I am impressed with how wonderful of a young actress Hailee Steinfeld has proven herself to be, and my mother loves the yellow Autobot Bumblebee. The “Transformers” prequel spin-off, “Bumblebee,” offers tender moments between these two. And when we’re looking at them, we feel something special. That’s the best part of the movie.
The movie is set in 1987, Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) sends Bumblebee to Earth to find a base for the rebellious Autobots, during their Decepticon battle. Bumblebee had a speaking voice (Dylan O’Brien), until his voice box got ripped out. That’s part of the reason why he communicates with different voices.
On Earth, located in San Francisco, we meet a former swim champ named Charlie (Steinfeld), who has become an Eeyore, after losing her father. She struggles to finish fixing the car they started, and wants a new car. And then out of the blue, she finds a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, and brings it home, unaware that it’s Bumblebee.
The two form a bond with each other, and Charlie installs a new radio in him, so he can communicate better. Now you know why. And throughout their friendship, Bumblebee is on the run from a government agency (led by John Cena) and two Decepticons (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux).
“Bumblebee” was only produced by Michael Bay, who decided to call it quits from directing any more “Transformers” movies. This one was directed by Travis Knight, the lead animator for the stop-motion company Laika (“Coraline,” “ParaNorman,” “The Boxtrolls,” and “Kubo and the Two Strings”). His directorial debut of “Kubo” was visually stunning.
His next feature is an improvement on “Transformers: The Last Knight,” given the warm-hearted chemistry between Steinfeld and Bumblebee. They’re charming as they get to know each other, and the movie doesn’t rush into things. So, it’s a blessing that Michael Bay didn’t direct this one.
Some things need oil changes. There are some awkward characters, include Charlie’s mom (Adlon), her little brother (Jason Drucker), and her new friend (Lendeborg Jr.); and the most unnecessary is a bully (Gracie Dzienny) and her friends. And the best special effects account for Bumblebee, while most of the Autobot look sort-of flimsy.
But if we ignore some of the weak elements, we may see “Bumblebee” for its patient connection between the two main characters, and their goals and ambitions. And without all the generic chaotic Bay-violence we’ve always been seeing, this didn’t turn my brain into a fried egg.
Opens December 21