Bumblebee

 

            Remember the backstory of Superman?  He was just a baby when his whole planet, Krypton, was being destroyed, so his parents loaded him on to a spaceship and sent him to planet Earth, hoping this way they could preserve their species.

            Same premise in “Bumblebee,” except the good robots' world is being taken over by the evil robots.  The good ones manage to release one escape pod, with a bot on board who is supposed to go to Earth and make sure it's safe for the other good bots to come.  They're just trying to find a safe place to hide from the bad robots.

            The bot on board crash lands on earth, and manages to transform into....a yellow Volkswagen, before going into hibernation because of injuries. 

            Now we switch gears, to the typical dysfunctional American family of the 1980's.  Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is an 18-year-old with a chip on her shoulder.  Her beloved Dad has died, and her Mother's moved on emotionally and is already dating someone else, and Charlie's not ready for that.  She has a little brother who annoys her; he seems only interested in karate, and tries to fit in well with the new family situation, all cozying up on the couch, laughing at the television together.

            Meanwhile, Charlie's in the garage working on the MG that she and her Dad were together trying to fix up, but she's frustrated because she needs more guidance, and he's not there to give it.  There's an old auto repair garage down the road which she frequents, because the proprieter's nice to her and lets her salvage parts for little or no cost.  Charlie knows her way around a mechanic's shop, but her part-time job is at the local amusement park, where she makes corny dogs on a stick, and endures the not-so-subtle condescension of teenagers who don't need to work.  The only kid who's nice to her is the new boy next door, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.).

            We know what's going to happen.  Charlie discovers the old yellow VW under a tarp, and immediately wants to take it home.  When she does, voila, a transformer!  At first she's scared silly, but so is the robot, whom she promptly names “Bumblebee.”  She realizes Bumblebee understands what she's saying, but can't talk himself (voice activation damaged).  So she hides him and protects him, until the bad robots find out where he is (because his engine was started, and they have a tracking device).  They come to Earth in order quash the last of the “rebellion,” and the bad robots even manage to fool some government officials into sharing communication technology, you know, in the interest of interplanetary diplomacy.

            The robot fights are, of course, pure CGI.  The family dynamic stuff is standard material.  The barest whisper of romance between Charlie and Memo never really materializes.  So we're left with saving the planet, which involves Charlie breaking out of her shell and “becoming herself” again. 

            It's a good thing Hailee Steinfeld has the acting chops to be the main character, because otherwise there's not much of interest here.  We try to get involved in the developing affection between her and Bumblebee, but it's strained at best.  The violence is downplayed just enough to merit a PG-13 rating, but it's too juvenile for adults and too intense for young children.  But it's earnest, and at least tries to be endearing.   

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association