On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.
Bumblebee paves the way for a change in the weather for the Transformers saga, one that’s been on a rusted, limping leg for far too long now. This vehicle—as a film, a machine, a feeling—tightens bolts that needed adjusting from even the earliest films. The spare and flabby parts are removed and the film finds something the series has forgotten about in nearly a decade: its heart.Where once was a tabula rasa that director Michael Bay (who’s directed the Transformers films since 2007) gave to himself to hire the best in special visual effects, sound, and complete artificial destruction is now bittersweet nostalgia, an echo from the release of the Hasbro toys. Perhaps in creating this tone, Bumblebee director Travis Knight does not pull a lot of new doves out of the hat, from soundtrack choices essential to the 80s (when the film takes place) to expressions that are, at least, fresh enough for millennials to laugh along with. It’s not new, but it is sweet, and it works. What further works, and deserves high praise and attention to give credit where credit is due, the film is surprisingly graceful in communicating cinematically. Some cheesy dialogue is to be expected in an action-stuffed film about robots fighting robots, but the relationship between the Autobot Bee and Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) harkens back to silent pictures, using pantomime and exacting facial and hand gestures to communicate love, safety. It’s enough to take one aback and admire the film on its own two robotic legs.