Before you read this review you should know where I stood as a Transformers fan before watching BUMBLEBEE. As a child, I absolutely loved the 80’s cartoon and toy-line. I would watch the show every day after school, have heated debates whether a big truck was more powerful than a gun, and was genuinely shook by Optimus Prime’s death in the 1986 animated movie.
When I heard they were going to make a live-action Transformers movie I was beyond excited. After watching said movie, my excitement transformed into disappointment and nerd rage. I won’t even get into my exact thoughts on that film because I could write a completely separate review, but let’s just say I disliked it so much that I have never watched any of the other Transformers films. The only redeeming quality of that first film was how much fun Bumblebee was (even though he wasn’t a Volkswagen Beetle), so I was optimistic that this spin-off film would be more enjoyable and I’m happy to say my assumption was correct!
Probably my favorite aspect of this film is one that is surprisingly absent from all the trailers and marketing. It’s that this film takes place in the 1980’s and is jam-packed with 80’s references (all the way from Alf to Heathers) as well as non-stop classic 80’s songs. I even had a hearty laugh when I learned that Bumblebee feels the same way about The Smiths as I do. Not only does it take place in the 80’s, but it also feels like a Spielberg (who is one of the executive producers) film with a larger than life adventure that has heart. Speaking of heart, this film has a lot of it and while that may be odd for a Transformers film, it’s not surprising since the director is Travis Knight. Knight actually directed my favorite film of 2016, the extremely emotional and powerful, Kubo and the Two Strings.
Most of the heart comes from the excellent performance by the film’s human lead, Hailee Steinfeld. Whether you buy the film’s premise falls on if you can connect with her character. She delivered a realistic performance not often seen in a blockbuster action film. I predict she will blow up in the industry one day and I’m actually surprised it hasn’t happened already as she was nominated for an Oscar in 2010 for her role in the film True Grit. Another standout in the film was John Cena who was extremely funny while delivering his deadpan one-liners. I was also very happy to see the always hilarious Pamela Adlon get so much screen time in a major film release! The creator, and star of the FX series Better Things, is probably most well-known as being the voice of Billy Hill on the animated series King of the Hill.
Enough about humans, let’s get back to the giant robots! This film ultimately made me feel good about loving the classic Transformer characters again. Although there is not a lot of them, there were enough appearances to satisfy fans including one of my favorites as a child, Soundwave, who would transform into a boombox with a cassette tape that would transform into a robot dog. It warmed my heart to hear his vocoder-80’s break-dancing music-voice that sounded exactly like it did in the cartoon. Also, Bumblebee is back to his VW Beetle glory, just the way I remembered him. The film does explain how he went from the classic version to the Camaro version, which calmed some of my nerd rage towards the 2007 film.
My only real criticism of the film is just how fast the humans accept that there are giant alien robots now battling it out on earth. My suspension of disbelief is already pushed to the max in a live-action Transformers film, that I needed to see the humans go through a little bit more shock dealing with their new reality since the human relationships feel real and genuine. Maybe those scenes were written but cut so that they could just get to the action.
Overall, this is the live-action Transformers film I’ve been waiting for! The nostalgia was fun and the heart of the characters kept me engaged. Whether you like the live-action films or not, I am confident you will have a good time with Bumblebee. My disappointment and nerd rage has transformed into happiness and nerd joy! BUMBLEBEE arrives in theaters December 21, 2018 from Paramount Pictures.