Bumblebee Early Reviews: A Fun, Heartfelt 1980s Throwback

Early reviews are in for Paramount's Transformers spin-off, Bumbleblee, and critics are loving it. The film serves as an origin story for the beloved second Autobot in command. This is the sixth live-action film in the series, and the first to not be directed by Michael Bay. Bumblebee comes only a year after 2017's lackluster Transformers: The Last Knightmaking this the shortest gap in between films for the franchise.

Bumblebee is the first spinoff for the series since its launch back in 2007. Since its inception, the series has released four sequels, and has become one of the biggest box office juggernauts in Hollywood. The spinoff takes place in the 1980s, and will be a smaller scale adventure designed to bring "humor and heart" to the franchise. Travis Knight directed the upcoming film, taking over for Bay, who's claimed he won't direct any future installments. Leading up to its release around the Christmas season, Bumblebee has started to hold early screenings.

Related: Bumblebee Will Feature His Original Voice, Provided By Dylan O'Brien

Many fans were hopeful that Bumblebee would finally deliver the kind of Transformers movie they've been wanting since the beginning, something where a coherent story and engaging characters can also exist alongside the franchise's signature giant robot battles. Based on the first reviews for Knight's film, Bumblebee accomplishes that goal and then some. Here are some SPOILER-FREE excerpts of what the critics are saying.

John Cena in Bumblebee

Peter Debruge - Variety

Imagine, if you can, a “Transformers” movie in which the plot is coherent, the robots feel like characters (as opposed to gleaming CG creations), and the action is staged and edited clearly enough to follow. After five rock ’em, sock ’em blockbuster features, it has become clear that audiences would never get such a film as long as Michael Bay occupied the director’s chair, and though he should certainly be credited for proving that a Hasbro toy line could support a massive global franchise, “Bumblebee” is basically the movie that fans of the 1980s animated series wanted all along.

Jim Vejvoda - IGN

Bumblebee has an emotional journey here, starting off as basically the robot equivalent of a fearless young soldier at war before going through a sort of lost-puppy phase while on Earth. He can be earnest and vulnerable but also dangerous and formidable. Knight’s background in animation certainly helps here as Bumblebee’s facial expressions and body language articulate a range of emotions that make it easy to become invested in him and his plight.

Liz Shannon Miller - Indie Wire

Thus, it is nice to report that in the new spin-off/prequel film “Bumblebee” (which hands the filmmaking reigns to “Kubo and the Two Strings” director Travis Knight), there are many scenes where giant robots fight each other, and in those scenes, you can actually see what’s happening. The Autobots and Decepticons toss each other around with slick judo-like moves and blast each other with abandon, and the cinematography and editing hold still long enough to let you enjoy each moment.

William Bibbiani - The Wrap

“Bumblebee,” directed by Travis Knight (“Kubo and the Two Strings”), is the best “Transformers” movie so far, going all the way back to the 1986 animated film. And although one could argue that that’s a relatively low bar, since narrative coherence and recognizable character development are all it really takes to best its predecessors, saying so is more than merely damning “Bumblebee” with faint praise. This really is a sound, satisfying, enjoyable action movie for the whole family.

Justin Lowe - THR

By taking the Transformers universe in a new, more intimate character-driven direction, screenwriter Christina Hodson (who has the Suicide Squad Harley Quinn sequel Birds of Prey up next) plays directly to the franchise’s roots. Skillfully shaping what’s essentially a coming-of-age story for both Charlie and Bumblebee, Hodson layers in a sense of wonder and discovery that effectively recaptures the innovation and energy of the 2007 original. It’s an effective reimagining that also bears a knowing resemblance to classic youth-oriented films from Bumblebee executive producer Steven Spielberg.

The main takeaway from the reviews so far seems to be that while Bumblebee isn't an amazing film, it's definitely a very good one, and miles better than just about anything the Bay-directed Transformers entries ever delivered. If Bumblebee ends up becoming a box office hit, one wonders if Knight will be asked back to direct a follow-up, despite his recent statements about planning to return to animation. If he doesn't return, hopefully Paramount puts the same amount of effort into picking a worthy successor.

Michael Bay's decision to step down from the director's chair has lead to the most positive critical reception the Transformers franchise has seen since the original film. While the director definitely has its fans, Bumblebee proves that his explosions first, characters second style of filmmaking was likely never what the franchise needed to successfully update the Autobots and Decepticons for a modern audience. Oddly enough, what the franchise needed to move forward was to go backward in time, and recapture some of its 1980s spirit.

More: Bumblebee Movie Teaser Reveals G1 Optimus & Soundwave on Cybertron

Source: Various (see the links above)

Key Release Dates
  • Bumblebee (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018
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