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Bumblebee First Reviews: Nostalgia-Heavy Prequel Might Be Series' Best Film

Early reviews for Bumblebee say the series standout features thrilling (and coherent!) action, a great lead performance, and tons of fun '80s throwbacks.

by | December 9, 2018 | Comments

Sixth time is the charm for the Transformers franchise, as Bumblebee looks to be the first Fresh installment in the series. Starting with the 2007 original, the Michael Bay-helmed series has only managed Rotten Tomatometer scores, with an average of 29%. Now, with a change in director and nostalgic setting, the new prequel is a wholly enjoyable throwback, according to the first wave of reviews – as of Monday morning, it was at 95% on the Tomatometer with 21 reviews logged. Not everyone agrees this is the best Transformers movie ever, since the first one has its fans, but there aren’t really any complaints here. Writer Christina Hodson, director Travis Knight, and Hailee Steinfeld seem to have delivered the Transformer goods.

Here’s what the critics are saying about Bumblebee:


So the Transformers series is back on track?

Bumblebee redeems and reinvigorates the Transformers live-action film franchise with some heartfelt fun…the best live-action Transformers movie since the 2007 film.
Jim Vejvoda, IGN

[Christina] Hodson layers in a sense of wonder and discovery that effectively recaptures the innovation and energy of the 2007 original.
Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter

Knight and Hodson have salvaged something agreeable from an otherwise badly dented series.
Kevin Harley, Total Film


Is it the best of the series?

The best Transformers movie so far, going all the way back to the 1986 animated film.
William Bibbiani, The Wrap

The most human Transformers movie yet.
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

The film’s noticeably more humorous tone is also an improvement upon its predecessors, which typically tend to be overly self-serious.
Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter


Bumblebee
(Photo by © Paramount Pictures)

So fans of Transformers in the ’80s will be happy?

Bumblebee is basically the movie that fans of the 1980s animated series wanted all along.
Peter Debruge, Variety

Bumblebee is the live-action Transformers movie we all wanted in the ’80s.
– Fred Topel, We Live Entertainment


Does it ever feel like just more of the same?

If you hated the backyard scene in Transformers, there’s a lot more of that in Bumblebee.
Fred Topel, We Live Entertainment


Is it just an E.T. wannabe?

It’s an effective reimagining that also bears a knowing resemblance to classic youth-oriented films from Bumblebee executive producer Steven Spielberg.
– Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter

An ’80s pairing of child and creature that (deliberately) conjures Elliott and E.T…. Steven Spielberg’s DNA feels baked into Bumblebee.
James Dyer, Empire

Following the superior models of E.T. and The Iron Giant, becomes a sweetly amusing, semi-Spielbergian tale of intergalactic friendship.
– Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

Screenwriter Christina Hodson clearly imagined Bumblebee as a throwback to classic Amblin-style boy-and-his-dog movies, directly channeling elements of such films as E.T.
Peter Debruge, Variety

Bumblebee is an ’80s movie through and through, not just in terms of its period setting but also in its execution, establishing a tone and pace reminiscent of your typical Amblin production of that era and of teen-driven genre flicks like WarGames and Short Circuit.
Jim Vejvoda, IGN

The 1987 soundtrack goes a long way towards making Bumblebee feel like a film from the summer of Adventures in Babysitting and Harry and the Hendersons.
Fred Topel, We Live Entertainment

Knight’s plot lifts – E.T., The Iron Giant — are transparent, but at least he lifts from the best and makes warm work of the job.
Kevin Harley, Total Film


Bumblebee
(Photo by © Paramount Pictures)

How is Hailee Steinfeld?

Steinfeld sparkles…both an empathic force as well as a damn action hero — she’s Fay Wray with agency.
Liz Shannon Miller, IndieWire

Steinfeld grounds Bumblebee beautifully, with a rich and specific performance that never once treats the bizarre sci-fi events with ironic detachment or cynicism.
William Bibbiani, The Wrap

Where Bay’s movies often objectified its female characters, Bumblebee gives us a young woman who’s smart, vulnerable and nuanced.
Tim Grierson, Screen International

Charlie spends more time under cars than draped over them…Whether she’s checking her armpits for BO or gently rebuffing Memo’s awkward advances, Charlie plays like a bid to call time on the hot-pants fetishism of Bay’s era.
Kevin Harley, Total Film


And what about John Cena?

The movie’s most memorable human character is played by John Cena…he also brings a welcome sense of humor to the mix.
Peter Debruge, Variety

It’s John Cena, as walking side of beef Agent Burns, who proves the most flat-out enjoyable.
James Dyer, Empire

The only disappointment is John Cena’s military character.
Mike Ryan, Uproxx

His performance as a military man is about as subtle as a Hulk Hogan leg drop to the face…the transforming robots are more believable.
Luke Y. Thompson, Nerdist


Does Bumblebee have a memorable villain?

Angela Bassett brings a distinctly menacing gravitas to her vocal performance as Shatter.
Jim Vejvoda, IGN

Bassett, in particular, seems to be having the time of her life in the role of villain, manipulating the humans to do her bidding with an ease that makes sense, because it’s Angela Bassett, after all.
–  Liz Shannon Miller, IndieWire


So director Travis Knight was a good choice?

Travis Knight knows how to direct a coherent action sequence.
Liz Shannon Miller, IndieWire

He exhibits an instinctual sense for the film’s requisite action quotient while attentively crafting the central characters’ emotional arcs.
Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter

In a better, truer cinematic universe, Travis Knight would have been in charge of the Transformers franchise all along.
Phil Hoad, The Guardian


Bumblebee
(Photo by © Paramount Pictures)

Do the special effects still amaze?

You can actually appreciate the transformations here without them devolving into digital blurs of a million moving parts.
– Jim Vejvoda, IGN

There are many scenes where giant robots fight each other, and in those scenes, you can actually see what’s happening.
Liz Shannon Miller, IndieWire

For arguably the first time in a Transformers film, there are moments when you forget you’re looking at a CG model, and see only the character.
Luke Y. Thompson, Nerdist


Is there anything wrong with Bumblebee?

Even the most ardent ’80s nostalgists may wonder at a certain point how many Breakfast Club shoutouts and Smiths T-shirts are enough.
– Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

I get it! It’s 1987! If Bumblebee was an ’80s reference drinking game you’d be dead from alcohol poisoning by the midpoint.
Jim Vejvoda, IGN


Are we left begging for more?

If this is where the new Transformers franchise is headed, then let the transformation continue.
William Bibbiani, The Wrap

This retooling is snappy and wholesome enough to suggest we might still be watching [the franchise] in our self-driving cars.
Phil Hoad, The Guardian


Bumblebee opens everywhere on December 21.

#1

Bumblebee (2018)
93%

#1
Adjusted Score: 102.641%
Critics Consensus: Bumblebee proves it's possible to bring fun and a sense of wonder back to a bloated blockbuster franchise -- and sets up its own slate of sequels in the bargain.
Synopsis: On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie... [More]
Directed By: Travis Knight

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