Notably, director Travis Knight is an animation veteran, whose credits include “Kubo and the Two Strings” and (as a producer) “The Boxtrolls.” “Bumblebee” definitely has a more family-friendly feel, which doesn’t mean there’s not plenty of action involving giant mechanized warriors beating the oil out of each other.
Most happily, the movie (written by Christina Hodson) proves disarmingly witty, working “The Breakfast Club” into its shtick, referencing the Cold War not long before the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down and indulging in teen hijinks — like toilet-papering a house — that Bumblebee embraces with a little too much gusto.
Admittedly, some of this praise comes from a place of utter skepticism with a five-film franchise that — under the stewardship of director Michael Bay — is a sort-of poster child for empty-headed blockbusters that play well internationally because explosions are a universal language and the dialogue’s mostly irrelevant anyway.
The production notes refer to this as a “kinder, gentler” take on “Transformers,” which sounds better than a “quieter, less irritating” one.
Even grading on a curve, though, this is a solidly executed story, tapping the familiar theme of a troubled kid whose life is changed by an extraordinary visitor. And it’s grounded in reality thanks to Steinfeld, a budding star basically reprising the character she played in the indie film, “The Edge of Seventeen,” only with a lot more destruction of property.
Joining a movie series that has consistently added up to less, creatively speaking, than the sum of its parts, for once there really is more to “Bumblebee” than meets the eye.
“Bumblebee” premieres December 21 in the United States. It’s rated PG-13.