See the iconic yellow Beetle's humble beginnings in the first teaser for 'Bumblebee.'
After so many bad “Transformers” movies, it’s time to go back to basics.
It’s been a long drought of explosion-heavy nonsense and robots punching other robots – and audiences – into submission, but the prequel spinoff “Bumblebee” arrives to shake up Michael Bay’s macho status quo, give the franchise a neon 1980s shine and harken back to the “Transformers” toys and cartoons that started it all. At the heart of the matter is a coming-of-age origin story for fan-favorite Autobot warrior Bumblebee – who transforms into a yellow Volkswagen Beetle – and his new best friend, 18-year-old Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld).
We know you might have a few burning questions about “Bumblebee,” so here are some (mostly) helpful answers.
Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) forms a connection with her transforming robot car in "Bumblebee." (Photo: PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
Why are we getting a ‘Bumblebee’ movie now?
The vast majority of the “Transformers” films have been critically trashed – and rightfully so. The thing is, they make Paramount a lot of money. Last year’s “Transformers: The Last Knight” was a garbage fire in every way, and only rang up $130 million (whereas all the rest made upwards of $245 million), so it was as good a time as any to try something different.
What’s the least we need to know going in?
Optimus Prime scatters his heroic Autobots across the universe, sending Bumblebee to our planet to protect mankind until the good guys show up. But after losing his memories and his voice, he befriends young Charlie in 1987, and the two have to fend off evil Decepticons who align with a shady government group.
Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) shares a hug with her mechanized best friend in "Bumblebee." (Photo: PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
How much does this film love the ‘80s?
A lot. There are “Alf” and “Miami Vice” references, Charlie wears a Smiths T-shirt (this movie tries really hard to make them relevant again), Bumblebee breaks out the “Breakfast Club” fist salute more than once, and the film tries to work in as many ‘80s artists as it can, from Tears for Fears and A-ha to Sammy Hagar and Oingo Boingo. (Bumblebee, for the record, hates Rick Astley.)
Is it me or is Hailee Steinfeld in everything this Christmas?
It’s not just you. She also voices Spider-Gwen in the animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” but she fits into her “Bumblebee” role quite well as a girl still struggling with the death of her dad. This Transformer comes into her life at the time she needs a robot hug the most.
John Cena wears military gear and a scowl as Agent Burns in "Bumblebee." (Photo: JAIMIE TRUEBLOOD)
Ooooh, John Cena’s cool. What’s his role in all this?
As Agent Jack Burns, the wrestler-turned-actor is a military man who for a good bit of the movie is an antagonist with an old bone to pick with Bumblebee. He grimaces a bunch, shows off his comedic timing, but sadly, doesn’t get to wrestle with any of the Transformers (though he does get slapped around by one).
Dropkick (voiced by Justin Theroux, left) and Shatter (Angela Bassett) scheme to take down the title character of "Bumblebee." (Photo: PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
Who else is in the movie we might know?
“Love, Simon” fans will recognize Jorge Lendeborg Jr., who co-stars as Charlie’s churro-slinging neighbor Memo. And two famous faces aren’t even shown: Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux voice Decepticon baddies Shatter and Dropkick, respectively.
Is this connected to the other ‘Transformers’ movies?
Actually, yes. Cena’s character works for Sector Seven, the shady secret agency that investigates extra-terrestrial matters – like Autobots and Decepticons battling on highways – in 2007’s original “Transformers.” And “Bumblebee” leans into the strong bond between the yellow-tinged title character and Optimus shown in the previous live-action films as well as the old cartoons.
Bumblebee engages in some late-night shenanigans with new pals Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). (Photo: PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
Is this OK for my kids to see?
This movie is tailor-made for two movie-going crowds, one of them being youngsters. The humor leans young, like when Bumblebee toilet-papers a house and eggs a car, and the central Transformer is pretty much a kid himself, naive but finding wonder in culture and civilization. There is some violence, including some robot destruction, and a couple of humans are liquefied, but at least it’s lacking in gore.
How about for ‘80s kids?
That’s the other group who’ll want to flock to “Bumblebee”: Adults who grew up loving the characters who inhabited their toy box and the small screen. Director Travis Knight matches Transformers with their original color schemes, allowing them to be easily identified in battle – not the mélange of metal in Michael Bay action-fests where you couldn’t tell anybody apart. And loyal “Transformers” geeks will be in awe of the opening, where favorite personalities like Soundwave and Shockwave appear in an awesome action set piece on their home planet of Cybertron.
Blitzwing is an old-school "Transformers" Decepticon character who shows up in "Bumblebee." (Photo: PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
So is the movie any good?
Anything’s a step up from “The Last Knight” but “Bumblebee” is easily the best live-action “Transformers” movie, mainly because it’s the first with a clear understanding of why this thing became a phenomenon for a generation of kids. Who wouldn’t want an Autobot as your buddy when navigating the perils of childhood? It’s cheesy and predictable and many ’80s references feel forced. Still, the sixth time is the charm.
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