Sci-Fi/Superheroes: Looking Back at ‘Bumblebee’

Screenshot of Hailee Steinfeld in Bumblebee. Copyright goes to Allspark Pictures, Paramount Pictures Studios, Tencent Pictures, Bay Films, and Di Bonaventura Pictures.

Hey! Hallie here!

Hailee Steinfeld has seen a lot of recent success in Hollywood. Between her voice acting role as Gwen Stacy in ‘Into the Spider-Verse’ and its upcoming sequel, and the huge success of ‘Hawkeye’, she’s become a staple in the Marvel universe. And besides that she’s received major acclaim from the LGBTQ+ community for Vi in the series ‘Arcane’ and for Emily Dickinson in ‘Dickinson’. Of course, none of this recent success is sudden. She’s slowly been making herself a big name in Hollywood for years now. But I do find that these roles in particular are somewhat overshadowing other roles she’s played in the past. So, as someone who’s never seen ‘Bumblebee’, I wanted to expand my knowledge of her previous blockbuster roles. Especially because ‘Bumblebee’ was surprisingly well received despite the collective agreement from most audiences that the ‘Transformers’ films had become unbearable. Overall, I thought this movie was pretty good! But, like the ‘Transformers’ films before it, it definitely wasn’t perfect. Before I get into this more, here’s your SPOILER warning. Let’s get started!

What I Liked:

Charlie: The main reason I watched this movie was for Hailee Steinfeld, and she definitely didn’t disappoint. Steinfeld always manages to come off as extremely relatable and likable in whatever role she plays. Charlie’s no exception. For one, Charlie’s love of excellent 80s songs made me instantly like her. But she’s also a misunderstood, depressed teen without ever feeling too angsty. At the time of the movie, her father has recently died from a sudden heart attack and her mother has begun dating again. Charlie most definitely isn’t over her father’s death and she isn’t on great terms with her mother because of it. While all of this does play a major role in Charlie’s character, it’s used tastefully. Charlie’s relationship with Bumblebee, the main driving force of the movie, doesn’t serve as a constant reminder of her father. Instead, her own curiosity and concern for Bumblebee drives their moments together. The scenes she does dwell on the tragedy are sweet, with Bumblebee serving as a cute supporter and comforter during her lowest moments. And, of course, by the end of the movie she overcomes her grief through her own bravery and her friendship with Bumblebee. I also enjoyed her relationship with her love interest, Memo. Memo is a lot more interested in her than she is in him, but she both appreciates his general kindness and stands up for her boundaries around him, which feels a lot healthier than many romances that start out this way. And while she does decide to give him a shot at the end of the movie, I loved that she was clear about how slowly she wanted to move in said relationship. Charlie is a much needed step up from the horrible female representation seen in other ‘Transformers’ movies.

Bumblebee: Bumblebee feels very much like E.T. in this movie. While he’s introduced in a few major battle scenes that are pretty frightening and destructive, Bumblebee loses both his voice and his memories right after the film starts. Afterwards, he becomes less of the badass fighter we see in other films and more of an adorable puppy dog stumbling his way through Earth. His big blue eyes are easy to fawn over right off the bat, and the way that he unsuccessfully tries to hide himself behind a tiny rock genuinely had me tearing up over the adorableness. I mean, in his first introduction to Charlie he responds to her holding her hands out to calm him by nuzzling against her palm. He’s seriously just a giant puppy. But the movie does do an excellent job of reminding the audience that he’s still the badass we saw in the first few scenes. When Charlie decided to prank one of her bullies by TPing her lawn and egging her car, Bumblebee takes everything a step too far by violently stomping on the car until it folds in on itself. He also makes the questionable decision of leading a cop on a high speed chase. Still, his intentions are good all the way through. The best part for me though, was watching him relearn how to talk through recorded dialogue and music. It was such an excellent throwback to the first ‘Transformers’ movies and it remains to be a really fun and interesting way to have the character communicate. And I did almost cry when Bumblebee re-introduced himself to Optimus by playing a recording of Charlie saying his name.

What I Didn’t Like:

Charlie’s Family: I think this movie was trying to show the audience that, while Charlie’s family doesn’t understand her, they’re still supportive and overall well-meaning. I don’t think that came across at all. Her mother felt uncaring and manipulative throughout the entire movie. From her first scene she doesn’t seem to care much about Charlie, instead giving more of her attention to Charlie’s brother. When Charlie expresses excitedly how close she is to finishing her father’s car, a project that’s taken her a long time and means a lot to her, her mother doesn’t do much more than scoff at her. Then, on Charlie’s birthday, her mom gets her a flowery helmet and tells her that she will be forcing Charlie to wear it from now on. Which is both a terrible present and a clear sign that she hasn’t attempted to learn anything about her daughter. After that, when Charlie actually goes out to get the car she wants for her birthday, her mom admonishes her and then uses the car without her permission the next day. Meanwhile her mom’s boyfriend aims plenty of underhanded insults at Charlie, including getting her a book about how to smile more as a birthday gift. Once again, a terrible gift that’s gag-worthy to any woman who’s been told to “smile more”. Her brother’s the typical annoying younger brother and he doesn’t serve much purpose. At one point he seems to actually want to help Charlie, but he winds up giving her away on accident fairly quickly without being of any help at all. In other words, I hate her family and I don’t see the point of them.

All the ‘Transformers’ Stuff: This sounds weird for a ‘Transformers’ movie, but hear me out. This movie worked great as a ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, ‘E.T.’ sort of movie. Charlie and Bumblebee were an adorable pair to explore the whole “cute creature from a strange world has to learn about humans” plot line. But any time the film divulged from this for some human vaporization scenes with some pretty forgettable villains, or metal-screeching Autobots vs Decepticons fight scenes, it felt strange. The opening sequences immediately stood out to me as weird because the Bumblebee character we see there is so much different from the one we see in the entire rest of the movie. But even beyond that, it felt like any time Optimus Prime was mentioned it upset the flow of the movie. One minute I would be watching Bumblebee support Charlie while her bullies teased her about her father’s death, but in the next the military would be discussing the ramifications of a destructive war happening off-planet. It felt like two completely different movies. But I suppose that’s what happens when you try to tie a more personal, heartfelt film to the explosion fest you can expect from Michael Bay.

When looking back at reviews for this film, I saw a lot of reviewers debating whether they enjoyed the movie because it was genuinely good, or because it was much better than the other ‘Transformers’ films. As someone who hasn’t seen the other ‘Transformers’ films in a very long time, I think ‘Bumblebee’ was very enjoyable. Hailee Steinfeld proves that she can play awkward and down-to-earth well, and honestly who doesn’t want to hug Bumblebee after watching this movie? It does what it sets out to do. And even though I did feel like the basic ‘Transformers’ elements were too much of a tone shift, I can’t say I was expecting it all to go seamlessly together anyways given what I remember of the previous films. I’d definitely watch this one again. Am I excited for the sequel, though? Not really. I think making another one without Steinfeld kind of misses the point on what actually worked in this movie. Plus, dinosaur Transformers have always been a step too far for me.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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