The hype around Bumblebee centers around a single question: Did they just make a good Transformers movie?
It seems impossible, but the 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes certainly makes a case. The film has earned high marks for shrinking the bloated scale of the franchise and serving up a fresh 80s feel. Filmmakers themselves cited The Iron Giant (an underrated gem) as a major influence.
But if you’re looking for a Teen Wolf companion piece, look on. There are too many crash-bang fight scenes in Bumblebee for that. But the film does offer teen-friendly escapism through one of Hollywood’s greatest currencies—nostalgia.
The film opens with a CGI space battle on a robot planet (Take Xanax for the shock). As the Autobots dwindle at the hands of the Decepticons, Optimus Prime sends Bumblebee to establish a base on earth where the good robots can regroup.
A fight with a pursuing Decepticon sends Bumblebee into sleep mode as a classic Volkswagen Beetle, setting him up to be reactivated years later by the film’s saving grace: Charlie, a 1987, Smiths-listening loner wonderfully portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld.
The nostalgia play becomes apparent as Charlie is introduced. She wakes up and immediately presses play on her portable cassette player (look it up, kids) since she has no smartphone to check. Songs by Howard Jones and his contemporaries get regular play, and she watches The Breakfast Club on VHS and wears jean jackets.
But if this is escapism for generation Y, that’s very revealing. Not only is it every lonely teen’s dream to befriend an affable robot, but perhaps they also yearn for a simpler time–a time without the weight of full connectivity, when gas was 93 cents a gallon and the only way to discover good music was through the radio, fanzines, and mixtapes from older, cooler friends rather than streaming algorithms.
In that sense, Bumblebee offers pleasant escapism, but it wouldn’t work without Steinfeld’s earnest performance. As we watch Charlie navigate grief, family struggles, dating and burgeoning adulthood with her mechanical friend, she becomes compelling without having to be objectified even once. Michael Bay should take note.
To answer the question—sure, Bumblebee succeeds in being better than bad. But you have to overlook the bloated robot battles and cartoonish script to enjoy the good stuff. For anyone old enough to have seen The Iron Giant in theaters, it may not be worth it.
Recommended if you like: Aquaman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Edge of Seventeen, or the rest of the Transformers franchise.
Did you check out Bumblebee to see what the fuss is about? Leave your impressions in the comment section below.