On the robot planet of Cybertron, the Autobots and the Decepticons have been warring, with the evil latter gaining the upper hand when they destroy their rivals' centre of operations, the Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) lost in the melee. But one of his kind has escaped, sent by his chief to the Planet Earth where he can seek refuge as they regroup and ponder their next move in the battle. He is B-127 (Dylan O'Brien), and once he has landed the threats do not stop as he arrives in California where a military base is nearby which causes him to be targeted, but worse than that a Decepticon also lands and begins combat, demanding to know where Optimus Prime is...
Here's a novel idea, how about a Transformers movie that kids can enjoy without their parents feeling discomfited? Which was essentially what Bumblebee turned out to be, a spin-off from a line of toys that did not need to appeal to the baser instincts of the audience by going all leery and inappropriate, as they had under Michael Bay's direction, and also clearing up the drastically convoluted storylines by keeping them as simple as possible. Fans of Bay (yes, there were a few) had their noses put out of joint by the concept that these should be family films with events and details reflecting that, but a new generation were able to embrace the Transformers regardless.
Okay, this was still a two-hour toy commercial, let's not get too lenient on it, but there was a fresher tone to this as it harked back to the eighties - this was set in 1987 - when the line of merchandise was first brought on the market, and had obviously been taking notes from The Lego Movie and its spin-offs that a toy promotion need not be nakedly avaricious when aiming for the credit cards of the parents. They did this by taking a leaf out of eighties cinema, where product tie-ins reached new heights of advertising run rampant, but also where the studios realised to make the most amount of profit, you had to appeal to the widest potential audience, and maximise your product reach.
In the eighties, this was achieved through teaming the new stars with the older ones, the most obvious examples being Rain Man where young fans of Tom Cruise were united with older fans of Dustin Hoffman, or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Harrison Ford's decade icon was teamed with the big screen's original James Bond. In the twenty-tens, however, it was a matter of taking the nostalgia of the parents and repackaging as something new for their children, as what had amused and entertained the adults when they were young would theoretically do the same for kids, that mix of old and new that assured the family interest, and what the Transformers really should have been doing ever since the initial live action movie was released a decade before Bumblebee was conceived of - though the Christian resurrection parallels here suggest they're taking it a tad too seriously.
The plot was a cross between The Love Bug, which introduced Herbie the living Volkswagen Beetle, and an eighties favourite Short Circuit, where an army robot gained a life force and befriended a young woman he charms. Here the renamed Bumblebee teamed up with Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie, an eighteen-year-old outsider who has never been in with the cool kids and whose family don't understand her, especially since (pluck those heartstrings!) her dad died. Now the Autobot cannot speak, he has to reach an understanding with her that they may be fast friends now, but two Decepticons are on their way to destroy him and every survivor of the war who were against them. Really, the bonding scenes were the best in the picture, and it's almost a pity they had to resort to the 'splosions and metal on metal violence because a tale of one girl and her robot might have been a nice change. They did go into nostalgia overdrive with the setting, too, snatches of pop hits littering the soundtrack (you could tell it was science fiction because characters laughed at ALF), but under Travis Knight's direction of Christina Hodson's script, there was heart to this, even if it was a kitschy, schmaltzy one, for the best Transformers movie since the original cartoon feature. Music by Dario Marianelli.