*** out of four
Bumblebee is the first Transformers movie I actually enjoy. Director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) knows exactly what he is creating – a fun, bubble gum movie based on a line of robot toys that can change into all sorts of vehicles. This is not a self-serious epic like the Michael Bay directed Transformers films. Plus, Knight doesn't clutter up the CGI action scenes. Yes, you can actually make out what is going on instead of it all looking like tin foil in a blender.
In this Transformers prequel, a battle rages on the planet of Cybertron and good Autobot B-127 is dispatched to Earth to protect it from any invading Decepticons. During a fight on Earth, B-127 loses his voice and his memory. Before his energy drains completely, he transforms into a 1967 yellow Volkswagen Beetle. He then ends up in a junkyard, but is revived by teenage grease monkey Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld). She gives B-127 the name Bumblebee and hides him in the family garage. There is trouble afoot when two Decepticons – Shatter and Dropkick (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux respectively) – show up on Earth to first track and destroy Bumblebee and then pave the way for a Decepticon takeover.
Steinfeld is terrific, and her character's interaction with Bumblebee feels genuine and even a bit touching. It helps that sometimes Bumblebee is a full-size animatronic mock-up and not always CGI.
Christina Hodson's screenplay echoes E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) maybe a little too much, but it moves at a good pace and has characters that you care about. Plus, there is a lot of sharp dialogue, possibly the contribution of Kelly Fremon Craig (Edge of Seventeen), who did an uncredited rewrite.
Lots of movies are using the nostalgia angle these days to a tiring degree, but here it fits. The movie takes place in 1987, the time period when the Hasbro Transformers toys were very popular.
Bumblebee is everything a Transformers movie should be.