Movie Review: ‘Bumblebee’ Starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Angela Bassett,
One of the earliest Christmases I can remember, I remember asking for as many Transformers as I could get. I was enamored with the concept of Robots in Disguise and thought they were the greatest thing since macaroni and cheese. When Christmas finally came, I wasn’t disappointed. I spent hours in my basement recreating battles, hoping that maybe one day I’d see an Autobot driving down the road, racing to combat the Decepticons.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t.
But hey, it was still fun. So when Michael Bay announced he was reviving the franchise, I’ll admit I was one of those giddy fanboys who eagerly awaited the release. While I wasn’t disappointed by the first movie, the films gradually declined in coherence and quality, much like my ramblings during a night of drinking.
With that in mind, I’m happy to report that with the release of Bumblebee, the Transformers franchise very well may be rebounding. I know the last couple years, people have been skeptical, wondering whether we actually needed another Transformers movie after the mess that was The Last Knight.
Thankfully, in the case of Bumblebee, director Travis Knight and writer Christina Hodson brought in some fresh perspectives and completely shifted the focus of the film. Rather than being a 90 minute battle with 20 minutes of movie to support it, Bumblebee remembers that it’s meant to be a movie first, not a toy commercial laden with flashy explosions. There’s maybe 25 actual minutes of combat in the movie, but the scarcity of it actually makes it a film worth watching.
Set in 1987, the film opens on Cybertron, with the war waging between the Autobots and Decepticons. Realizing the Autobots need to regroup, Optimus Prime sends Bumblebee, known as B-127, to Earth to establish a new base, promising that the rest will follow shortly. Sidenote, fans of the original cartoon series will appreciate this opening scene and the various G1 Transformers they’ll be able to recognize.
Landing on Earth, B-127 is immediately confronted by members of Sector 7, led by John Cena Jack Burns, who looks and acts a lot like John Cena. Before he can explain the situation, he’s attacked and seriously injured by Blitzwing. With his memory banks failing and his vocal cords destroyed, his last conscious act before he shuts down is transforming into an old VW Beetle.
Taken to a junkyard, he’s found by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), who spends her days working at an amusement park and her free time fixing an old Corvette she and her recently deceased father used to work on. His memory damaged, he’s timid, even scared of Charlie until they earn each other’s trust.
This feel-good warm fuzzy feeling is disrupted, however, by two Decepticon scouts, Shatter and Dropkick, who track down Bumblebee on Earth in an attempt to discover the location of the remaining Autobots. As Bumblebee’s memory returns to him, the last half of the film turns into a race to stop the Decepticons from completing their mission.
While it’s technically a prequel in name, the writing and direction set the film a level above the Michael Bay-helmed series. By choosing to cut down on the combat sequence, Knight and Hodson succeed in giving us an actual movie, one in which Steinfeld shines and the other supporting cast give some breath to the once-stagnant franchise. Cena is, well, Cena, and he has probably the best, most self-aware line in the movie.
The real star of the film, though, is the relationship between Bumblebee and Charlie. As the story progresses, Bumblebee increasingly becomes the father figure Charlie’s desperate to have in her life. As she faces her fears, she becomes increasingly assertive, and Bumblebee is shown as more human than many of the residents of his newfound home. And this is why Bumblebee is more likely to succeed than its immediate predecessors; whereas they lacked any real emotional connection or relationships, Bumblebee brings them back and at times hits emotional notes.
It won’t win any best picture awards, but it will entertain and perhaps serve as a reminder to Michael Bay and other filmmakers that fans of the franchise actually do value substance as much as they do style. The end of the film is meant to lead into the first Transformers film, but given the decades between the two, you can’t help but wonder whether there will be more to come. In this case, I certainly hope so.
Bumblebee gets a B+