‘Bumblebee’ captures old school nostalgia


While many have turned their back on the “Transformers” movies as director Michael Bay continues to produce one mediocre film after another, a little spinoff called “Bumblebee” has brought light in the franchise’s darkest hour.

Directed by Travis Knight and written by Christina Hodson, “Bumblebee” stars Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena as well as the titular robot, Bumblebee, in a grounded new take on the “Transformers” mythos. Set in the year 1987, a young Bumblebee crash lands on Earth after fleeing from Cybertron, intent on setting up a new base for the Autobots as they struggle to win their war against the Decepticons.

After losing his memory and going into hiding as a Volkswagen Beetle, ‘Bee (his in-film nickname) eventually meets Charlie (Steinfeld), a young woman struggling to find her place in life, something ‘Bee can relate to. But with the military, including Jack Burns (Cena), and two Decepticon seekers hot on their tail, Charlie and ‘Bee will have to grow up quick if they want to save the Earth from a Decepticon invasion.

What blew me away about “Bumblebee” was the fact that unlike the Bay films, there is a real story at play here. Gone are the countless explosions and creepy shots of women in short-shorts in favor of a grounded, relatable tale of a young woman and a giant robot just trying to belong, as well as a healthy dose of well-done action.

What Bay could not do with Shia LaBeouf or Mark Wahlberg in the span of five films, Knight does with Steinfeld in a mere twenty minutes by offering us a character who can only be classified as relatable. Charlie excels at being likable yet flawed in a way you would never imagine from these kinds of movies and that is all thanks to Steinfeld’s stellar performance.

“Bumblebee” can be compared to works like “E.T.” and “The Iron Giant,” but it has no problem taking full advantage of both its great human and robot characters, as well as various elements form the “Transformers” lore to set itself apart. Case in point: Cybertron.

Despite its very brief setting, I have to talk about how amazing the first scene is. Right off the bat, viewers are treated to an epic showdown between the Autobots and Decepticons in the war-torn metallic metropolis. As Optimus Prime heroically fends off Decepticons so his army can escape, I realized right away that unlike Bay, Knight has a clear love and passion for the old “Transformers” shows. Instead of every robot looking nearly identical with a different coat of paint, Knight ditches Bay’s designs in favor of the classic, G1 style looks from the cartoons for most of the characters. Only Bumblebee, as well as the Decepticon Seekers, end up sticking closer to the established movie look.

Then there is the matter of Cybertron itself. Not since the 2010 “War for Cybertron” video game have I seen the robotic planet so beautifully designed, offering a great sense of scope as well as dread at the realization that the war has wreaked havoc on much of the world.

It may be a brief scene with very little to do with the story, but that scene reminded me why I love “Transformers.” It reminded me of the times when my brother and I would sit down and watch the old ‘80s cartoon on DVD, loving every minute of its cheesy yet wildly entertaining antics. So if you are a diehard fan or just looking to see a great movie this weekend, “Bumblebee” brings the sting and leaves you shouting “Transform and Rollout!”