I WAS initially apprehensive about watching Bumblebee.
The 2007 Transformers movie was a loving homage to the 1980s cartoon series, but the last two films in the franchise (the 2014 Transformers: Age of Extinction, and 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight) turned out to be bloated, action-heavy capers that lacked a decent story.
However, with this movie based around fan-favourite Bumblebee, it proves that with a decent script (screenwriter Christina Hodson), a good director (Knight, who directed Kubo and the Two Strings), and a talented set of actors, there is still some life left in the franchise after all.
The movie begins in the middle of a battle between the Decepticons and Autobots on Planet Cybertron.
B-127 (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) is ordered by Autobot leader Optimus Prime to leave the planet and head for Earth, which is supposed to be a rendezvous point for other escaping Autobots.
When B-127 crashes here, he ends up in a skirmish with the military, led by Commander Jack Burns (John Cena, who delivers some of the best lines in the movie), followed by another fight with a Decepticon, which causes B-127 to lose his voice and his memory.
We are then introduced to Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager who finds an old rundown VW Beetle while looking for spare parts to fix a classic Corvette that she and her late father used to work on.
While tinkering on the Beetle in her garage, Charlie manages to reactivate B-127. Quick to realise that B-127 needs her help, Charlie sets to work, teaching him important stuff like how to remain hidden, and names him Bumblebee.
A special friendship develops between these two lonely beings, which is the heart of the story.
However, two Decepticon pursuers – Shatter (Angela Bassett, who is just brilliant) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) – land on Earth.
Despite misgivings from Burns (his reasoning is hilarious), his superiors let the Decepticons use their satellite system to track down B-127.
Knight gives us enough action to remind us it is still a Transformers movie, but also adds enough light drama to keep things grounded.
The story is as much about Bumblebee as it is about Charlie. Both are scarred in their own way and need to find a way to move forward.
Charlie’s friendship (and possible romance) with her neighbour, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr), who stumbles across her secret, is thankfully given a light touch so that it does not distract you from the main story.
If this is the beginning of a new franchise, I hope it continues in the same vein.