The newest entry into the Transformers franchise doesn’t quite hit the reset button on the world Michael Bay and Shia LaBeouf brought to life, but the Hailee Steinfeld-led prequel is reviving it in a pleasantly unexpected and totally relatable way. That’s because Bumblebee is, above all, a movie about friendship.
When 18-year-old Charlie (Steinfeld), still broken and alone after her father’s death, discovers that the VW Beetle she found in the junkyard is actually a sweet Transformer just looking for connection away from his home, the two find in each other exactly what they both need: love. And to some extent, family.
“We’re trying to capture the spirit of the original wave of the Transformers, which, for me, was magical,” director Travis Knight told MTV News at the Bumlebee global premiere in Los Angeles earlier this month. “It was wonder, it was discovery, and we wanted to really give this film the heart and soul that I felt the first time that I was exposed to Transformers.”
The result is almost nostalgic, appropriately tapping into those feelings a child has toward their favorite toy, whether it’s the teddy bear that follows them to college, the doll they learned to braid hair on, or the action figure that helped them create new worlds beyond their own.
But in this movie, rather than just thriving in those throwback feelings, you’re dropped right into the action of one of those made-up universal crises. “It’s got a huge amount of heart and humor and warmth, as well as big fun, adrenaline, action, and explosion,” screenwriter Christina Hodson described of the “very Spielburg-ian” flick.
The action comes in when Decepticons Shatter (voiced by Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (voiced by Justin Theroux) track down Bumblebee and end up getting the U.S. government on their side. As the battle between Decepticons and Transformers begins on earth, so does the battle between Charlie (standing up for her metallic friend) and the military, led by Agent Burns (John Cena). It turns out, “a girl who just turned 18 is the biggest threat to national security,” Cena described.
Steeped into the action is a ton of rich Transformers history, the most visual of which being the original Generation One designs — an element that longtime fans of the franchise may have felt was missing in the Bay-directed blockbusters. “Those beautiful block shapes, these really bold silhouettes, that was something I’ve never really seen on the big screen before and I desperately wanted to see it,” Knight said.
But it’s way more than just an aesthetic choice for the 1980s-set movie — it’s story-driven. “There’s enough great information in there for fans of the franchise,” Cena promises. “First time you see a Triple Changer, you find out about Bumblebee’s voice, find out how he learned to talk, how he lost it, Gen 1 animation, Gen 1 transformation. There’s a lot in there, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
At the same time, because the story is grounded in emotional connection — and because it’s an origin story, of sorts — new fans can have fun and connect with the movie as well. As Steinfeld explained, Charlie “doesn’t have any special powers, but she has the qualities of a superhero, and she’s capable of the world — just as any young girl is.”
Bumblebee hits theaters Friday, December 21.