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In Bumblebee, girl and robot work together to save the planet. The robot is B-127, an Autobot sent to Earth from the planet Cybertron, where he was a member of the resistance battling the Decepticons. If that makes sense, then you probably grew up playing with Transformers, the action figures on which the film is based.
The girl is Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), heartsick over her father’s death, bullied at school, and misunderstood at home. For her 18th birthday, her stepfather gives her a book on smiling. She retreats to the garage to work on a car and blast music. If the bands in the film’s soundtrack (Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, et al.) appear in your cassette-tape collection, then you probably grew up listening to the pop music of the late 1980s, the era in which the film is set.
Because B-127 knows the whereabouts of resistance leader Optimus Prime, two Decepticons track him to Earth. The Decepticons dupe the American military into helping them find B-127, but also secretly plan to destroy humankind. B-127 is disguised as a yellow Volkswagen Beetle when Charlie finds him in a junkyard. He transforms into a 10-foot, weaponized robot, whom she names Bumblebee. As trouble comes looking for the new best friends, the fates of two planets are at stake.
Tender moments between Charlie and Bumblebee recall King Kong. The transformations from vehicle to robot demonstrate CGI wizardry. The PG-13 film contains pervasive expletives, along with violence, although most of it is bot-on-bot. (A few humans are blasted into puddles of goo.)
Is Bumblebee’s subtext that men are unreliable? Dad’s dead, stepdad’s a dimwit, and goofy wannabe boyfriend Memo is a doormat. So, maybe. But director Travis Knight also seems to prize purity—a refreshing change for a teen flick. Charlie receives a surprise peck on the cheek from Memo, but as the film ends, she says she’s “not yet ready” even to hold hands.