So after making five commercially successful films based on the Transformer line of toys, and establishing a continuing story arc through all of them, an odd decision was made. They decided to take the most popular character from those films, throw away everything that was established and start over with something more low-key, and ultimately less interesting.
The movie begins on Planet Cybertron with the war between the evil Decepticons and the Autobot Resistance in full swing. The Autobots are on the verge of losing. Their Leader, Optimus Prime (voice again by Peter Cullen) orders them to evacuate so they can re-group on a new planet. He sends autoboot B-127 to Earth to establish a base there so the rest of the Autobots can follow.
B-127 crash lands on Earth in a California forest where a military agency called Sector-7 is engaged in a training exercise led by Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena). B-127 takes the form of a military Jeep and attempts to flee, but Sector-7 pursues him to a mine where they are all ambushed by Decepticon Blitzwing. Only Burns survives the attack. B-127 manages to kill Blitzwing, but not before his voice box gets torn out, and his memory core is damged. Succumbing to his injuries, B-127 takes the form of a 1967 Volkswagon Beetle before he completely shuts down.
Some years later, in 1987, a young girl named Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) is dealing with the death of her father, and the fact that her mother has moved on with a new boyfriend. She spends most of her time trying to repair an old Corvette that she and her Dad used to work on, requiring her to make frequent trips to an old junkyard for spare parts.
It’s on one of her trips that she notices an old, yellow Volkswagon Beetle. Being unable to fix her Dad’s Corvette, and oblivious to the Beetle’s true identity, Charlie convinces the junkyard’s owner Hank to let her try to get it running. She succeeds, and Hank let’s her keep it as an 18th birthday present; unaware that she inadvertently activated a homing signal that the Decepticons can track.
After bringing the car home, she is startled when it transforms into a giant robot, but she soon befriends it and nicknames it “Bumblebee”. She hides the truth about the car from her family and everyone else except for her neighbor Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) who agrees to keep the secret due to his feelings for Charlie.
Elsewhere, two Decepticons, Shatter and Dropkick, trace Bumblebee’s signal to the West Coast, but it cuts out before they can pinpoint the location. They are intercepted by Colonel Burns and Sector-7, but fool them into thinking they are peacekeepers and Bumblebee is the dangerous fugitive who must be found. Burns is skeptical (They call themselves “Decepticons” he reminds his superiors), but Shatter and Dropkick are allowed access to human technology to track down Bumblebee, and in secret, they plan to use for sending a message to the Decepticons.
So that is the makings of a very low-key Transformers movie. A very manageable number of robots to keep track of. No horrific levels of catastrophic destruction that has been a signature element of the previous films, in addition to an almost G-rated body count (save for a couple of people shot by Dropkick who “pop” in a manner resembling water balloons). Unfortunately, the old adage of “less is more” doesn’t mean “less is a better movie”.
I tip my hat to the makers of the film who decided to scale back the number of explosions and robots battling each other. One of my biggest problems with the previous movies is that they were packed with so many random, anonymous robots that you have no idea who is getting shot, or doing the shooting. Unfortunately, they forgot that when you get rid of all that action, you need to replace it with a better story and dialogue.
The idea of a movie focusing on Bumblebee was a great idea, but I was expecting they would have connected it to the elaborate backstory that was alluded to in “The Last Knight” when it was revealed that he was involved in World War II. Instead, they decided to abandon it altogether and start a new storyline.
This new approach could have worked out better, but I’ll never understand why they chose to keep the most ridiculous element from the previous films and still have Bumblebee unable to speak. So much of the movie is wasted through his dealing with memory loss and inability to communicate that you get tired of it real quick. The concept sort of worked before as a bit of comic relief, and any negative aspects were negated by the fact that there were already so many other robots there that could do the talking.
And while we’re on the subject of other robots, I would have liked to see some more familiar characters show up beyond the brief opening sequence on Cybertron that seemed to come straight out of the 1980’s cartoon show. Unlike in the previous movies, the look of every Transformer was spot-on Retro. From Optimus Prime and Wheeljack, right down to Soundwave and his cassette-tape minion Ravage. And incidentally, I was disappointed that Soundwave wasn’t the main villain that Bumblebee had to face in the movie, or someone else familiar. It would have been much better to see that sort of match-up, rather than those two unknown characters Shatter and Dropkick.
I was sorry that I had purchased this movie on Blu-Ray, and not just because I have an Android tablet and the digital copy that came with it is only accessible through Apple devices. In terms of genre, Bumblebee does not stack up against the ones that came before it. No one would characterize the Transformers movies as great cinema, but I’ve always found them to be entertaining. I’ll also admit that the franchise has been on the decline, but this movie was not the way to turn it around.
I can find no fault with the casting of Hailee Steinfeld as the lead. It’s just a shame she didn’t have a better script to work with. Also, if the script was better, then maybe John Cena’s mediocre acting skills wouldn’t have been so apparent.
As with all Transformers films, it has the name narrow demographic of children and Adult males from the age of 18 to however old you can be and still have owned Transformer toys when you were a kid. Bonus points to this movie being the most enjoyable one in the franchise for kids younger than 12, thanks to its less intense action and violence.
There were some who said that Bumblebee was the movie that fans of the 1980’s series had wanted all along. But I think if the first Transformers movie had been like this, the franchise would be as dead as Cybertron right now.

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