After several years of mediocrity, the Transformers franchise has finally stepped up its game to show that it really can be more than just an explosion-filled series that only sells because of its fighting robots. The latest addition to the franchise, Bumblebee, feels like a fresh start for the series, opening up rather similarly to the first Transformers movie, but this time holding on to its thematic elements throughout the entirety of the movie.
To really analyze Bumblebee and appreciate what it did right, we have to take a look back at the previous installments in the franchise and see what they did wrong. Up until now, the best Transformers movie was the first Transformers from 2007. Transformers opened up with an emotion-filled plot, featuring a high school-aged kid with few friends and nowhere to really belong who comes across a Transformer named Bumblebee. The two characters bonded for the first half of the movie, but in the second half, things really started to get out of hand as more characters came into play. By the third act of the movie, there were so many different Transformers that it was hard to follow the movie's protagonist, with the focus instead being on the AllSpark rather than the characters we were supposed to be following from act one.
Bumblebee was a re-attempt at the emotional plot set up in the first Transformers, but this time, they actually got it right. Rather than introducing the protagonist to a wide variety of Transformers, the main part of the movie focused solely on the bond between Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and Bumblebee. This deep character bond carried on for the rest of the movie, which is something that is rare to see in a Transfomers movie. By the time the climax hit, it was the emotion between the two protagonists that drove the action forward rather than the end-of-the-world stakes.
Unfortunately, the movie was not without its flaws. Much like the previous Transformers movies, many aspects of Bumblebee felt incredibly unrealistic and could take you out of the moment if you thought about it too much. The movie also relied a little too heavily on its 80s nostalgia, which has become a huge trend in Hollywood recently. Whereas certain movies and shows like Stranger Things are able to be subtle about their '80s pop culture references, Bumblebee was a bit too on-the-nose about it, name dropping popular shows and songs from the time just for the sake of mentioning them. However, these issues were minute and easy to ignore, still keeping Bumblebee a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
What really makes Bumblebee stand out is the phrase, "Less is more." A perfect analogy for this movie's success is the fact that the Transformers themselves had less technological detailing than they had in previous installments. Despite the less intricate detailing, these characters still worked and even showed more emotion this way, now having similar facial features to those of humans. The climax of the movie still had action, but the fact that only a few players were involved in the fight kept the action personal. While it's certainly fun to watch an entire city be toppled by 30+ Transformers, sometimes it's better to watch just a couple of Transformers in action in order to keep the emotion of the narrative alive. Hopefully Paramount Pictures will remember this going forward as they inevitably add more movies to this ever-expanding franchise.