Full confession to all ye fanboys and fangirls: I might be the last person that should be writing a review of Bumblebee for GodHatesGeeks. Not only have I not been a fan of the Michael Bay Transformers films minus the very first one, but the fourth, Transformers: Age of Extinction, might be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. So much that I never bothered with 2017’s The Last Knight. That all being said when “Monsignor” Moody needed someone to attend the Bumblebee screening because he couldn’t, I was there. I realize that this is a prequel and a new creative team so I should have some more optimism but isn’t it tough to watch when your childhood has been desecrated in front of you all these years?
So here we go, as the film opens up on the Transformers homeworld of Cybertron amid a battle scene from the famed war that led to the Autobots having to abandon their planet. We see several familiar faces from Decepticons and Autobots alike and they’re blasting the holy crap out of each other! Realizing they have no other choice, Optimus Prime sends all of the Autobots off in escape pods and specifically sends B-127 (apparently Bumblebee’s Autobot name) to Earth; he hands the Bee the instructions needed to keep the planet safe and ready as they will regroup there later. And wait, what’s this? B-127 can actually speak! Ah man, why do we have to leave all this glorious classic Transformers action for stupid Earth? Bummer.
It is the year 1987 on Earth and B-127 crashes into the middle of a military paintball exercise that is being led by Agent Jack Burns (WWE star John Cena) and they do not see his arrival as a friendly encounter. But before the situation can be peacefully resolved a Decepticon named Blitzwing shows up and turns the whole place into a firestorm. He and B-127 clash and the situation ends with our pal’s voicebox getting destroyed, critically wounded to the point where his system shuts down. But before he goes dark he sees, scans and blends in with a VW Beetle in with these new surroundings. The poor guy is on Earth for less than 15-minutes and didn’t get to take in anything but some crappy German engineering.
We now shift the story to teenager Charlie Watson (Pitch Perfect’s Hailee Steinfeld) who lives in a suburb near San Francisco and is every part loner/social outcast; he divides her time between her lowly Hot Dog on a Stick job and tinkering with inoperative vehicles in her garage. She likes her angst music, band T-Shirts, and doesn’t communicate with her family much. Not relatable at all, right? She frequents a scrapyard owned by her Uncle Hank (Blue Blood’s Len Cariou) where one day she comes upon a yellow VW Beetle and instantly feels she must have it. And, hey, it’s her birthday and the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“Bumblebee”, as he is named by Charlie, is a lot of things but what it is not is anything like any of the previous Transformer films. Bumblebee takes more of a character direction and focuses mainly on the relationship between a lost robot with amnesia and a lonely girl who really needs a friend. Charlie hides him in the garage and introduces “Bee” to all the 80’s pop culture staples such as The Smiths, A-Ha, and the movie The Breakfast Club. The film is loaded with 80’s references such as TAB soda, PONG, and Alf being on the families TV set. This will most likely be lost on the younger audience but for those that grew up in the era when the animated Transformers popped on our televisions. It’s nostalgic gold.
Having lost his ability to speak, Bumblebee uses music lyrics to communicate with Charlie. Even after a neighbor named Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) accidentally discovers Bumble in her garage it just turns the situation into a small buddy crew. The story does have some moments where it turns very YA and becomes more like “a girl and her Autobot”; yet it’s hard not to warm up to the way that ‘Bee brings happiness into Charlie’s life, (empty since the loss of her father). He truly wants to make her happy and give her self-esteem to not let the life of adolescence get her down. Steinfeld holds down the lead role with no problem and honestly might be too good of an actress for this film. When she has to hit those deep emotional levels, be it reminiscing about how much she misses her father or getting into intense arguments with her mother (Better Things’ Pamela Adlon), we’re very reminded that this actress does have an Oscar nomination on her sheet.
While all that is going on, this is still set in the Transformers world. There’s a side story of two Decepticons on ‘Bee’s trail, Dropkick (voiced by Justin Theroux) and Shatter (Angela Bassett). When it leads them to Earth, the ‘Cons find a way to deceive Agent Burns group called Sector 7 to help them track down the “human-threat”. The third act’s action is sure to give viewers the CG Transformer action they’ve been accustomed to, yet simultaneously doesn’t feel as outrageously over the top ala Bay’s slow-motion panoramic trademarks. Rather, these scenes feel more like good old-fashioned throwdowns.
The brunt of credit goes to director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) and screenwriter Christina Hodson who took something that was very broken and found a way to not throw away the blueprints. Instead, alterations were made. Knight was keen on keeping some of our favorite things about the characters, such as the sound effects when they transform and nice easter eggs (that I’m not going to reveal here). In one of the Cybertron flashbacks the words “Ravage….Eject” were used and I almost lost my fanboy mind.
While Bumblebee doesn’t feel like a new Transformer movie — much like the Star Wars universe with Rogue One as another chapter in the ongoing story — the prequel should satisfy longtime fans nonetheless, answering questions about the time before the Autobots arrived on Earth. Now maybe the franchise can move on into a new era and everything going forward will just be referred to as AB (After Bay). 4/5 Bibles.