A prequel to Michael Bay’s dismal Transformers series, BumbleBee is set in 1987 and follows a scrappy teenager (Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie) as she befriends the title robot – with the narrative detailing the problems that ensue after a couple of vicious Decepticons come looking for BumbleBee. It’s certainly not a stretch to label BumbleBee the best installment in this ongoing (and progressively interminable) franchise, as the movie boasts an appealing protagonist and a sporadically engaging storyline – although it’s clear right from the get-go that the picture flounders when focused on Transformers-specific elements (ie after a succession of five terrible movies, it’s hard to embrace any of this stuff with even the slightest degree of enthusiasm). Steinfeld’s personable work here goes a long way towards smoothing over the increasingly erratic narrative and palpably overlong running time, and yet the episodic structure, which is especially prominent within the meandering midsection, ensures that BumbleBee runs out of steam long before it reaches its fairly endless, typically action-packed third act – which effectively cements the picture’s place as a mildly watchable, geared-towards-small-children diversion that could (and should) have been better.

** out of ****

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