The origin of the young Autobot’s arrival on Earth is told in Bumblebee. As war rages on the planet of Cybertron between the Decepticons and the Autobot resistance lead by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). With the Autobots on the verge of losing, Optimus sends young Autobot B-127 (Dylan O’Brien) to Earth. However, upon arrival B is heavily damaged in a fight with the Decepticon Starscream (David Sobolov), which includes the removal of his voice box. Hiding in the form of a Volkswagen Beetle, B is taken in by 18 year old Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), who nicknames her new robot friend “Bumblebee.” However, the Decepticons Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) track Bumblebee to Earth and form an uneasy alliance with Sector 7 headed by Agent Burns (John Cena).
After five Transformers films directed by Michael Bay, Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) steps into the director’s chair for this prequel set in 1987, two decades before the events of the original Transformers film. Bumblebee focuses primarily on the youngest Autobot, who has lost his memory after being decimated in a battle with Starscream. However, he quickly befriends Charlie, an angst ridden teenager, who is still mourning the death of her father, which affects his relationship with his mother Sally (Pamela Adlon) and stepfather Ron (Stephen Schneider). Together with her neighbour Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Charlie tries to keep Bumblebee a secret, however it becomes difficult once the Decepticons find his location.
It can be theorized that one of the goals of Travis Knight and screenwriter Christina Hodson is to right the supposed wrongs of Michael Bay’s Transformers films. As a result, Bumblebee leans heavily on nostalgia for both the original Transformers toys and cartoons, as well as the 1980s in general. While it’s a nice touch seeing the Generation 1 Transformers in action or Bumblebee playing Stan Bush’s “The Touch” from his radio, it is ultimately window dressing for an origin story that is merely so-so.
Probably the biggest issue I have with Bumblebee is that despite all the nostalgia towards the original Transformers, the film presents us with a pair of generic villains in the form of the “triple-changer” Decepticons Shatter and Dropkick. Part of the reason for this is the apparent desire not to disrupt continuity with 2007’s Transformers, so Megatron could not be used in the film. While the film does include Megatron’s second-in-command Starscream, it is merely a cameo in the first act of the film. In fact, I would say that all together, the entirely of the Generation 1 Transformers action in Bumblebee takes up no more than five minutes of screentime.
That all said, I can probably say that I enjoyed Bumblebee much more than 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight, with the film being a relatively entertaining watch. However, the over-reliance on 1980s (and Transformers) nostalgia does end up holding the film down.