“Hey there, scout! John Cena — I work for the government.”
Losing the war for Cybertron, the Autobot faction is on the run from the Decepticons. Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) sends soldier B-127 (voice of Dylan O’Brien) off alone to establish a forward base to mount a future counteroffensive. When crash-landing on Earth in 1987 gains the unwelcome attention of military operative Agent Burns (John Cena), a surprise attack wounds the soldier and forces him to hide as his memory falters. Sometime later, a California gear-head beach girl named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) acquires a deathtrap Volkswagen Beetle on her eighteenth birthday. The little car had been towed in and left for scrap, but it doesn’t take long for Charlie to discover her little Bumblebee’s secret: a robot in disguise.
As the sixth film in the Transformers franchise, this one goes back to the beginning, even before the first film. It also leaves much of the Michael Bay nonsense behind and concentrates on the relationship between a caring human and a sentient machine… leaving most of the war stuff on the battlefield. No Shia LeBeouf, no Mark Wahlberg, and no crazy-flakes world-shattering end-of-times destructo-plots. Using the classic robot designs from the first-generation Hasbro toys featured in the original cartoon series, is the sixth time the charm by going small, or has the air finally been let out of all the Autobot’s tires for good?
There’s some bad news… but mostly there’s good. The best news is fans finally get to see some of the characters they’ve wanted to see on the big screen the first time, or even the fifth time. With Bay and Co. constantly messing with the known story and “robots in disguise” being needlessly convoluted, Bumblebee provides the intimacy and emotion that makes viewers care. Hailee Steinfeld makes you believe her heart is breaking when anything happens to her new friend and that she’ll step up to face her own fears if she needs to help. In return, the film happily doesn’t objectify Steinfeld… at all. For the first time in the franchise, a robot hero is shown not just as a warrior but presented as a feeling, caring, sentient, huggable machine: an actual character capable of love and change.
To get this going, however, Bumblebee cribs from the best: The Iron Giant. Fireball from outer space that crash-lands on Earth? Check. Memory loss and not realizing just how dangerous “the walking gun” can be? Check. Government agents determined to destroy “it” just because it exists? Check. Sacrifices made to… nope, no spoilers! Unfortunately, the so-called science of Transformers has always been shaky at best (and hasn’t improved), and a cast of one-dimensional characters (including the worst family since Hereditary) doesn’t help much, either. Similar to Sony’s Venom, everything works best when the story sticks to the buddy-film trappings and the relationship between the two main characters.
As is, Bumblebee exists as a standalone film that fits in with the franchise without bucking it completely; it’s Solo: A Star Wars Story for Transformers: a film no one really asked for but was still fairly fun and watchable. As compared to the previous five outings, however, Bumblebee makes you wish this is where they had actually started instead.
Bumblebee is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence and delivering the best line for the best film of the franchise; that’s not a red flag?!
Three skull recommendation out of four