The Transformers franchise has been rocky for many years, partly due to the abysmal films starring Mark Wahlberg. The first prequel looks to capitalize on a fan-favorite character and bring the series back into the good graces of critics and fans alike. Expectations are pretty low for Bumblebee, which is why it is getting more brownie points than it deserves. Bumblebee manages to create more plot holes than it fills in the greater Transformers timeline and ruin its sweet human-robot relationship with what might be the worst screenplay in the whole franchise. At its core, Bumblebee tries too hard to impress and doesn’t quite live up to the fun of the original three films. However, it is a huge step forward from both Age of Extinction and The Last Knight.
Bumblebee brings us back to the 1980s to showcase the turning point of the war on Cybertron and the titular hero’s first encounters with humans on Earth. The opening of the film is strong, as it is great to finally see the much-mentioned Cybertron war that ultimately led to the Autobots descending on Earth for refuge from the Decepticons. Unfortunately, the film’s opening moments are its best in terms of action, and everything sort of goes downhill from there. There are many questions about Bumblebee that audiences have been waiting to see answered and moments like how Bumblebee lost his voice are lackluster, mainly due to bad writing.
The best parts of Bumblebee are the shared moments between Bumblebee and his new human companion/owner, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). Charlie and Bumblebee’s relationship is just as special the bond Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has with the Autobot in the first three films. When the two of them are alone, the film is great. Steinfeld does a great job of balancing the proper emotions of the immediate bond. However, all of the other human characters are utterly useless and are simply on the screen to fill space. Charlie’s parents, new sidekick/probable lover Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), and the entire United States military, including Agent Burns (John Cena), have no place in this film. They add nothing to the plot, waste a bunch of time, and are poorly written.
The script is the biggest issue of the film. The only characters that are fleshed out and actually work are Charlie and Bumblebee. The rest of the humans feel out of place and actually manage to bring down the quality of each scene they blunder their way in to. The dialogue in Bumblebee is some of the worst writing that I have heard in a film this year. Most of Charlie’s dialogue is decent, but the other characters say the laziest written lines. Poor John Cena is given yet another ridiculously terrible character to play without any chance of showing whether or not he can actually act. His lines in particular are rough to listen to, though he does have one great line that will make you laugh.
Other than bad characterization and lazy writing, the script tries to change the tone of the series to be more humorous. In my opinion, 90% of the humor fails miserably and doesn’t land the way it is intended. It is obvious that the screenplay tries very hard to be a comedy, but the story isn’t funny and doesn’t leave much room for humor. Forced comedy is the worst, especially when thrown out by the terrible background characters. The Decepticons don’t play a big enough role in the film either, which is a real shame. Even though we don’t know much about the two Decepticons in Bumblebee, and I’m pretty sure only one mentioned its name over the course of the whole film, they are pretty bad ass and didn’t get enough time to shine. Also, the fact that they are the first triple-changing Transformers introduced in the franchise is a huge bonus.
The Transformers series has always heavily relied on action scenes to fill up runtime and give audiences a reason to keep coming back. Bumblebee cuts way down on the action to showcase more of a dramatic story, which was a bummer. The action scenes are too short and don’t contain enough bang for your buck. There is one thing that Bumblebee knocks out of the park: the new looks of the Transformers. Each Transformer looks like they walked straight out of original 1980’s animated series. Changing the style of each robot was the best move the filmmakers could have made because it helps Bumblebee be more authentic to the era and give audiences a bit of sorely needed nostalgia.
Bumblebee has its ups and downs. The high points are any scene in which just Charlie and Bumblebee are together. The low points are pretty much everything else. If the film could have stuck to its strength and cut the rest of the characters out, it would have been a fantastic movie. It’s unfortunate that the script drags Bumblebee down because it has its emotional moments and is really fun to watch at times. If I were to grade this film, I wouldn’t give it any higher than a B-. However, Bumblebee is definitely a positive turn for the franchise and proves that it can climb out of the deep hole it dug with the previous two films.
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