On the planet of Cybertron, the evil Decepticons are at war with rebellious uprising called the Autobots, which is led by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). When it looks like they’re going to lose, Optimus sends his small but fierce soldier B-127 (Dylan O’Brien) to the distant planet Earth to wait for the other Autobots to arrive and start a new base of operations. B-127 crash lands in a wooded area where he’s chased by a military group led by Agent Burns (John Cena) and then attacked by a Decepticon that followed him to Earth. B-127 wins the fight, but at the cost of his memory and his voice. His final act as he powers down is to transform into a Volkswagon Beetle.
Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is turning 18. She’s a former diver and grease monkey who’s still mourning the death of her father (despite her mom being remarried). When she goes to the scrap yard to get parts to finish rebuilding the car she’s been working on with her dad since she was a kid, she discovers a yellow VW Beetle. After managing to get it to run, it transforms into a giant frightened robot that can’t speak. She names it Bumblebee, and it quickly becomes her best friend. She and Bumblebee are soon joined by the neighbor boy Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) as they go on adventures.
A pair of Decepticons Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux) discover that B-17 is on Earth and come here looking for him. They manage to trick Agent Burns and the US Military into helping them find the “war criminal”, which Burns is only too happy to do as his entire battalion had been killed in the fight when B-127 first arrived. Charlie and Memo work together to try and save Bumblebee and the world!
Bumblebee is a prequel to the Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise. Many critics and movie goers have been getting tired of the franchise with the last few installments that seemed to really be reaching for material (dinosaurs and Arthurian knights, anyone?). But trailers for Bumblebee looked like it was going back to the franchise roots, with the original G1 character designs from the animated series and toys, promising a fun adventure for the whole family. On these points, it really delivered…for the most part.
Replacing Michael Bay for this installment is Travis Knight, no stranger to kid-friendly action movies as he directed Laika Animation Studios’ 2016 animated adventure movie Kubo and the Two Strings, which was simply outstanding. In a movie that’s almost as animated as anything he’s worked on before, he did a great job… for the most part.
Set in the 1980s, the script was pretty solid. Written by Christina Hodson (Unforgettable, Shut In, and the announced Birds of Prey and Batgirl movies), there’s emotional heat-string tugging, action galore, intrigue, and laugh out loud moments. And lots of nostalgia, of course leads to a great time at the movies… for the most part.
So why “for the most part”? Why wasn’t this just a great movie? Well, this really was a great time that practically redeems the entire franchise from itself. But it’s not without flaws. Some story moments are cheesy beyond belief. There’s an entire sequence where Bumblebee causes some accidental chaos that feels like it’s pulled directly from E.T., the movie that’s clearly the biggest ‘inspiration’ here. It had nothing to do with the story, it’s just a sequence of slapstick.
Likewise, there are moments where the CGI is laughably bad. For instance, there’s a sequence during the climactic final battle that was obviously made by a character running in front of a green screen, which looks so laughably bad that high school film students could produce a more realistic scene with a bootlegged copy of Adobe After Effects. How a shot like that got past the studio is beyond me.
The acting was great… again, for the most part. There were instances where the actors seemed to go a little too over the top, not unlike when you’re entertaining a small child, with big elaborate faces, body language and exaggerated voices. Maybe this says something about how the film is talking to its audience, but in these moments, I was taken out of the experience.
Overall, Bumblebee is a fun time at the movies and a cool action flick that felt like the very first Transformers installment. Unfortunately, there were enough minor offenses to keep this movie from really living up to its potential. Kids will love it. Adults will probably feel it’s a little lackluster, though some of a certain age will appreciate the retro throwback designs of the original Transformers series. Overall, a sign that we’re not quite done with Transformers movies just yet, which should make fans hopeful for the future.