On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns this is no ordinary, yellow VW bug.
What We Thought:
I don’t know if Bumblebee is actually a good movie or if the previous Transformers movies were so bad that the fact I didn’t hate it makes it better than what it is. It is the first live-action Transformers movie I didn’t regret seeing and didn’t think I wasted my time going to.
Finally the characters look like what they are supposed to. Bumblebee is actually a VW Beetle and not the product placement Chevy Camaro from the previous films. The film focuses on him but does show other characters that I grew up on looking like the G1 cartoon/toys. Director Travis Knight grew up on the G1 cartoon and wanted his characters to look like what he remembered.
As for the story, it’s pretty much a live-action Iron Giant. Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie character finds an old VW Bug and meets Bumblebee when she’s working on the car. Bumblebee is awkward and knocks things down. Once the government (lead by WWE star John Cena) gets involved, they want Bumblebee after getting misinformation from 2 Decepticons. Charlie’s dad died and she has a new stepdad and a neighbor boy is interested in her. She’s sort of an outcast and her mom & stepdad show more attention to her brother than her. All classic 1980’s storytelling which works because the film is based in 1987.
The story and timeline are why the film works but is also why it has issues. I’ll explain. I grew up in the 1980’s. I grew up on movies like E.T. and The NeverEnding Story where kids were kids and found themselves in out of this world predicaments. As an adult, a movie like this feels nostalgic. You have a newly turned 18 year old girl dealing with family issues, working at Hot Dog on a Stick, facing other teen girls and now with an alien friend being hunted by the government. Add in 1980’s music and it all feels familiar. It’s not loud and boom explosions from Michael Bay, it’s story and character oriented first. It’s not perfect and the mean girls angle/teen angst has been done a million times before but at least I could tell what was happening and who the characters were unlike the Shia LaBeouf and Mark Wahlberg films.
But because it’s based in 1987 there are some issues I have with it. John Cena and his government agents drive around in Humvees. Technically they were around then, but Humvees didn’t see combat until 1989 and weren’t widely known until Desert Storm a few years later. I believe I saw Cena holding a Desert Eagle handgun which again were around, but weren’t as known/popular in 1987. This film says 1987 is the first time Bumblebee has been to Earth yet Transformers: The Last Knight mentioned him being in World War II. And if you’ve seen the trailer (so not a spoiler) you see Optimus Prime driving with Bumblebee on a bridge in 1987. In the original Transformers film, Optimus only comes to Earth when Bumblebee messages him after meeting Sam (Shia’s character). That’s the problem with doing a prequel after multiple films.
Bumblebee doesn’t quite have the touch nor the power, but is at least watchable which is way more than I ever said about the previous live-action Transformers films. It’s not as heavy as the other films and isn’t as long which certainly helps. It has a lot of references to the 1980’s which are fun especially a song I definitely won’t spoil but have kind of mentioned already. There is some foreshadowing that made me laugh out loud when it pays off which probably shouldn’t have been as funny. But again, the fact that I didn’t hate it is a huge plus and step in the right direction.
Directed by: Travis Knight
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider
Running Time: 119 mins
Opening Date: December 21st Wide