Movie Review: ‘Transformers’ Spin-Off ‘Bumblebee’ Is A ‘Herbie’ Redux But With Lots Of Heart And Firepower

A kinder and gentler ‘Transformers’ movie is still a ‘Transformers’ movie.

​​​​​​​Bumblebee (PG13)

Starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Pamela Adlon

Directed by Travis Knight

If the five Michael Bay-detonated Transformers movies were likened to a heavy metal concert, then this 1987-set spin-off/prequel/reboot — by Kubo and Two Strings helmer Travis Knight — is a stripped down (almost), more intimate gig, 

With the bombastic Bayhem reined in, Knight, working on a script by Christina Hodson (the upcoming Harley Quinn off-shoot, Birds of Prey) gets to focus on the endearing friendship between Hailee Steinfeld ‘s emo teen Charlie and the titular shape-shifting, vocally-challenged alien robot soldier hiding on Earth, disguised as a yellow Volkswagen Beetle (in Bay’s flicks, it’s a Camaro, much to the chagrin of purists). 

Steinfeld is feisty as the Smiths-worshipping heroine, with strong assists from Pamela Adlon as her frazzled mum, and John Cena as the black ops grunt who can’t tell whether the mechanical visitor is friend or foe (he has a funny line about why he doesn’t trust the Autobots’ lifelong nemesis, the Decepticons). 

All in all, Bumblebee is a familiar coming-of-age romp that mixes '80s nostalgia bait (Duran Duran! The Breakfast Club! Sony Walkman!) with elements of ET, Herbie Fully Reloaded (or, for folks of a certain age, The Love Bug), and a dash of firepower and destruction. 

That said, a kinder and gentler Transformers movie is still a Transformers movie; it isn’t one unless there are thrashing demolition derby sequences and there’s a few of them here, adroitly orchestrated, enough to placate the hardcore fans and not too much to numb the others. 

Oh well. But look at the bright side: Bumblebee clocks in at under two hours, making it the shortest Transformers movie! Phew! (***)

Photo: UIP

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