More than meets the eye. An undoubtedly iconic catchphrase associated with Transformers for decades. A line so relevant and layered, that it can be used to describe both the series' shapeshifting characters, as well as the longevity of the franchise as a whole. Perhaps the most immediate connection viewers will make between the two however, is the truly astonishing box office receipts of the Michael Bay movies. Since the first big screen outing for Optimus and co in 2007, Paramount has produced four more films that have seemingly diminished in quality with each successive outing, and lost the heart of the (genuinely quite good) original. Now, it's up to everyone's favourite vocally challenged Camaro, this time in the form of a classic yellow Beetle, to save the franchise.
The prequel begins by finally shedding some light on the heavily-referenced battle between the Autobots and Decepticons, that ravaged their homeworld of Cybertron and ultimately led to its downfall. This sequence is impressively realized on screen, with some stunning CGI that makes it clear a large amount of the films (relatively modest) budget went on this opening. Even more impressive though, is the fact that it shows us a fight sequence audiences are actually capable of following, without the need of a narrator describing which colourful CGI blob is hitting which, or an extra pair of eyes desperately trying to keep track whats going on. Indeed, Bumblebee establishes itself as a very different (and pleasantly refreshing) beast from the get-go. From there the action is then swiftly moved across the galaxy, as our protagonist manages to escape the fierce battle and make his way to earth. After a close encounter with the military, and a near-death experience with some nasty Decepticon foes, Bumblebee takes refuge in...you guessed it, an old junk yard. Badly damaged, and tasked with hiding in plain sight until his comrades join him, he then meets an angsty-but-loveable teenager named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld). The physically damaged robot, and emotionally traumatised young woman quickly form a strong bond that takes them on adventure which will not only save the world, but might also heal them both in the process.
Ordinarily, this simplistic, tried-and-tested narrative would not be enough to warrant and maintain interest for almost two hours. Director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), thankfully makes sure that great care is taken with each and every plot thread, to deliver the first Transformers film where the protagonists actually feel like real people. Even Bumblebee himself is portrayed as a sympathetic character, after we finally witness how he tragically loses his ability to speak (wonderfully voiced by The Maze Runner's Dylan O'Brien) without the use of radio frequencies. Steinfeld also shines in her role as Charlie, in yet another reminder of why the Academy Award-nominated actor is one of the finest currently working in the industry. Within minutes of appearing on screen she is able to effectively convey more charm, charisma and likability than Shia Labeouf managed to in three movies – although, we'd put the majority of that on the poor scripts Labeouf received during his tenure as robot sidekick. Regardless, this is a huge step forward for a franchise that was previously so hollow and unapologetically sexist, that it swapped its female lead on three separate occasions without making an ounce of difference to the story – can anyone honestly remember the names of the characters played by Megan Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley?
The cast is rounded out by Jorge Lendeborg Jr as Charlie's awkward love interest, and John Cena as the franchise's newest nameless military man. Both of these characters are handled extremely well, with even Cena's scenery-chewing soldier demonstrating some genuine humanity and laugh out loud humour. The two Decepticon antagonists are the weakest element of the film, with their parts occasionally feeling forced and uninteresting. But, this is easily forgivable based on Angela Bassett's entertaining voice role. The '80s setting of the film is effectively established, without overtly feeling the need to reference it in every scene. However, there are some great moments of nostalgia for older audience members including a fantastic soundtrack, and a few hilarious nods to The Breakfast Club.
This latest entry in the franchise will easily fill viewers with a restored faith in the cinematic future of the Transformers. Optimus Prime is once again the badass we all remember, in a memorable cameo appearence that doesn't detract from Bumblebee himself. This leads to a clear sequel set-up at the climax of the film, and for the first time in many years, people may actually want to see what happens next, With a spiritual combination of The Iron Giant, E.T. and a John Hughes classic, Bumblebee has emerged as a beautiful character piece, with some heartwarming, emotionally powerful moments that will bring more than one tear to the eye.