Directed by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) and written by Christina Hodgson, Bumblebee looks to be a necessary de-escalation from the last time the robots in disguise hit the big screen, 2017's Transformers: The Last Knight. That fifth Transformers film established the heretofore unknown 'hidden history' of the Cybertronians on Earth: they have been here for thousands of years, influenced in key historical events like World War II, and that Earth itself is secretly Unicron, the greatest enemy of the sentient robots of Cybertron. Ultimately, The Last Knight exhausted audiences and Bay's fifth and final Transformers movie ended up as the lowest grossing of the series at the box office.
By contrast, Bumblebee looks to be a conscious effort on the part of the filmmakers to return to what made the original Transformers film in 2007 such a hit in the first place. Bay's inaugural effort wasn't without numerous flaws, but audiences a decade ago took a shine to seeing the good and evil robots of Cybertron go to war on Earth, with Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, and soldiers led by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese fighting alongside Optimus Prime and the Autobots.
Here's how it's already evident from the teaser trailer that Bumblebee is addressing some of the biggest problems fans had with Michael Bay's Transformers:
- This Page: The Robots In Bumblebee Look Better
- Page 2: Bumblebee Has a Smaller Scale and More Heart
The Lack of Color And The Uniformity of Bay's Transformers
Probably the most pleasing fan service moment in the teaser is the sight of Starscream transforming, and that the wannabe leader of the Decepticons is in his Generation-1 mode as a red and white fighter jet. Even these scant few seconds of Starscream pop, and that's because Bumblebee's color scheme appears brighter than in Bay's films. Throughout the previous five Transformers, much of the robot vs. robot action takes place at night, while the brightest daylight shots showcased the vehicles rolling out (but not transforming into their robot modes). With a few key exceptions, most of the robots appeared indistinguishable and interchangeable. The Last Knight especially bled out a lot of the color during post-production, creating a more metallic sheen to the images.
Bumblebee is notably going for Steven Spielberg-style 1980s' warmth and that includes letting the movie be more colorful and feel more real. Bumblebee's gleaming yellow and Starscream's colors appear brighter and, by limiting the number of robots in the movie, it will be easier to invest in them as characters as opposed to the one-dimensional (and frankly racist) stereotypes Bay leaned into.
The Robot Mechanics In Bumblebee Look More Real Than Ever
In the trailer, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), who is a mechanic, slides underneath the chassis of the yellow Volkswagen beetle she brought home from a junkyard and is surprised to see what looks like a robot face. She's even more surprised when the face's eyes light up and the car transforms into a frightened robot. The visual effects here look flawless and the physics, physical scale, and movements of Bumblebee look more realistic than ever before. CGI has come a long way in the decade since the first Transformers and Bumblebee looks the best he's ever looked.
Much of this has to do with the prequel dropping Michael Bay's robot designs (which is one of the many controversies sparked by the director) and instead adopting the simpler and beloved Generation-1 look of the Transformers from when they hit American toy shelves and TV screens in the early 1980s. Not only is Bumblebee a Volkswagen, but the way he transforms in the prequel very closely resembles how his original toy would transform, with his head swinging down into the bottom of his chassis when he's in vehicle mode.
Similarly, Starscream's look is pleasingly a G-1 design (though he is an F-4 Phantom II in Bumblebee and not an F-15 Eagle). Between his white, red, and blue color scheme and how he also transforms just like his original toy does, Starscream looks like Starscream, which will go a long way to winning over longtime Transformers diehards who rejected the Bayformers designs.
The Lack of Real Heart In Bay's Transformers
The trailer's use of voiceover from the late Bernie Mac in the original Transformers hammers home the "mystical bond between man and machine". The relationship between a boy and his car Bumblebee was the true heart of the original film and what made it resonate. It's hard for audiences to relate to warring alien robots destroying the Earth, but just about anyone can sympathize with Shia LaBeouf feeling a bond with his car, which just happens to be a transforming alien robot. Bumblebee is also leaning hard into this theme, but this time, it's established that the Autobot bonded with a teenage girl two decades before he met Sam in Bernie Mac's used car lot.
This is key because as Bay's Transformers saga continued, actual heart and humanity were left behind in place of explosions and ever-more-ludicrous spectacle. Even when Mark Wahlberg replaced Shia LaBeouf as the lead character in the series, the humans were mostly reduced to running and leaping out of the way of explosions as the robots collided with each other. At best, they provided the necessary exposition to explain the films' increasingly incoherent and bizarre mythology to each other and to the audience. By contrast, Bumblebee looks to be centered around what worked in the original, the relationship between a human and her new car, in the best Spielbergian E.T. and Brad Bird The Iron Giant tradition.
A Smaller Scale Means A Better Transformers Movie
By the time The Last Knight ended, the Earth had sprouted the enormous robot horns of Unicron while Cybertron itself was in orbit around our world. This was after discovering the Transformers were on Earth fighting alongside King Arthur and his knights, there was a secret society of Witwiccans throughout history, Bumblebee fought in World War II, and Optimus Prime turned momentarily evil before he was redeemed by his loyal yellow sidekick. Who can blame audiences for throwing up their hands and rejecting how incomprehensible and utterly absurd the Transformers movies had become?
While Bumblebee doesn't seem like it's rebooting any of that established mythology, a smaller scale and budget means a more personal story, which is a wise move that should pay off. Repeating the core relationship from the first and most popular Transformers film with a new human character may seem like lazy writing, but it worked like gangbusters once before and could find new, more intriguing dimensions with Hailee Steinfeld's Charlie as opposed to Shia LaBeouf's Sam. By casting Steinfeld, an Oscar-nominated actress, in the lead, Bumblebee is also correcting how Michael Bay's female characters played by Megan Fox, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Laura Haddock were first and foremost cast for sex appeal with little in the way of personality.
The trailer also presents some intriguing questions: Why was Bumblebee hiding in a junkyard in a 1987 California beach town? Why can't he speak and why is he afraid? Why is Starscream hunting him and is he aware Megatron is imprisoned in the Hoover Dam? Why is John Cena in this movie? And, because fans have never heard of Charlie Watson before now, what happened to her in the 20 years before Sam Witwicky came into the picture? Bumblebee has a lot of potentially fascinating ground to cover but when it's all said and done, it will hopefully be the best Transformers movie since Bay's original - maybe even the best one of all.