Bumblebee makes a wise move by chucking the mechanical three-ring circus of past Transformers films into the dumpster. In place of all that clunking cacophony we get something surprising: A fun, patiently-paced film, filled with characters who do more than run, scream, and hide. This is a prequel that feels more like a rejuvenation.
It’s 1987, and the heroic Autobots suffer tremendous losses in a war against the ruthless Decepticons. Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, sends Bumblebee, the lovable bruiser from previous films, to Earth in preparation for an impending Decepticon attack. As luck would have it, Bumblebee crash lands directly in the middle of a John Hughes movie: Plucky teen Charlie Watson (Hailiee Steinfeld) rescues the yellow love bug from a scrap yard and soon discovers he’s (sorry in advance) a robot in disguise.
Charlie harbors Bumblebee in her garage but hides his secret from her family. It’s here the movie strips away the big, overcooked action scenes and gives some actual plot to invest ourselves in. Turns out Charlie is grieves for her recently deceased dad and the burly slug bug becomes a true companion who can both listen and love. Picture E.T. with a carburetor.
As these two misfits build a bond, the movie intercuts to a lunkhead army dude (John Cena) and his attempts to track down Bumblebee. At this point, the movie sneaks a stale, moldy subplot from the previous Transformers movies. Cena projects too much intelligence to inhabit a character this dumb. He and his boneheaded colleagues exist solely to further the plot.
That said, this movie still has tons to offer. If Stranger Things-style nostalgia quenches your Coke II thirst, then this movie is right up your alley. At various points, The Breakfast Club loads into a VCR, Simon LeBon saves a prayer on the speakers, and a framed Ronald Reagan grins from a government wall. Children of the 80s can soak it all in, and also take this opportunity to explain who The Smiths are to their kids.
As someone who spent countless childhood hours smashing Transformer toys into each other, I never expected any of these movies to be A Passage to India. Even still, the previous installments disappointed because they focused too much on CGI opera and a migraine-inducing soundtrack. Bumblebee puts in the work of creating characters we can care about and action scenes that generate some genuine suspense. I’ll admit it: This is a Transformers movie I throughoughly enjoyed.