Reviewed by: Shawna Ellis
Good versus evil
Teen angst movies
How to deal with the death of a parent
Bravery / courage / self-sacrifice to save others
Sin of seeking revenge
What does the Bible say about intelligent life on other planets? Answer
Are we alone in the universe? Answer
Does Scripture refer to life in space? Answer
questions and answers about the origin of life
Hailee Steinfeld … Charlie Watson
Justin Theroux … Dropkick (voice)—a Decepticon who transforms into a blue AMC Javelin and a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
Angela Bassett … Shatter (voice)—a Decepticon who transforms into a red Plymouth Satellite and a Harrier jump jet
Pamela Adlon … Sally Watson—Charlie and Otis’ mother
Stephen Schneider … Ron—Charlie’s stepfather
Jason Drucker … Otis—Charlie’s younger brother
John Cena … Agent Burns—an agent of Sector 7
John Ortiz … Agent Powell—an agent of Sector 7
Abby Quinn … Alice
Gracie Dzienny … Tina—Charlie’s classmate
Ricardo Hoyos … Trip, Charlie’s classmate
Len Cariou … Uncle Hank—owner of a junkyard
Jorge Lendeborg Jr. … Memo—Charlie’s coworker and friend
Megyn Price … Amber
Kenneth Choi … Ken
David Sobolov … Blitzwing (voice)—a Decepticon seeker who transforms into a red/white McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
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|Director:||Travis Knight—“Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016)|
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Paramount Pictures Corporation
I have to admit that I watched only the first installment of the live action Transformer movies directed by Michael Bay. Despite an initial hopeful interest in “Transformers” (2007), that first film and the subsequent four did not appeal to me in any way. To me, those particular movies seemed like taking a big box full of Transformers toys and tossing them about randomly or smashing them together instead of sitting down with each figure to actually utilize its special and intricate features.
“Bumblebee” has a different director (Travis Knight) and a refreshingly different feel. There is character development for both the bots and humans as well as a coherent and engaging plot. There is plenty of action, too… but it is action which seems more realistic and which serves a purpose.
“Bumblebee” is a spin-off prequel which is able to stand alone and to be understood and enjoyed even if the viewer is new to Transformers. Set in 1987, it leans heavily on the nostalgia factor. The film manages to use not only a classic car stereo, 8 tracks and cassette tapes but even vinyl records as it showcases classic songs. There are references to the television show ALF and we even see a box of Mr. T cereal, along with myriad other nods to the time period. I found these little moments to be pleasantly nostalgic, and I see that not only were the filmmakers trying to establish the timeline but also to appeal to the audience which grew up playing with the first generation of Transformers toy figures and watching the original animated series.
In many ways this film had a “classic” feel which did take me back to those early childhood experiences. But although it may remind middle aged adults of their childhoods, it is not a suitable movie for young children. This film earns its PG-13 rating for violence, intense scenes and bad language. Yet despite having such a rating, the viewing I attended was filled with children, some as young as 3 or 4 years old. The appealing Bumblebee character will be used as a marketing device for young children, but discerning parents should not take little kids to see this movie. I’m hoping that parents will heed the rating.
Charlie (portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld) is struggling with the death of her beloved father and the way in which her mother and younger brother seem to be moving on. This young woman is troubled, but is still smart, brave and capable. One can just feel the loneliness emanating from this girl until she finds friendship with an alien robot with an unknown past. There is lots to work with here for a heartwarming story of friendship and acceptance, and it is the relationship between Bumblebee and Charlie which really drives this story. The character Bumblebee is tremendously appealing as both a friendly bot and a fierce protector.
I appreciate that this film did not seem to take itself too seriously, but also did not get too ludicrous or outlandish with its humor. A few moments were cringe-worthy, such as some scenes involving Jack Burns, an over-the-top Sector 7 agent played by John Cena.
I did not view the movie in 3D, so can’t comment on that aspect. However, in 2D the film was visually pleasing with good cinematography, believable action sequences, and nice vistas of the coast near San Francisco.
For those seeking action and intensity, there is plenty of that. The plot is simple and uncomplicated. The fearsome Decepticons are hunting for Bumblebee so they can find and destroy the rest of the Autobots forever. There are no mysterious artifacts, no alternate histories and no wholesale destruction of iconic world landmarks as in the previous installments. We just have straightforward action, as if a child were playing with a few Transformers figures (with some GI Joes thrown in for good measure). This is not an overwhelming mess in which one can’t discern what’s happening. We get to actually see the transformation process and the abilities of each bot in action, instead of just a dark overly CGI’d blur. There are of course explosions, chases, weapons and destruction, but everything is on a smaller scale so that we can see what is unfolding and can imagine that the human characters are actually immersed in the scenes.
Loyalty toward one’s friends is lifted up. Lessons are learned about judging others based on preconceived ideas instead of their actions. Family and friends come together in a time of need, and characters are sacrificial toward one another. These are all positives in a story which could have just been about the action, but there are enough questionable moments to make this movie worrisome for general viewing.
VIOLENCE: There is the expected violence, with bots fighting each other, bots fighting humans, and humans hurting an innocent bot. There are explosions, chases, electrocutions, threats, crashes and peril. Some slight injuries are shown. Main characters often survive scenarios which should have caused greater damage or death. Decepticons use a weapon which instantly kills humans by turning them into clear gooey liquid.SEX AND NUDITY: Two male characters are seen shirtless. Female side characters dress in very skimpy clothing with cleavage and short skirts. The main female lead Charlie is generally modest overall, but is seen briefly in a one-piece swimsuit and occasionally her shirt rides up to expose a bit of her stomach. The mother and her boyfriend (or new husband) flirt and kiss briefly. Charlie kisses a male friend on the cheek.
LANGUAGE: God’s name is used in vain many, many times. There are several uses of h*ll and d*mn, at least one use of a**, and two uses of sh**. (Children in the audience laughed at one use of the latter, as it is done strategically for comedic effect.) There are various instances of coarse language such as cr*p, screwed, balls and s*cks.
OTHER: Charlie disobeys her mother in her attempts to hide Bumblebee. Her family seems clueless and uncaring about her struggles. Bullies antagonize and mock Charlie. In an out of place sequence, Charlie and her friend Memo seek revenge on another teen by vandalizing property and then run from the police. Teens at a cliffside party are drinking, and one teen jumps dangerously off a cliff into the water. Charlie takes unnecessary risks while driving Bumblebee to show off his abilities (although because Bumblebee is a sentient being, he is able to steer himself). Charlie believes that her dead father will “hear her” if she completes a project they once enjoyed working on together. A character tells another that an alien robot is “more human than you are.” The military is shown in a mostly negative light.
In conclusion, “Bumblebee” is a great improvement over previous installments in this franchise. There is enough heart to make a good story and plenty of action to back it up. Parents will have to decide if it is worth exposing their families to its problematic content, and Christians should be aware that the consistent irreverent use of God’s name is jarring and the cursing seems out of place.
While there are some positive take-aways about loyalty and sacrifice, there is not much that is spiritually significant to be found here. There are no lasting answers in “Bumblebee” for the problems of loss, or loneliness, or being misunderstood. Charlie is a sympathetic character because so many of us understand her struggle. Through her adventure with Bumblebee, we see her find friendship, understanding, possibly love, and eventually what seems like peace… but it is the peace that comes when everything is going okay, the kind of peace that is easily shattered when there is a new loss or another hurt.
Unfortunately this sort of earthly, temporary peace is the only kind of peace that most people ever find. There are millions of people in the world today who feel like Charlie did at the beginning of “Bumblebee.” They are lonely, uncertain and hurting… waiting for something to happen that will make everything better. They are not going to have a life-changing encounter with an alien robot and suddenly find purpose and meaning.
“I have said these things to you, that you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.