If you're anything like me, you're a stubborn prick who likes to dig in his heels whenever it feels like someone's telling you what to do. Oh, I must see Roma on the big screen, and in nothing less than 70mm? What happens if I don't? You say I owe it to myself not to pay good money to see Welcome to Marwen? Poppycock, I shout, throwing down $12 for the next available ticket (ninety minutes before fleeing the theater in bored disgust).
Indeed, this belligerence rarely proves advantageous, but go ahead and try telling that to my lifelong and deep-seated issues with authority. As childish as it may be, the quickest way to get me not to do something is to tell me I must do it, and that's partially why I'd written off Bumblebee: people would not stop telling me how much I had to see this movie.
It was a bit more complicated than that, of course. Yes, it felt like Film Twitter was ten minutes away from kicking in my door and dragging me to see (and enjoy, by God) Bumblebee, but there was also the matter of those other Transformers movies to consider. If you're a longtime reader of this site, you know I have a pronounced aversion to these films, one rooted in the many, many hours I spent attempting (and failing, in spectacular fashion) to enjoy them. Bumblebee's positive early buzz* certainly mitigated some of my hard-earned Transformers skepticism, but it didn't wipe it out completely. In between that and the online film community's increasingly hysterical proselytizing, well, I admit I was feeling very stubborn, indeed.
I'd already decided I'd just wait and catch Travis Knight's spin-off once it hit streaming, but then a funny thing happened: the film got absolutely steamrolled at the box office over the holidays, and the distressed reaction I saw from fans in response to this news struck me as genuine, heartfelt. Lord knows I've been in that position before, watching a movie you love slip through the cracks at the box office while everyone's off paying attention to some other big, shiny, stupid thing. That position sucks.
So tonight I went and saw Bumblebee.
And of course I fucking loved it.
Here, at last, is the Transformers movie they should've been making all along, one that's clearly aimed at kids (reminder: Transformers was always for kids) but with enough intelligence and kick-ass action to keep their parents entertained. Where previous Transformers films were borderline incoherent, Knight's is logical and easy to follow. Where Bay's set pieces were frantic and bombastic, Knight's are well-choreographed and clearly photographed. Whereas Bay's film lingered a little too long on the female form, Knights presents a sort of sweet, wholesome horniness, a type which feels age/audience appropritate and which I, quite frankly, found very refreshing in an age where people on social media are openly fantasizing about getting rawdogged by Venom.
It's also an improvement in terms of laughs. This is a legitimately funny movie, one that blends a modern sensibility with the wit of John Hughes and the wonder of Amblin. Plot threads have actual payoffs, characters are likable and worth rooting for, the Transformers themselves actually look like Transformers. The cast is also uninformly great, as well, with Hailee Steinfeld and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. being the standouts (I would also like to add that, holy shit, Pamela Adlon is in this movie). It's emotional without being cheesy, silly in the same satisfying way that all the best Saturday morning cartoons used to be, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that John Cena has killer comic timing. Plus, at one point Bumblebee drags The Smiths! What more could you want?
From top to bottom, it's an improvement on every live-action Transformers movie ever made. It is, in fact, the best of them, and by a wide margin. So of course it opened 50% lower than Bay's most recent entry in the series. Right now it's just under $200M worldwide, which obviously ain't great for a film with a reported $135M production budget, and - given the ongoing popularity of both Aquaman and Mary Poppins Returns - it's unlikely (but not impossible!) that Bumblebee will stage a comeback.
If there's an upside, it's that a movie this good is very likely to find a fanbase once it hits streaming and home video. But, still: at this point, I totally understand the fans who were so bummed to see it glossed over by the masses. Bumblebee doesn't deserve our dismissiveness, and the lessons that will be taken away from its non-starter status at the box office are all but guaranteed to be the wrong ones. I'm not sure where they'd take the franchise from here in terms of future spin-offs, but I do know this is a huge step in the right direction, and I'd be very open to seeing another one.
Anyway, don't be stubborn like I was. Whether you're tired of the relentless hype or you feel burnt out on Transformers movies in general, I'd urge you to give this one a shot. Bumblebee really is the one people have been waiting for.
* = Har!