Review: Bumblebee

PLOT: After the fall of Cybertron, Optimus Prime sends Bumblebee to Earth as his emissary. When he’s followed by two Decepticons that smash his vocal cords and leave him with amnesia, he must rely on a rebellious teenaged girl to escape his enemies, including a vengeful government agent (John Cena).

REVIEW: Ye Gods! The impossible has finally happened – I enjoyed a TRANSFORMERS film! While the first had its moments, on the whole Michael Bay’s bombastic, never-ending series (which hit its nadir with TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT a year ago) has been pretty torturous for at least a decade now. When I heard Paramount was branching out the franchise, I wasn’t overly optimistic, but perhaps removing Bay from the equation and getting in some new blood in the form of writer Christina Hodson and director Travis Knight was (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS) was just the ticket.

Cleverly rolling back the clock to 1987, which allows it to both take advantage of eighties nostalgia (with a killer soundtrack) and get out of the Michael Bay-universe where The Transformers have both ravaged and saved the world just under a dozen times so far, BUMBLEBEE should appeal to a wide audience. Less testosterone-fueled than the Bay films, and by that extent, less violent, BUMBLEBEE should connect to kids and a female audience, which could potentially give the series a little life, assuming fans haven’t been burnt-out by too many bad installments (the jury is still out on that one but box office prospects are iffy).

Bumblebee has always been the most popular transformer of the films, and he gets his very own star-turn here, with us learning how he loses his voice and gains his famed VW bug cover (before turning into the sleek Camaro of the films). By having him lose his memory, Knight’s film owes more than a little to THE IRON GIANT (and by that extent, E.T), but that formula proves to be a natural when adapted to this series.

Hailee Steinfeld picks up on her role from EDGE OF SEVENTEEN as the outcast teen who adopts the wounded Autobot. An eighties New Wave fan, with a love for The Cure, The Smiths (a band Bumblebee doesn’t care for in a fun gag) and fixing cars, the role seems tailor made for her, and she’s by far the least obtrusive, most likable human character we’ve ever had in a Transformers movie. The comic relief is mostly provided by her goofy family, including Pamela Adlon as her re-married mom, and the boy next door with a huge crush on her (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), but its toned-way down compared to how goofy the jokes have been in the other films. It’s gentle humor for a mostly gentle film; although fans will be happy that we do in fact get some extended battle sequences both on Cybertron and with rogue Decepticons.

One of the most ingenious pieces of casting has to be John Cena, as the agent for Sector 7 (where John Turturro works in the sequels) who chases after Bumblebee, thinking he took out his team of men, and left him with a livid scar. Cena plays it occasionally for laughs (his reaction to the name “Decepticons” gave me one of my biggest laughs at a move theater this year), but towards the end is more serious, and would be a great character to bring back for more sequels (along with Steinfeld). His casting is highly appropriate to the era, as the hulking star really does have the physique of the type of action hero who dominated the genre in the eighties (Arnold Schwarzenegger could have aced this part back in the day).

In the end, I’m pretty sure BUMBLEBEE counts as a best case result for the studio, at least as far as quality goes. Fans will enjoy the nods to the character’s origins and the fact that the Autobots/Decepticons are handled much more seriously here than in the other films, while non-fans will have a neat entry point to the saga. That said, if you happened to love BUMBLEBEE there’s no need to go back to the Bay films (for the record – I don’t hate Bay – but I hate his TRANSFORMERS films). Hopefully the damage done to the franchise by too many bad films won’t keep this one from being successful, but whatever the case everyone involved deserves serious credit – they made a really good TRANSFORMERS movie.

Review: Bumblebee




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.