By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Better-than-expected Transformers prequel is big on action.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Teamwork, friendship, family bonds are all promoted. Charlie and Bumblebee befriend each other/bond, show that not all Transformers should be prejudged. Bumblebee's voice demonstrates power of music to communicate.
Positive Role Models
Charlie is enterprising, intelligent, resourceful. She does hide Bumblebee's existence from her family, but she's patient, gives Bumblebee the benefit of the doubt, getting to know him, helping him. She and Memo are courageous, selfless, risking safety to rescue, support Bumblebee. Charlie's mother, stepfather, little brother are concerned, encouraging; when things get dangerous, they don't shy away from helping her. Villains are clearly delineated as bad guys.
Violence & Scariness
Opening sequence shows Transformers' civil war on Cybertron: They use their weapons on one another, blasting, shooting. On Earth, soldiers (and civilians) see a ball of fire crash, with Transformers emerging. Soldiers fire on Bumblebee, who runs but doesn't retaliate -- unlike Decepticons, who start firing upon humans. Additional, similar scenes of Transformers fighting each other, humans. In one sequence, Bumblebee is tortured. Charlie and Memo are thrown about, hurt but not seriously injured. When Transformers kill humans with one particular weapon, it turns them into clear goo (happens a couple of times).
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Charlie and Memo hold hands, kiss on the cheek; he's obviously interested in her. She asks him to take off his shirt for an experiment, not romance.
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Infrequent use of words including "s--t," "damn," "hell," "ass," "crap," "freaking," "shoot," "shut up." Exclamations like "oh my God."
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Products & Purchases
On camera: Volkswagen, Sony, Atari, Camaro, BMW, Ford, Corvette, Scope, Fritos, Tab. Several bands/artists mentioned or shown on merchandise: Elvis Costello, The Smiths, Sam Cooke, Simple Minds/The Breakfast Club, etc. Off camera, there's a ton of Transformers/Hasbro-related merchandise, from toys themselves to video games, apparel, more.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Bumblebee is a Transformers universe prequel that's set in 1987 and stars Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie, a gearhead teen who finds a yellow VW Bug that's actually the titular Autobot. This tween-friendly adventure features slightly less violence, language, and sex (the romance is downplayed and positively chaste) than its predecessors. That said, there are still big fight scenes between Transformers and between Transformers and humans; weapons are used (one reduces humans to a clear goo), there's explosive destruction, and Bumblebee is tortured. Language includes a few uses of "damn" and "s--t"; refreshingly for the series, there are no crass or sexist jokes. Charlie is a surprisingly nuanced and courageous lead character, and the movie has clear themes of teamwork and friendship.
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Based on 35 parent reviews
Potential family movie ruined by gruesome, shocking deaths
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Surprisingly violent and shocking beginning
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What's the Story?
BUMBLEBEE starts during a civil war on the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron, where Autobot resistance leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) sends his young lieutenant, B-127 (Dylan O'Brien), on a mission to Earth to establish a base, protect the planet's inhabitants, and await their allies. But B-127 is followed by two Decepticons, who wound him and destroy his voice box. Later, in 1987 California, angsty Bay Area teen Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) finds an old yellow Volkswagen Beetle while scouring a junk yard on her 18th birthday. Charlie, who's still grieving her late father, fixes the rusty old VW, which quickly transforms back into a robot alien that Charlie names Bumblebee. As Charlie befriends Bumblebee and introduces him to her neighbor, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), two Decepticon enforcers land on Earth. Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) convince government agents, including a reluctant John Cena and an awed John Ortiz, to collaborate in order to find the "dangerous" Bumblebee.
Is It Any Good?
The talented, expressive Steinfeld and a nuanced script elevate this prequel from "unnecessary" to "surprisingly poignant and entertaining." Comparisons between Bumblebee and E.T. are easy to draw, because Charlie nearly instantly connects with the voiceless, skittish alien. They bond over clips of '80s movies and music cassettes (he hilariously ejects The Smiths, one of her favorite, angsty bands, instead preferring radio jams that can speak for him). Charlie's sidekick is her adorkable neighbor, whom Lendeborg plays with sweet comedic sincerity. Their chemistry is cute, with only a hint of romance -- a much-needed change from the previous films.
Director Travis Knight, making his live-action debut and working from a script by Christina Hodson, helms the movie with a sensibility that mirrors the Laika films he's directed/produced (Kubo and The Boxtrolls): A lonely, grieving adolescent goes on an unexpected adventure, through which she learns about herself and her legacy. Knight might not have seemed like a natural fit for this live-action directing gig on the face of things, but it makes sense given his love of coming-of-age stories that feature particularly sensitive and brave young protagonists. Ultimately, there was no need for this prequel, but it's much better than expected, and the best (story wise) of the Transformers series to date.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in Bumblebee. Is it more than, less than, or about what you expected? How does it compare to the violence in the other Transformers movies? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
What are the other differences between this film and the other Transformers movies? What did you like about this installment? Do you want there to be more?
Do you consider any of the characters to be role models? What character strengths do they display? Why are teamwork and courage important?
- In theaters: December 21, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: April 2, 2019
- Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Martin Short, Pamela Adlon
- Director: Travis Knight
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Friendship, Robots
- Character Strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of sci-fi action violence
- Last updated: December 3, 2022
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