The complex often ridiculous relationship between Man (or Woman) and an EXTRATERRESTIAL creature has been done in the film as far-ranging as KING KONG and THE SHAPE OF WATER. But none ever reached the guileless purity of Steven Speilberg's ET.
BUMBLEBEE yanked out of the outrageously extravagant Transformers franchise, comes close to ET's power to move that is generally denied to sci-fi films. Never have I seen a film about machines attacking mankind with so much heart in. Normally, this genre either overplays the crash-and-burn card by overdoing optical overtures, or it just goes flat on its face trying to inject emotions into an intrinsically arid wasteland of human emotionlessness.
BUMBLEBEE scores big in warmth and compassion. It's not one of those complicated super-hero spectacles, thank God! It spins a disarmingly simple yarn about the relationship that grows between a lonely fatherless teenager Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) with serious adjustment problems, and an auto robot with seriously human qualities that bowl not just Charlie over but leave us spellbound.
Bumblebee's body postures, its awkward yet endearing attempts to fit in both physically and spiritually, give to the narrative a feeling of virility and warmth. The songs that play in the background are deceptively casual in tone. In truth, each one is handpicked and thrown into the soundtrack like a child in the swimming pool from where it seeks its own emergence.
The film's primary USP is the tender togetherness that is celebrated between two misfits, a pretty earthling and a hulking over-sized robot that transforms into a beetle Volkswagon whenever it and Charlie want to take a ride. In the way, the two meet and get to know one another and in the way songs from the 1960s, 70s and 80s pitch the narrative to just the right tone and texture of a welcoming joyride, BUMBLEBEE is just the film you'd want to start 2019 with.
The journey, as Charlie takes charge of her alien visitor, never stops being charming yet relevant. We could have done without the machinations of scientists at the space-research center who seem to follow an incredibly crude and unscientific trail and who seem to know as much about their alien visitors as we do. But then ignorance is a good place to start a journey into self-awareness.
This is Charlie's travel into the world of adulthood. Her companion is a beetle car which seems to protect her against malevolence. That the gambit pays off, is entirely a matter of alchemy. Who knows how the American sci-fi turns out. This one actually breathes easy and allows the drama to grow on its own.
By Subhash K. Jha