons.
This is an almost tender coming-of-age tale, that is like a tribute to that iconic 80s’ film, Steven Spielberg’s (executive producer of this film) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, which was also about the friendship and trust between a kid and an alien. Bumblebee can’t talk — his voice box was destroyed in a fight with a Decepticon — but develops the ability to communicate through songs on the car radio and helps Charlie cope with her emotionally fragile state of mind. Jorge Lendeborg Jr plays Memo, Charlie’s nerdy classmate, who has a crush on her and gets sucked into the adventures that follow.
Jack Burns (John Cena), an armyman, wants to destroy the blue-eyed Autobot, perceiving it as a threat and a pair of Decepticons arrive to hunt down Bumblebee. These hurdles have to be set up to make space for the action that the Transformers movies are known for.
Bumblebee may be aimed at kiddie audiences, but there is plenty of 80s’ nostalgia in the soundtrack to get grown-ups to enjoy the movie too.
After half a dozen Transformers movies (directed by Michael Bay, who eventually stepped down and handed the baton to Knight) that had so little thematic or visual variation, franchise fatigue would have set in, had Bumblebee not arrived in the nick of time to lift things out of the rut.