The last four Transformers films have been a mess of clashing metal, crashing sound and little in the way of coherence. Bumblebee, meanwhile, was conceived as a spin-off, but emerges as more of a reboot of sorts: a return to the kid-and-a-car conceit of the first film. In fact, director Travis Knight (director of the animated Kubo and the Two Strings) takes the franchise even further, back to '80s Amblin movies like E.T. and The Goonies and the original Hasbro toy designs. The result is an entry in this franchise that won’t give you a headache.
Hailee Steinfeld plays Charlie, a tomboyish 18-year-old mourning her dad. Mechanically inclined and desperate for a car, she brings home a beaten-up VW Beetle that turns out to be a robot alien from the planet Cybertron. Might an unlikely friendship materialise? One threatened by John Cena’s uptight military man and two enemy Decepticons (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux)? You'll just have to see.
Many of the beats are familiar from Steven Spielberg’s alien-on-a-strange-world classic and its legion of imitators. There are the shady government types, all the pop-culture bonding and some innocent destruction (half of Charlie’s family home bites the dust). But Steinfeld holds attention even when acting opposite imaginary metal, and Knight builds her connection to Bumblebee via a shared sense of loss and some smart visual touches. And for Transformers fans, there's still action galore. If Bumblebee doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, sometimes a good tune-up is enough.
By Helen O'Hara