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MOVIE REVIEW

Bumblebee

also known as “Kamane,” “Űrdongó,” «Бамблби», «Бъмбълбий»
MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for sequences of sci-fi action violence.

Reviewed by: Shawna Ellis
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive—due to language
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
• Preteens • Teens • Young-Adults • Adults
Genre:
Sci-Fi Fantasy Action Adventure 3D Adaptation
Length:
1 hr. 53 min.
Year of Release:
2018
USA Release:
December 21, 2018 (wide—3,550 theaters)
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Relevant Issues
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Good versus evil

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Teen Qs—Christian Answers® for teenagers
Teens—Have questions? Find answers in our popular TeenQs section. Get answers to your questions about life, dating and much more.


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Teen angst movies

How to deal with the death of a parent

Darkness versus light

Good versus evil

Bravery / courage / self-sacrifice to save others

Sin of seeking revenge

Aliens (extraterrestrials)

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

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Featuring: Hailee SteinfeldCharlie Watson
Justin TherouxDropkick (voice)—a Decepticon who transforms into a blue AMC Javelin and a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra
Angela BassettShatter (voice)—a Decepticon who transforms into a red Plymouth Satellite and a Harrier jump jet
Pamela AdlonSally Watson—Charlie and Otis’ mother
Stephen Schneider … Ron—Charlie’s stepfather
Jason Drucker … Otis—Charlie’s younger brother
John CenaAgent Burns—an agent of Sector 7
John OrtizAgent 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
See all »
Director: Travis Knight—“Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016)
Producer: Allspark Pictures
Bay Films
See all »
Distributor: Distributor: Paramount Pictures Corporation. Trademark logo.
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.

They need an encounter with the living God, the One who sent His Son to bring real and lasting peace to a hurting world. In John 16:33, Jesus says,

“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.”

  • Violence: Very Heavy
  • Profane language: Moderately Heavy— • Oh my G*d (14) • Oh G*d (5) • Swear to G*d • G*d (5) • J*sus • d*mn (6) • H*ll
  • Vulgar/Crude language: Moderate— • cr*p • a** • s-words (2+) • “I will rupture your freaking spleen” • scr*wed • b*lls
  • Nudity: Mild— • shirtless males • girl with short skirt • girl in swimsuit (one piece)
  • Sex: Mild— • kisses
  • Occult: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
comments below:
Positive
Positive—The movie was darling. I was hard pressed to see how this movie was labeled “Offensive.” Bumblebee might not be suitable for very young children, but the PG-13 rating as well as the trailer make that plain enough. I am surprised that the couple of scenes with guys taking off their shirts was even noteworthy. Are beaches and swimming all offensive? Now that I think back there actually was a beach scene with several shirtless guys. One of the two shirtless scenes referred to is partially shown in the trailer. Regarding the mom and stepdad, there was no reason to believe they were not married. They appeared to just be a widow and her new husband.

I was completely fine watching it with my teenage daughter. Perhaps the one reservation I have with the movie is that many teenagers might not find this movie very engaging, however younger children will. My teen was not overly impressed. The story is—as with all of the Transformer movies—very fanciful and perhaps too simple for most teens. Recall the movie is tied to a kid’s toy. So children as young as 5 will want to see it however I might be less incline to bring a child under age 9.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
M. G., age 56 (USA)
Response from reader—This is the reviewer for this film with a couple clarifications which may help the above commenter M. G. Understand why Bumblebee was given an “offensive” rating. Please take note that the offensive rating is given primarily due to language, especially the prevalent irreverent use of the Lord’s name and other vulgar words. No matter how sweet or endearing a movie might be, profane language is very serious and must be considered, especially when the film is marketed toward children.

The specific mentions of the shirtless males are to make sure that each person going into this film knows what to expect as far as possible temptations of the flesh. Not everyone has the same temptations when viewing images that can trigger sinful thoughts, but if one struggles with lust it is good to know that there are images which could kindle unwanted desires. Just as a Christian man who is trying to overcome issues with lustful desires regarding women in revealing clothing may want to know to avoid a particular movie, there are women (and men) for whom seeing a young shirtless man might cause unwanted desires. Indeed, for some individuals, beaches and swimming ARE offensive for this reason, and those who struggle with this should be given fair warning.

In reviewing these movies, there are instructions to carefully list such details which could be problematic even if they will not necessarily create temptations for all viewers. The same is done for any aspect of the movie, including violence, language, the occult and any other situation which could compromise a viewer. I hope that this helps to bring some understanding as to how such a “darling” movie could have scenes and content which are offensive to a discerning believer who is trying to maintain moral integrity.
Shawna Ellis
Neutral
Neutral—I had been so disappointed in the previous “Transformers” movies. They are full of foul language and inappropriate content. Considering the kid-friendly appeal of the toys and the original cartoon, the content would often put these movies way out of bounds for families.

I am happy to report that “Bumblebee” is a few steps in the right direction. Gone are the ogling camera angles at women, sexual innuendo and f-words. There’s also less violence than the original. There’s still some language, unfortunately (mostly h*** and d***, along with an occasional s-word or a**), including one unfortunate misuse of Jesus” name (God’s name is thoughtlessly interjected at least two dozen times). There’s also a few strong explosions, some intense robot violence and a couple of humans are zapped into clear puddles.

However, positive progress is better than no progress at all. I also found some strong, moving examples of heroism and self-sacrifice. Bumblebee is definitely an example of a true hero, looking out for those he cares for.

I’ll hand it to the team here, they set out to make a much more character-focused movie, and they succeeded. I was hooked on the story between Bee and Charlie, and Hailee Steinfeld did a wonderful job making me care about her character. The bond between her and the robot is not anything revolutionary in filmmaking (it will remind people of “E.T.” and “The Iron Giant”), but it’s still touching and includes some unique moments.

The 80’s vibe is very appealing, and contributes to some charming and very funny moments. Sometimes it descends into cartoonish territory, but not overbearingly so. Ultimately, “Bumblebee” is easily the best of the franchise and I personally enjoyed it.

Sadly, however, its” not quite clean enough to be a good family movie. However, I did find it cleaner than recent superhero flicks like “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2,” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Blake Wilson, age 24 (USA)

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