Bumblebee scales down the epic battles from the Transformer movies and becomes a story about a friendship between a young earthling and a visitor from outer space. It’s a prequel and not a continuation of the series. With a revised blue print, it gives more attention to screenplay factors such as character development and pacing. The movie stars Hailee Steinfeld, channeling some of her troubled teen from last year’s Edge of Seventeen. Based on both performances she shows genuine potential to becoming a very good actress. It begins with the title character (named B-127 at this point) in an Autobot verses Decepticon war, receiving instructions from its leader Optimus Prime. The directive is to hide in Earth and protect the planet at all costs. The mission is initially rough as B-127 is chased down by a Decepticon, gets severely damaged and barely survives. Fast forward into 1985 and under the disguise of a yellow beat up Volkswagen beetle, it is handed over to Charlie(Steinfeld), a kind of genius in automobiles, who volunteers to buy it or ‘he’ at a repair shop. Thus a warm friendship begins between human and robot.
The screenplay by Christina Hodson allows Charlie to develop her character through interactions with her parents (played by Stephen Schneider and Pamela Adlon), a neighbor(Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) with a crush on her, and bullies(they always appear in three’s). By including these moments, it’s revealed how affected Charlie is from the loss of her real father. Also by having a female lead instead of a male, the story is given a tender side as a balanced counterpoint to the threatening robots. The villains are two Decepticons named Shatter and Dropkick who hunt for Bumblebee. It’s worth noting that Bumblebee is a smaller Transformer, voiceless, and isn’t equipped like they are which really raises the stakes and adds suspense toward its ending- a well-staged two sided fight sequence. A couple of supporting characters make presence such as a soldier portrayal by John Cena and an optimistic scientist by John Ortiz. As for drawbacks to the film, the 80’s music was fun although it began to feel like an unnecessary device to make the film more entertaining. And although Lendeborg Jr. as the shy neighbor gives a good effort, and he will probably have a future as an actor because of that, the performance lacked naturalism. But the bottom line is a movie that weighs action, characters, motivations, and humor so that one factor doesn’t overwhelm the other. Directed by Travis Knight, Bumblebee isn’t exhausting and goes back to story basics.