Geek Review: Bumblebee

To date, there have been six Transformers movies, with the sixth being the new retro-looking solo story Bumblebee.  As characters in these movies go, Bumblebee the bright yellow Autobot that disguises himself as a Camaro, is apparently the most popular character next to Autobot leader Optimus Prime.

Well, many are saying Bumblebee is the best movie in the series to date.  Can that be true?

Let’s be honest with ourselves:  saying any Transformers movie is the best of the series could be a lot like saying who the smartest Kardashian sister is.  One of them has to be the smartest, but that fact is probably not going to be seen as overly impressive to most people.  So, let me say it here:  Bumblebee is easily the best Transformers movie ever made.

Why is that?  There are many reasons.  Notably, the opening few minutes looks a lot like the old 80s cartoon as Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime rallies his forces against an overwhelming Decepticon attack on Cybertron.  The robots, for once, are easier to follow visually, and heck, the fight scenes between robots is actually something that the audience can follow with the eye.  There’s a female lead character in the form of one Charlie Watson (an overqualified Hailee Steinfeld), and for the first time, the female lead isn’t just arm candy for the male lead.  The humor isn’t the sort of stuff only a 13 year old boy would find funny.  No racial stereotypes to be seen.  Some nice callbacks to the old cartoon for those who are into that sort of thing, including a fight move of Bumblebee’s that was probably taken directly from the cartoon’s opening credits.  Basically, new series director Travis Knight did what Michael Bay couldn’t and made a Transformers movie that was easy to follow visually with a charming lead actress, an actual story, and one that seemed to get the source material.

So, what happened?  Well, after fleeing Cybertron and having a bad run-in with resident military badass Jack Burns (John Cena), Bumblebee loses his vocal circuits among bits of damage battling a Decepticon.  He went into hiding as a Volkswagen Beetle, only to be found by young Charlie, a girl looking for her first car in this unspecified year in the 1980s.  Unfortunately, he has Decepticons looking in the form of a pair of triple changers voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux.  Can Bumblebee keep himself alive and the Earth safe while he’s not in his top form, particularly when he and Charlie seem to be bonding in their own way?

So, that may sound like a lot of praise, and indeed, this wasn’t a bad movie.  It’s amazing how much better a movie can be when people with actual storytelling skills and drive actually try, even for a giant robot toy movie.  That said, it still didn’t rise much above the level of cliche.  Charlie’s personal issues are fairly familiar, as is her gradual finding of a love interest.  In the hands of a lesser actor than Steinfeld, it would be a lot more obvious.  Still, I didn’t hate it, but I am not sure I would recommend it for anyone other than die hard Transformers fans.  7.5 out of 10 impressive moves behind the wheel of a car.

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