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Movie Review

It's right in the thick of the shoulder-padded '80s here on good-ol' planet Earth. On the radio, the British group Tears for Fears belts out "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." But out in deep space on the war-torn planet of Cybertron, that existential musical meditation is concretely real.

In an apocalyptic confrontation, the wicked robotic Decepticons are battling for domination of their mechanized planet, and the opposing Autobot heroes are just barely holding on. In fact, things are so dire on Cybertron that the Autobot's strongest and most courageous leader, Optimus Prime, is ready to throw in the chamois towel on the whole affair.

In the midst of an ongoing explosive maelstrom of blazing lasers and disintegrating steel, Optimus turns to his most loyal lieutenant—a yellow robo-battler called B-127—and sends him off to a just-discovered planet full of creatures called humans and oddly non-sentient cars and trucks. B-127 must set up base on this world, protect its inhabitants and wait for the surviving Autobots to eventually arrive.

B-127 takes flight … with a watchful Decepticon not far behind.

Sometime later on that planet called Earth, a San Francisco Bay-area teen named Charlie is in need of a car. She may look like an average, awkward teen girl clad in cool band T-shirts and sporting a head full of disheveled hair, an adolescent working part time at a local hot dog stand, but down deep she's … well, that's exactly who she is. She's nobody special. She's wresting emotionally with the recent death of her beloved dad. She's confused, impatient, and she pretty much feels adrift.

Having a car, however, could change all that. Charlie is sure of it.

So when she finds a beat-up old yellow VW at the local junkyard, and actually gets it to start, her spirits soar. The junkyard's owner even surprises her by giving the battered vehicle to her as a present on her 18th birthday.

It's when Charlie gets the chugging contraption home, however, that the real birthday surprise takes place. While trying to work on the car, it moves … on its own. It then unfolds, rises and transforms. And suddenly there's no longer a slightly damaged VW in her garage, but rather a slightly damaged yellow robot—some 10 feet tall, with glowing blue eyes and buzzing circuits.

Charlie always thought that a car would change everything. Little did she know she was more right than she could ever have imagined.

And so Charlie names him … Bumblebee.

Positive Elements

Charlie loves her family, but honestly, she's ready to get away from home. She can't quite understand how her mom has been able to move on and get a new boyfriend, she doesn't really relate to her tween brother, and she hates feeling disconnected from everything. All that said, though, the film makes it clear that the ties that bind us to our family are strong ones, especially when the chips are down. Charlie's mother, her brother (Otis), and even her mom's boyfriend (Ron) all step up to help Charlie and run interference between her and the dangerous things around her. And they all express their love for one another.

Charlie and Bumblebee actually end up forming a very similar kind of familial bond with each other. The giant robot has his memory core and other key components damaged in battle before Charlie ever discovers him. But Bumblebee still has instinctual need to protect those he cares about, as does Charlie, for that matter.

And the movie suggests that this shared instinct to choose love and self-sacrifice is a powerful internal motivation for both of these characters (and others as well). The film also illustrates how protecting someone you care about can work as a healing balm for your own emotional wounds. At one point, in fact, Bumblebee even goes out of his way to save the life of someone who had intended to harm him.

Spiritual Content

When a mean-girl teen sees Charlie in her hot dog-stand outfit, she snorts, "If I had to wear that, I'd pray to be fired."

Charlie continues to work on an old car that she and her dad were repairing together on the weekends. The process without him, however, hasn't gone well. "I've thought that if I could get it to start … maybe he would hear me," she tells Bumblebee in a moment of frustration.

Sexual Content

Though never clearly confirmed, we get the impression that Ron, Mom's new boyfriend, is actually living with the Watson family. We see the pair kissing in the kitchen.

Charlie also gives Memo, a friend from down the street, a kiss on the cheek. It's obvious that he'd like to see the relationship go further. He even tries to hold her hand after one adventure, but she pulls back saying, "No. We're not there yet."

Past Transformer movies often ogled female characters. This go 'round, though, things are quite different in that area. We see some teen girls wearing low cut tops, and Charlie briefly bares her midriff at one point, but it's the guys who bare the most skin. Memo loses his shirt and goes bare-chested for a while. So does another male student. And that second guy later strips down to his boxer shorts before diving off an elevated cliff into the water. We also see a poster of a woman in a skimpy bikini in the background of a teen boy's room.

A woman complains that her boyfriend tried to sleep with her sister.

Violent Content

As you'd likely expect, the robotic battles on CGI display here can certainly be big, bombastic, perilous-looking and explosive. Scores of Transformers smash and bash each other in the film's opening moments and later on, too. Explosives detonate. Large objects and blades slam into and through metal foes. And we witness many robots being crushed, slashed, sliced in half and ripped apart. One scene depicts what is essentially a robot being brutally executed by two others. Robotic arms get snapped off, and their inner workings are torn out with force. Several times we watch robot fighters either explode into pieces or get torn asunder.

The Decepticons are painted as vicious, vindictive liars who actually enjoy hurting and tormenting their foes. Bumblebee has his voicebox ripped out by a sharp object. Large harpoons pierce his body, tying him down with heavy steel cables. He's hung up by chains in what appears to have been a torture session of some sort (offscreen). He's also pummeled and beaten, his metal body clanking and screeching from the blows, and then hit with a devastating laser blast.

On the human front, we see men hit with missiles and high caliber weapons. Bodies fly in all directions when explosives detonate and large spacecraft smash into the Earth. Two men are struck with Decepticon laser blasts that literally liquefy them into a gush of gelatinous goop. One soldier's face is pretty badly cut and bleeding on two separate occasions. Charlie and her friend Memo get pretty banged up and scraped too.

To a lesser extent, Charlie gets manhandled (or … robot-handled?) repeatedly. She's tossed about, slammed into hard surfaces and is knocked unconscious by electrical shocks. We hear that Charlie's dad died of an unexpected heart attack. Charlie, Memo and Bumblebee also lead a police officer on a high-speed car chase—ultimately smashing the cop car without any consequences.

Crude or Profane Language

A couple of s-words join one use of "a--" and seven or eight uses each of "h---" and "d--n." There are nearly 20 total misuses of God's and Jesus' name. We hear one use each of "shoot" and "freakin'." A crude reference is made to the male anatomy.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Charlie's mother wonders aloud if her overly excited daughter is on drugs.

Other Negative Elements

A mean girl teases Charlie about her father dying. Charlie and her friend Memo then lay out a plan to seek revenge on the girl: They plan on TP-ing and egging the girl's car, with Bumblebee "helping." But he gets a bit too enthusiastic and destroys the mean girl's car, a bit of vandalism for which there are never any consequences. Charlie's brother Otis vomits in a scene that's played for laughs.

Conclusion

Movie critics are all abuzz: Is it possible that this movie Bumblebee could actually be … good? Can it feasibly be true that a transforming robot prequel pic is more than just a rapid-fire image-spew of destruction and cacophonous obliteration? (You know, like every other recent Transformers flick.) Could Bumblebee actually be … more than meets the eye?

Well, I'll go out on my movie-reviewing limb and say … yeah that's, uh, pretty much true.

Bumblebee definitely has its whirling, clunking, interchanging metal and gear plusses. For one thing, the moviemakers' choice to transform this into a girl and her robot tale, and cast Hailee Steinfeld as the lead, was an oh-so smart decision. Steinfeld's Charlie is likeable, relatable and she actually makes you care for the young hero this go 'round. And that also means the teen-boy lusty bits of some past films in the franchise are left behind in their respective piles of scrap metal.

On top of that, the extra time the movie spends with Charlie—and its focus on a single Transformer—actually equates to a real story to work through here. There are certainly still some large gaping logic holes to be leapt over now and again, but at least they're situated in a relatively emotive and cathartic tale that actually makes sense.

Even the Transformer hero Bumblebee is able to carry a little more of a beating heart into the usual laser-blasting, metal-clanging mix. When he snuggles his big metallic frame in for a reassuring Charlie hug, hey, even a battling-robot-skeptical Mom can't help but go, Awww. In fact, during our screening of the film, I heard a tiny tot in the audience cry out in tears when she thought the big yellow bot may have actually powered down to that big junkyard in the sky. (If you're wondering, he doesn't.)

Oddly, though, that's the very thing that might make a few of this pic's plusses an issue for some families. Even though the story skews younger, seeing people zapped into a splash of goop and friendly robots ripped and torn could well be disturbing for little eyes. And then there's the language. This pic's rough-edged dialogue is also dialed down a bit from the most recent Transformer flicks, but it's still pretty harsh for the jungle-gym gang.

Bumblebee is indeed a sweeter, easier-to-swallow Transformer pic. But it's not without its sticky side.

As Bumblebee and Charlie discovered, there are things worth protecting, namely our faith and our family. Here are some tips to encourage you in your fight:

Why Your Kids Need Intentional Parents

Encouraging Men to be Good Dads (Part 1 of 2)

Protecting the Call God has Placed on You

Bad Dads of the Bible: 8 Mistakes Every Good Dad Can Avoid

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Hailee Steinfeld as Charlie Watson; John Cena as Agent Burns; Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Memo; Pamela Adlon as Mom; Jason Drucker as Otis; Dylan O'Brien as the voice Bumblebee; Justin Theroux as the voice of Dropkick; Angela Bassett as the voice of Shatter; Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime

Director

Travis Knight ( )

Distributor

Paramount Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

December 21, 2018

On Video

April 2, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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