Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) is your typical 80s girl. She has a punk hairstyle and posters for all the significant cultural icons of the preceding decade. Then one day, the plot to the Iron Giant happens to her.
There’s nothing terribly revolutionary about bumblebee other than it being a competent transformers movie, which is certainly unique. This is a Transformers movie that has an appropriate sense of humour, that is only occasionally grating, and a real sentimentality, that is only occasionally cloying. The film has a female lead and at no point is she objectified or humiliated. A significant improvement upon the Michael Bay led films.
It may be unfair to Bumblebee to largely consider it in the context of its forbears, but it’s hard not to remember that much of this film is an attempt make the transformers franchise palatable to a wider demographic than the teenage boys it has spent a decade courting, a demographic it has recently seemed to lose. This feels like the first film in a larger universe and can feel a little cynical for it.
None of this is to say that there aren’t aspects to bumblebee that really work. Hailee Steinfeld is a great actor and she brings a great deal of charm and pathos to this role. The storyline may be trite but it’s coherent and fairly moving. Bumblebee is a sweet character after he forgets how to expertly murder things (again, this is The Iron Giant). The action is underplayed and easy to follow. The Michael Bay, forever-summer aesthetic actually feels pleasant and nostalgic instead of overbearing and obnoxious.
Bumblebee is a harmless and occasionally affecting blockbuster. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it is the most solid entry the franchise has had so far.