Bumblebee is the Transformers movie we always needed
Because no one demanded it: a Transformers prequel! For those that have lost count, this is the sixth film in the live action franchise, and the first to be directed by someone other than Michael Bay. As much as I am a Bay-bae, having a film in this series directed by someone else is a good breath of fresh air, because why not.
As a property novice at best (I’ve seen all of the feature films and seen a bunch of the toys), it was clear that Bumblebee is more inspired by the 1980s animated series than any of the previous films. A big part of this is the the designs of the Transformers believably seem like they are cars that transform into robots. Of course, the 1980s setting and human focus seal the deal.
After a prologue on the home planet of Cybertron, the film shifts to 1980s California, with our title robot hero landing on Earth in a fireball. He runs afoul of Jack Burns (John Cena), who is part of a secret branch of the US military who just happens to be running drills in the area. After he escapes, he comes into the possession of Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), an 18-year old girl who doesn’t get along with her family and loves The Smiths.
Is Bumblebee groundbreaking cinema? Not at all. Christina Hobson’s script cribs E.T., Alf, and The Breakfast Club pretty heavily, but that isn’t a complaint! It’s a smart choice for this film, because the core of the film is the relationship between Bumblebee and Charlie, and Steinfeld is such a charming actor that it works. Her acting against a robot that isn’t really there is definitely in the upper tier of these kinds of films. There’s no wacky McGuffin, minimal exposition, and a bit less violence than the Bay films. Watching this film was a wonderful experience, far more relaxed than most frenzied blockbusters, grounded in more emotional stakes than world-ending ones (that threat exists, but the film barely cares about it). It’s a refreshing change of pace, and to that point, this feels like it would have been a perfect movie for the summer.
And it still manages to find time to have the Decepticons invent the internet after John Cena protests to letting them use our telecommunications, citing that they literally introduced themselves as Decepticons.
Bumblebee opens in Philly theaters today.