Bumblebee is a fun, heartfelt and still action-filled Transformers prequel that ushers in a new - and better - era of movies about the Autobots.
Travis Knight's Bumblebee is the latest live-action Transformers movie, but the 80s-set prequel is the sixth such movie to release. Kicked off by Michael Bay with Transformers in 2007, the action movie director went on to helm each of the following four movies in the franchise. With each installment, from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to 2017's Transformers: The Last Knight, the movie franchise about the Robots in Disguise got bigger in scale, but began to see diminishing returns. To reinvigorate the property, Paramount brought in a writers' room, a method of producing work typically reserved for TV. The Last Knight was created from this writers' room, but so too was the Transformers prequel about the fan-favorite yellow Autobot - and one is more successful than the other. Bumblebee is a fun, heartfelt and still action-filled Transformers prequel that ushers in a new - and better - era of movies about the Autobots.
Bumblebee kicks off during the war on Cybertron, where Bumblebee (briefly voiced by Dylan O'Brien) and his fellow rebels must flee from the Decepticons. Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) keeps the approaching Decepticon forces distracted so Bumblebee and the other Autobots can escape Cybertron and flee to safe havens around the galaxy. Bumblebee in particular is given the task of heading to Earth and protecting the planet from Decepticons so that the rebels may regroup and eventually regain their home of Cybertron. However, Bumblebee's arrival on Earth is troubled when he runs across a group of U.S. soldiers led by Jack Burns (John Cena), who immediately orders the Autobot be hunted and destroyed. Then, things get worse when the humans and Bumblebee are attacked by a Decepticon, who destroys Bee's voice box and damages his memory before being defeated.
After some time, Bumblebee is discovered in his hidden state as a Volkswagen Beetle by the young mechanic Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). The girl convinces the owner of the garage where Bee is hiding to give her the car, but when she takes the Beetle home, she soon learns there's more to it than meets the eye. A social outcast among her classmates and distanced from the rest of her family - her mother Sally (Pamela Adlon), step-father Ron (Stephen Schneider) and little brother Otis (Jason Drucker) - Charlie forms a fast friendship with the stranded Autobot, even giving him the name Bumblebee. However, when two Decepticons, Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux), track Bumblebee to Earth, Charlie must help protect Bee and the planet from those that would do them harm.
Directed by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) from a script by Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn)), Bumblebee returns the Transformers franchise to its grounded roots. The prequel nature of Bumblebee allows the film to ignore the continuity of the previous five movies, and it's undoubtedly for the best. In a series that has continually rewritten its own history to insert Autobots in Arthurian legend and elsewhere across time, Bumblebee is a breath of fresh air as it focuses more on its core characters than on bigger and badder Transformers or attempting to expand the universe in inorganic ways. Bumblebee is a relatively simple story about a girl and her friend, who just so happens to be a rebel robot fleeing the oppressive faction of his alien race.
That simple story, bolstered by Hodson's sharp script and Knight's compelling direction, helps to elevate Bumblebee as an action/adventure movie. Thanks in part to the 80s setting of Bumblebee, it taps into the nostalgia of the Transformers, harkening back to a time when longtime fans of the Autobots were first discovering the Robots in Disguise - just like Charlie is discovering Bumblebee. To be sure, Charlie's friendship with Bee is the central driving force of the movie, even more so than Bumblebee's mission to protect Earth or create a rallying point for the rest of the Autobots. Hodson's script is built entirely around their relationship, and it's effective in grounding the high-concept science fiction world in something sweet, filled with empathy and humanity. Charlie and Bee are the soul of Bumblebee in a way that showcases exactly what previous Transformers movies were lacking.
Of course, that wouldn't be possible without the performance of Steinfeld, who has quickly proven herself to be one of the strongest young actresses in Hollywood. After breaking out in 2010's True Grit, Steinfeld has transitioned from strong supporting parts to exceptional leading roles, like The Edge of Seventeen and now Bumblebee. It's largely through Steinfeld's performance that the friendship between Charlie and Bee is believable, and it's truly compelling to watch unfold on screen. Then, there's Cena as the human villain in Bumblebee, the U.S. army agent bent on protecting his world from the aliens he doesn't understand. Cena's Burns is a fairly uncomplicated and underdeveloped villain, but otherwise serviceable, and Cena brings enough charisma to the role so that the character doesn't get lost in the shuffle of Autobots and Decepticons. The rest of the supporting cast is similarly two-dimensional, but they work well to prop up the main story of Charlie and Bee.
But, of course, a Transformers movie wouldn't be complete without its fair share of action and Bumblebee never shies away from showing the battles between Autobots and Decepticons. From the moment the movie begins with a last ditch effort by the Autobots to escape from Cybertron, it's clear Bumblebee is dedicated to showcasing everything the Robots in Disguise can do. So moviegoers hoping for more of the Transformers action they've come to expect from an installment in this franchise won't be disappointed. In fact, Bumblebee may even deliver some of the best action sequences of the series, rooting them in character-driven moments and showcasing the skills of the various robots.
Ultimately, Bumblebee is not just a good prequel to the main Transformers franchise, it's the best entry in the series so far - even better than Bay's original 2007 movie. In a series that has gotten farther and farther away from the humanity of the Robots in Disguise, trading in for bigger action and more complicated world-building, Bumblebee returns a soul to the franchise that has been lacking one for some time. As a result, Bumblebee is a fantastic viewing experience for Transformers fans young and old, especially those who may have enjoyed Bay's first installment but since dropped off. Bumblebee also works as a good entry point to the series, so even those not familiar with the franchise or property can find enjoyment in Charlie and Bee's story. Bumblebee may not necessarily be a reboot of the Transformers franchise, but if it's an example of what fans can expect from future movies, then Knight's film undoubtedly ushers in a new and welcome era of the series that promises even greater success for the Robots in Disguise.
Bumblebee is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 113 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence.
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- Bumblebee (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018