The sixth time turned out to be the charm.
The worst part of enduring “Transformers: The Last Knight,” the fifth film in the series, was knowing “Bumblebee” would hit theaters next.
We needed a formal apology, not an origin story from Hollywood’s brain dead franchise. Instead, Team Transformers delivered a fresh chapter with humor, heart and infectious action.
Informal apology accepted.
Once again the Autobots and Decepticons are at war, this time back on their home planet of Cybertron. And the good guys are in full retreat.
“Bumblebee” solves the biggest problem of the previous films in those first few minutes. Clarity, or the complete lack thereof. These early fight sequences are intense … and clean. You don’t strain to see who’s who and what’s being demolished. Director Travis Knight of “ParaNorman” fame takes over for Michael Bay -- instant franchise upgrade.
Where has he been hiding all this time?
Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen supplying the series’ signature vocals) sends one of his yellow bot warriors to earth during the heat of the battle. Stay there, wait for reinforcements and, by the way, protect the planet should the Decepticons find you.
Talk about Mission: Inconceivable.
Our yellow hero lands on earth circa 1987, unleashing a wave of Reagan era nostalgia. Only the call outs rarely, if ever, lap “Stranger Things” for nostalgia overload.
OK, a random “Alf” reference falls squarely in that camp.
Young Charly (Hailee Steinfeld) discovers the still to be named robot at a local junkyard, and they quickly bond. She needs wheels and a friend. He’s just happy to get a cool nickname, think a buzzing yellow insect.
Together, they must keep one step ahead of two Decepticons out for motor oil … or whatever serves as a Decepticon’s life fluid.
“Bumblebee” does what the “Ant-Man” movies previously accomplished for the MCU. The film lowers the noise, and the stakes, of the franchise in play.
Less robots, more earth-bound performances.
Let’s start with Steinfeld, who’s almost too good for this popcorn fare. She’s authentic in every scene, a perfect avatar for sweet but troubled teens. Even her quasi romance with a local nerd (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) upends rom-com conventions.
Inspired by @bumblebeemovie and using supplies from around the house, this dad made one epic Bumblebee costume for his kid. See Bumblebee in theaters December 21! https://t.co/xnm1d7p2a5 #ad pic.twitter.com/lqw31Hp0IZ
— Fatherly (@FatherlyHQ) December 13, 2018
Let’s throw plenty of credit Christina Hodson’s way. Her script is generous and sincere, blending adolescent angst with goofy humor. It’s natural and sometimes even raw, something lacking in the previous bot films.
Even the supporting players pitch in, including John Cena playing it mostly straight as a conflicted soldier on Bumblebee’s trail.
Ultimately, “Bumblebee” is about big robots beating each other until they fall into a pile of broken parts. The newest film can’t hide that obvious truth. Instead, it reminds us that’s a perfectly rationale premise for an action franchise … again.
HiT or Miss: “Bumblebee” might be the nicest surprise of 2018, a “Transformers” film that doesn’t insult its audience.