I have a confession to make. I kind of like the “Transformers” movies.
I know, I know. It’s a bit like trying to enjoy Mel Gibson’s movies after realizing he’s a crazy anti-Semite or telling people you read the “Fifty Shades” books for the dialogue. It’s just hard to believe, right? There’s a bit of a stigma that surrounds the “Transformers” franchise, and its name is Wahlberg and LaBeouf. Michael “Boom Boom” Bay contributed, as well.
In the beginning, I was an avid fan and saw each movie in theaters — even the bad ones. For the record, the first and third films were pretty good, while the second and fourth were rough. But, whether I just gave into peer pressure, or I used common sense, I couldn’t bring myself to see 2017’s “Transformers: The Last Knight.” From the reviews I’ve seen, I didn’t miss much.
With December’s “Bumblebee,” the franchise was given a prequel, focusing on fan-favorite Bumblebee. The yellow-and-black robot is lovable, quirky and the sweetest mechanical creature you could ever hope to meet. As soon as I saw the first trailer, I knew I had to see the film, knowing I would still have to prepare myself for the worst.
Y’all, it was so good! It’s a film that breaks beyond the borders of science fiction and robots. You don’t have to be a nerd like me to enjoy the film, and honestly, you don’t have to have a single clue what a Transformer is going into the film, which is a welcome change.
The film takes us to 1987. A war is raging on the Transformers’ home world, Cybertron. B-127 — later to be renamed Bumblebee — is sent to Earth to both protect the planet and get ready for the Autobots — the good robots — to set up a new home base. Things don’t go well for him, and he’s followed by a Decepticon — one of the bad robots — who damages his voice matrix, wipes his memory and causes a core systems shutdown.
Bee is later found by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a young woman who’s got damage of her own. Her father has died, and her mother, Sally (Pamela Adlon) has remarried. Ron (Stephen Schneider) isn’t bad, but he tries too hard. Charlie watches her family build a new life as she struggles to come to terms with her grief and the chip she’s built on her shoulder.
Enter Bumblebee. Charlie stumbles across him at a junkyard/garage, and the two form a close-knit bond, each helping the other learn to adjust and thrive. Unfortunately, Bee is being hunted by Decepticons who know he’s on Earth, and the government, led by Agent Burns (John Cena), who has a score to settle after having a Transformer run-in earlier that left him with a nasty scar.
“Bumblebee” breaks out of the mold that has been built for the “Transformers” franchise. The films had become tired, and the storylines overtaxed. They focused on special effects and explosions. The films were about the visuals, whether shiny CGI or pretty women in tight clothing.
“Bumblebee” still has eye-catching moments. The CGI is great, and yes, there are explosions that would make “Boom Boom” Bay proud. (He did produce the film, after all.) But, this isn’t a movie about technology, robots or anything snazzy. It’s a film about two broken souls who find each other and heal. Charlie is Bee’s lighthouse in a storm. He’s a stranger in a strange land. She’s a car whiz who helps him find his voice, literally. And then there’s Charlie. She’s a shell of who she once was. Bee is literally her only friend, although she does become buddies with Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), the boy next door who’s had a crush on her forever. The film even handles that really well, as Charlie doesn’t fall into his arms in the end like an old cliché.
After all, this is a movie that knows what it is: a girl and her robot. It’s in the same vein as “The Iron Giant,” “Free Willy,” “Flicka,” or any film you’ve ever seen about a kid and their dog. It’s a heartwarming story about friendship, and the action and special effects take such a back seat they’re almost in the trunk.
“Bumblebee” has a ton of laughs and a lot of moments that make you smile. It’s a film for all ages, even kids. (Common Sense Media recommends ages 9 and up, FYI.) There is violence in the film, though. There’s definitely violence against robots, and there’s a small body count with humans, too. A human death isn’t overly bloody, though, as they simply explode into clear goo. (It’s a smart way to handle something that could traumatize children, which is definitely a key audience for the film.)
“Bumblebee” is a cute film, and it’s a fun one. It’s helped the “Transformers” franchise take a step toward the better and easily could be called the best of the series. In fact, a lot of people are saying it is the best in the series and even naysayers/folks who hate the original franchise are saying it’s good.
“Bumblebee” is a prequel we didn’t really want, but man, I’m glad we got it. It also didn’t need to be a good film. The franchise has been churning out movies, not caring if they’re decent or not. But, care and effort were taken with “Bumblebee” and it shows. It’s a massive course correction that earns a considerable amount of goodwill, because it shows the studio and its employees respect audiences enough to give us something substantial, something more than a commercial for its merchandising arm. Now, audiences need to reciprocate in kind by showing up to support them.