Watching Bumblebee will definitely spark a sense of déjà vu as it's essentially a remake of Michael Bay's original Transformers film - but it's also much better than Michael Bay's 2007 franchise-starter. Director Travis Knight's 1980s-set, nostalgia-filled prequel is a soft reboot-in-disguise that carries the hopes of giving the Transformers franchise a jump-start; from a creative standpoint, Bumblebee triumphantly finds the humor and humanity that was missing from the saga the way the AllSpark Cube was missing in Bay's first Transformers.
Bumblebee's basic story mirrors Transformers: 20 years before Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) meets the heroic yellow Autobot, the titular Transformer arrives on Earth with a mission to protect the planet from the Decepticons. Critically damaged and suffering a memory core failure, Bee takes the form of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle and meets his first human friend, a teenage girl named Charlie Watson (Academy Award-nominee Hailee Steinfeld). Meanwhile, the Decepticons hunt for Bumblebee while the U.S. military group Sector Seven also searches for the Autobot. After Bumblebee is captured, Charlie rescues him and, together, they save the world from the Decepticons. The rest of the Autobots then arrive on Earth (in Bumblebee's post-credits scene), seeking to make a home on our world, setting the stage for the story to continue.
By drastically scaling down the action and scope of the story, Bumblebee's screenwriter Christina Hodson instead focuses on the relationship between Charlie and Bee. Newly turned 18, Charlie mourns her dead father and feels like an outcast, even from her own family. In Bee, a literal outcast alone on an alien world, Charlie finds a friend and confidant; as she is able to repair and restore Bumblebee back to the Decepticon-killing warrior he was, Charlie herself is able to heal and find closure with the loss of her father. Dramatically, this is a huge leap forward from the central premise in Transformers of Sam Witwicky helping the Autobots save the world from Megatron and the Decepticons. Let's further compare and contrast Bumblebee with Transformers and see how else the new film improved on its 2007 predecessor:
- This Page: The Similarities Between Bumblebee And Transformers
- Next Page: Why Bumblebee Being A Remake Improved The Transformers Franchise
The Similarities Between Bumblebee And Transformers 2007
While Bumblebee is by no means a shot-for-shot remake of Transformers, it echoes a great deal of the 2007 film. Both of the main characters, Charlie and Sam, meet Bumblebee on their birthdays. They each desire a car as a birthday present, but for different reasons; Sam feels he needs wheels in order to be cool enough to attract a girl, specifically Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), while Charlie wants a car as a means of escape from her family, whom she resents for having moved on from the death of her father while she still mourns him. Sam and Charlie are both considered outcasts and are bullied by the 'cool' kids at school, but each of their love interests, Mikaela and Memo (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), are all-in for whatever adventure happens once they meet Bumblebee.
In Bumblebee and Transformers, the Autobot is a fish-out-of-water in human suburbia. After Bumblebee takes Sam and Mikaela to meet Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots, the robots all follow Sam to his house while he looks for the glasses which contain the map to the AllSpark Cube. Sam and Mikaela have to find the glasses while trying to make sure his parents don't notice the Autobots blundering around and wrecking their backyard. Bumblebee has two similar scenes; one where an attempt to prank a mean girl goes awry when Bee destroys her BMW and a second where Bee is left alone, enters Charlie's house, and accidentally wrecks the place. Both films also have a character ask, "Are you on drugs?" Sam says it to a police officer accusing him of drug use while Charlie's mother Sally (Pamela Adlon) says it to her son, Otis (Jason Drucker), when he's behaving strangely. Both films also feature awkward comedy where both Charlie and Sam are embarrassed by their weird parents.
Sector Seven plays a big role in both films; in Transformers, the Men in Black-like agency comes after Sam and Mikaela for their contact with Non-Biological Extraterrestrials and comically invade the Witwicky home. When Ron Witwicky says that he's never heard of Sector Seven, Agent Seymour Simmons (John Turturro) replies, "[You] never will." Similarly, after Sector Seven captures Bumblebee and brings Charlie home, her stepfather, who's also named Ron, confesses to the soldiers that he once stole a box of Mallomars to which Agent Jack Burns (John Cena) replied, "We know." And in both films, Bumblebee is captured by Sector Seven by being impaled with electrical chains and he is tortured while incarcerated before Sam/Mikaela and Charlie/Memo help free him.
Bumblebee also fights the Decepticons at night in industrial settings. In Transformers, Bee and Barricade battle it out at a warehouse before the Autobot reveals himself to Sam and Mikaela, while in Bumblebee, the final battle takes place at a harborside factory. Bumblebee fights and destroys both Shatter and Dropkick while Charlie disables the beacon the Decepticons are building to signal an invasion. Because Bee can't talk in either film (Bumblebee explains how he loses his vocal processors), he communicates through song lyrics via his radio. And both Sam and Charlie are in awe when Bee upgrades himself; in Bumblebee, he switches from a Volkswagen Beetle into a 1977 Camaro, while he turns into a more futuristic Camaro in Transformers.
How and Why Bumblebee Is A Remake
Bumblebee is both a prequel and a soft reboot for the Transformers franchise after the miserable critical and audience reaction to Bay's fifth and last entry, Transformers: The Last Knight. In looking for a way to do a different kind of Transformers movie to give the saga a creative boost, the producers wisely decided to finally scale down the story (and Bumblebee's production budget) in order to reconnect to the human element that had been largely missing as Transformers' story grew more and more outlandish. Naturally, they looked back at what worked best when the franchise was successfully launched. Bay's first Transformers is generally his best-regarded chapter, but many of its key elements that audiences connected to were ideas championed by executive producer Steven Spielberg.
The legendary director made sure the core of the original Transformers was a story about a boy and his car. Although Michael Bay was responsible for most of the major creative decisions of the franchise - including turning Bumblebee from a Volkswagen into a Camaro, thinking that a teenage boy in 2007 wouldn't look cool driving a Beetle - Bay did maintain the "boy and his car" element which originally helped ground the story of transforming alien robots at war on Earth. When conceiving Bumblebee, the producers apparently decided to remake the original Transformers and have it again be about Bumblebee becoming a teenager's first car. However, this time, Spielberg wanted the main character to be female and for Bumblebee to be more about the personal relationship between Charlie Watson and Bumblebee.
Although Bumblebee is a prequel that slides (somewhat awkwardly) into the Transformers movie timeline, it's also evident that the producers are hedging their bets about whether to go forward and reboot the Transformers franchise after Bumblebee. Giving the robots a makeover back to their Generation-1 designs isn't just a way to play to the nostalgia of longtime Transformers fans, it helps give the producers leeway to proceed with a full reboot if Bumblebee is a huge success. They dropped seeds that could lead to a crossover with Hasbro properties like G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K. or even have a Bumblebee sequel on Cybertron, but all of that was only possible by going back and resetting Transformers before the Bay films even happened. Now, virtually anything can happen.
Why Bumblebee Succeeded Where Transformers 2007 Failed
Bumblebee is simply a much better film than Transformers. It's heartfelt, funny, intimate, thrilling, and uplifting in ways the 2007 film is not, despite the many creative beats both films share. Director Travis Knight was clearly inspired by the 1980s films of his youth, including Spielberg's E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, but Bumblebee also echoes elements from John Hughes films (The Breakfast Club is explicitly referenced) and there's also a heavy influence from Brad Bird's The Iron Giant. Crucially, Bumblebee is anchored by the lead performance of Steinfeld, which is all the more remarkable by how she is able to convey a complete emotional arc for Charlie and Bumblebee while essentially acting against a prop of the robot or sometimes nothing at all; thanks to Steinfeld and the film's immaculate CGI there's never any doubt that Bumblebee is real when they are together on-screen.
This isn't to say Bay's Transformers was without merit; it successfully launched the franchise and turned LaBeouf and Fox into household names, and Bay wisely brought back Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime; the actor would be the sole mainstay through every Transformers movie. Bay would further indulge his penchant for relentless and incoherent action in his sequels, but the story of the Transformers seeking the AllSpark Cube in the 2007 film was relatively straightforward and easier to understand despite the bombast. Still, Bay's macho sensibilities and sophomoric humor are baked into Transformers. By contrast, Bumblebee is the first Transformers movie that is designed to be as appealing to girls as well as boys.
In his five films, though, Bay never explored any of the Transformers, even Bumblebee or Optimus Prime, as actual characters. He reduced all of the robots to a collection of manic bursts of violence, simplistic motivations, and lazy, expositional dialogue. Whereas in Bumblebee, Decepticons Shatter and Dropkick become more intriguing villains while the brave yellow Autobot finally becomes a character worth caring about, as Charlie forms a bond with him that's more genuine than the one Bumblebee had with Sam Witwicky. To Sam, Bumblebee was his robot car who was there to bail him out of trouble. To Charlie, Bumblebee was her friend, and vice versa.
While Bumblebee's box office tally may ultimately pale in comparison to Bay's films, from a creative and quality standpoint, Bumblebee easily trumps Transformers and is the best film of the saga. Bumblebee heralds a future of better Transformers movies that aren't just about noisy action scenes and overblown spectacle, and that's a win worth pumping your fist in the air for the way Bumblebee does in the end.