The Michael Bay Transformers movies have been a mixed bag. The first film was accepted by almost everyone. It wasn’t exactly what die hard Transformers fans wanted, but it was good enough, and is almost unanimously considered the best film in the series. Every film that followed still made a decent amount of money, but critics panned them all. By the time Transformers: The Last Knight released in 2017, even general audiences had grown tired of the lackluster script and poor fight choreography that plagued the series. What’s Paramount’s solution? Reboot the series… of course, this time with a prequel that focuses almost exclusively on BumbleBee.
It was difficult to review BumbleBee because it’s not a Transformers film. As the first film in the franchise without Michael Bay at the helm, gone are the gratuitous explosions and poor excuse for a script. However, they’re replaced by what is essentially a movie aimed almost entirely at young children. While every Transformers film is made with kids in mind, they’ve all been mature enough to appeal to adults as well (similar to most Disney and Pixar films). BumbleBee offers a few winks and nods to Transformers fans of the 80s, but this is aimed at a far younger crowd than any of the previous films. To some critics, this was the breath of fresh air the franchise needed. However, to a Transformers fan, this was just another misstep by Paramount.
The first five minutes of BumbleBee take place on Cybertron. It’s a battle scene that calls back to the classic cartoon of the mid-80s. These five minutes are EXACTLY what Transformers fans have been craving since the first Michael Bay film was announced over a decade ago. It’s an epic battle between the Autobots and Decepticons that takes place on Cybertron with the Generation 1 Transformers designs, ever so slightly updated for 2018. Unfortunately, all that comes crashing down when the film leaves Cybertron and BumbleBee gets to Earth. The 100 or so minutes that follow are nothing like the opening sequence.
For half the movie, BumbleBee is reduced to the mentality of a lost child, and the other half he acts like a puppy. Outside of the opening sequence, he only acts like a Transformer for about five minutes. For kids in the general audience, this is fine. You can replace all of the Transformers with any random alien race and the plot won’t change much. However, for anyone actually looking forward to a Transformers film, this isn’t it. The film doesn’t even offer much that will appeal to moviegoers over the age of 12.
BumbleBee revolves around Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), an 18-year-old girl who lost her father to a heart attack, and struggles to get by without him. Don’t be fooled by the title, this is Charlie’s movie first and foremost, which has always been an issue with the Transformers films, they’re about the humans instead of the alien robots. Charlie’s neighbor, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) also plays a prominent role in the film, as does Agent Burns (John Cena), who heads up the military aspect of BumbleBee.
While the acting is passable, the dialogue and plot are aimed squarely at younger children. Oddly enough, the film pays homage to a number of 80s classics, such as E.T. and The Breakfast Club, with an additional nod to the more modern The Iron Giant as well. These nods are about the only parts of the movie older fans can relate to (outside of the opening sequence). It would be great if BumbleBee was as good as E.T. or The Iron Giant, but it’s a by-the-books kids film that doesn’t offer anything we haven’t already seen dozens of times over the last decade.
If you’re a Transformers fan over the age of 12, you can leave after the first five minutes, or just wait until the opening sequence shows up on YouTube. If you have kids, they will enjoy BumbleBee, and the film is empowering for little girls thanks to Steinfeld’s work as the main character. Just don’t go into this movie expecting a Transformers film, because that’s not what you’re getting.
It’s unfortunate to think this is how Paramount plans to reboot the Transformers franchise, but if we eventually get the opening sequence as a full-length film (just remake the 1986 animated movie), it might be worth all the terrible movies Paramount has put us through. Until then, chalk up BumbleBee as yet another failed Transformers film that will at least appeal to kids, even if only for a fleeting moment.
Synopsis: On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.
Director: Travis Knight
Writer: Christina Hodson
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena
Runtime: 1 Hour, 53 Minutes