Who woulda thunk it? A Transformers movie with heart and soul. And great music.

Now this could be the surprise of the year. Yes, Bumblebee is a Transformers movie but you won’t need to bring your migraine tablets along when you go to see it.

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Watch our interview with Hailee Steinfeld

Michael Bay’s knowingly brain-dead $4.3-billion franchise has long shown signs of rust and fatigue. The sight of giant Decepticons and Autobots slugging it out as buildings topple around them has become very old indeed.  

However, forget the usual carmageddon and blitzed city scapes; set in 1987, Bumblebee shifts into a lower gear to tell a charming origins story which centres on a lonely girl who befriends a B-127 Autobot stranded on earth as two particularly evil Decepticons hunt him down.

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Watch our interview with Bumblebee director Taylor Knight

Hilariously and rather wonderfully the music of The Smiths plays quite a key role in the whole thing. They’re the favourite band of proto emo girl Charlie Watson, a rebellious, car-obsessed teen who misses her late father madly and has to live with her annoying kid brother, her overbearing mother, and her gormless stepdad in a San Francisco suburb that screams Spielberg (and no wonder - he’s one of the film’s executive producers).

When Charlie (the always impressive Hailee Steinfeld) discovers a badly wounded B-127 disguised as a canary yellow VW Beetle in a local junkyard, it’s not the first similarity to a certain alien who wants to phone home.

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Watch our interview with John Cena

Christened Bumblebee by Charlie for his striped chassis and antennae, he becomes not so much a father figure to Charlie as a naughty kid brother. In another nice E.T. touch he learns to communicate through popular culture references including pop songs and movies like The Breakfast Club.  

Of course, the presence of an Autobot alien is all of great interest to the military and John Cena turns in a comically hammy and macho performance as Agent Burns.

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Making his feature film debut, Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight plays it for laughs while screenwriter Christina Hodson has the luxury of affectionately sending up the DayGlo eighties with Charlie’s goth sensibilities and and some smart one liners, including one about the coming of the Internet.

A refreshingly agile addition to the hulking Transformers franchise, Bumblebee presses all the right buttons and comes on like Herbie Rides Again meets E.T. Who woulda thunk it? A Transformers movie with heart and soul. And great music.

Alan Corr @CorrAlan2