Reel Reviews | Bumblebee

by Monica Hayes

Travis Knight’s Bumblebee hits the theater today! Is it another humdrum Michael Bay Transformer movie or does it raise the bar to new heights?

Bumblebee opens up to the Autobots battling the Decepticons for Cybertron. Fearing that things are lost, Optimus Prime (Kevin Cullen) tells the Autobots to retreat and regroup. He then turns to his trusted soldier, B-127 (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) and tells him to go to Earth and set up the new base. As B-127 flies away in his ship, he watches in horror as Optimus Prime is surrounded by Decepticon soldiers and the eventual fall of Cybertron.

Meanwhile, on earth, Agent Burns (John Cena) and his team are conducting a training exercise in the woods unaware that an unexpected guest is about to crash the party. Literally. As Bumblebee crash lands in the middle of their exercise and scatters the team. Once he regains consciousness, a dazed and confused Agent Burns becomes enraged. He turns to find a strange alien robot standing in front of him and orders his team to “take that thing out!” Just as Burns’ teams think they have this thing cornered, B-127 looks up and says (yes, he talks) “Run!” right as a Decepticon foot soldier attacks them. The Decepticon is looking for Prime and wants Bee to tell him where he is. When B-127 says he won’t talk, well you know what happened next. Damaged from this fight, he takes refuge as an old worn out VW Beetle and eventually ends up in a salvage yard.

Elsewhere in a small coastal town in Northern California, Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), an angry teen, is still feeling the loss of her father. She wants nothing more than to get away from her totally oblivious mom (Pamela Aldon), nerdy stepdad (Stephen Schneider) and annoying little brother Otis (Jason Drucker). However, to do that, she has to work a job she hates in order to salvage up parts to finish the car she and her dad were fixing prior to his passing. While at her uncle’s salvage yard, she stumbles on a beat up old yellow VW Beetle and instantly falls in love. Once she gets the car home and starts tinkering, she finds out this car is more than meets the eye and affectionately names him Bumblebee. Little did she know that her new car would plunge her and new neighbor Memo (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) into an adventure beyond their wildest dreams.

Bumblebee is the sixth installment in the series and the first not directed by Michael Bay. Since the first Transformers debuted in 2007, fans of the franchise have been disappointed with each installment due to lack of a good story and the lack of character development. The only thing Bay was good for was bringing in hot exotic cars and blowing them up. So when director Travis Knight and writer Christina Hodson took the helm, fans were expecting pretty much the same thing: terrible story, no character development, and hot cars being blown up with a lot of special effects. To our surprise, Knight and Hodson delivered a damn good product. This is what the fans should have had from day one. While the story reminds us of The Iron Giant, it makes sense. Unlike the previous installments where there were crazy relations to Egyptian ruins, the moon crashing into the earth, Jurassic seeds or King Author and his roundtable, this is a damn good story that draws you in and makes you feel for the characters without the extra BS.

Hodson’s development of Charlie and Memo was on point. Their chemistry was flawless. Two unsuspecting teens began a friendship because of a transforming car. The laughs are plenty, as Bumblebee does not take itself too seriously. Who doesn’t love an innocent youthful prank that goes all the way wrong! This is the softer funnier side not seen before that sets Bumblebee apart from its predecessors.

On the other side of this is John Cena’s uptight, overacting Agent Burns. Unlike Joe Turturro’s portrayal of S7’s Agent Simmons, Burns is supposed to be the hard-nosed military soldier hell bent on destroying the aliens, but it doesn’t work well. Cena seems to be trying too hard to make him believable. Not sure if this is how his character was supposed to be, or if he just went over and beyond the call of duty, but he comes off cheesy and cartoonish.

The geeky side of me has to mention the G1 Transformer designs of each character. The big bold, blocky design harkens back to the 80’s Transformer series. At this time in the story, none of them – Autobot or Decepticon – has come to earth yet so this is what they looked like while on Cybertron. As in the 80’s cartoon, Optimus Prime is a semi but does not have the grill and the upgraded details as he does after his scan and the same goes for Bumblebee. It was a total geek moment to see the original 80’s version on screen.

Overall, Bumblebee is fun to watch, easy to follow, action-packed, funny good-hearted Transformers movie we all wanted. Who knew it would take six installments, Travis Knight and Christina Hodson to get here?

Grade: B+