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Bumblebee reviews speak of a low-key departure from Michael Bay and a loving homage to early Spielberg

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Dec 9, 2018, 11:04 AM EST

As it turns out, the key to making a really good live-action movie about Transformers was to remove Michael Bay from the director's chair. Who woulda thunk it, right?

The first reviews for Paramount's Bumblebee (out Dec. 21) are now online and they don't hesitate to mention that director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) brings a lighter and loving hand to the franchise, resulting in the best live-action Tranformers film yet. As director of Laika Studios, Knight has a stop-motion animator's eye for detail and does away with the incoherent explosions and metal-on-metal action the last few entries are known for. 

As the film is set at the tail end of the 1980s, you just know that it acts as a love letter to Steven Spielberg, who has been an executive producer of the franchise since 2007. Between the old school Transformer designs inspired by the original cartoon and the E.T.-esque relationship of 'Bee and young Charlie (played by Hailee Steinfeld), is enough to make one wistful for the Reagan Era culture that has become so popular in our media over the last few years. 

Written by Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey), Bumblebee co-stars John Cena, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, John Ortiz, Pamela Adlon, and Dylan O'Brien as the voice of the titular robot. 

Check out what critics are saying in the review snippets below...

"Screenwriter Christina Hodson clearly imagined Bumblebee as a throwback to classic Amblin-style boy-and-his-dog movies, directly channeling elements of such films as E.T.Harry and the Hendersons, and *batteries not included (there’s a running joke about the adopt-an-alien sitcom ALF being popular at the time)." -Peter Debruge, Variety

"By taking the Transformers universe in a new, more intimate character-driven direction, screenwriter Christina Hodson (who has the Suicide Squad Harley Quinn sequel Birds of Prey up next) plays directly to the franchise’s roots. Skillfully shaping what’s essentially a coming-of-age story for both Charlie and Bumblebee, Hodson layers in a sense of wonder and discovery that effectively recaptures the innovation and energy of the 2007 original. It’s an effective reimagining that also bears a knowing resemblance to classic youth-oriented films from Bumblebee executive producer Steven Spielberg." -Justin Lowe, The Hollywood Reporter

"It is nice to report that in the new spin-off/prequel film Bumblebee (which hands the filmmaking reigns to Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight), there are many scenes where giant robots fight each other, and in those scenes, you can actually see what’s happening. The Autobots and Decepticons toss each other around with slick judo-like moves and blast each other with abandon, and the cinematography and editing hold still long enough to let you enjoy each moment." -Liz Shannon Miller, IndieWire

"From an electrifying prologue depicting the fall of Cybertron (in which we’re treated to a rapid-fire line-up of fan favourites, ripped from the cells of the 1984 cartoon), it’s clear Knight has a deep-seated affection for Transformers, hitting every nostalgic note with a virtuoso’s ear. It’s made that much easier by placing the property in its natural habitat, surrounded by clunky Walkmen, Mr T cereal boxes and John Hughes movies, set to a playlist of classic ’80s bangers ...  Steven Spielberg’s DNA feels baked into Bumblebee, resulting in an ’80s movie not just in setting and aesthetic but also sensibility — a high-octane concept Transformed into an Amblin love letter." -James Dyer, Empire Magazine

"Mercifully, Bay’s wrecking-ball aesthetics are little in evidence in Bumblebee, which, compared with its bigger, noisier brethren, turns out to be a mercifully short, smooth ride ...  You can actually see and follow what’s going on for a change when those giant Hasbro robots go at it, as they do in a smoothly executed opening sequence on the distant planet of Cybertron." -Justin Chang, The Los Angeles Times

"This ‘80s-set prequel does strip away all the clutter and bloat that had piled onto the series over the last decade and refocuses on the bond between young human and ‘bot that it all began with back in 2007. Much of this refreshing change is due to Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) stepping in as director after Michael Bay helmed the first five movies." -Jim Vejvoda, IGN

"Bumblebee, directed by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), is the best Transformers movie so far, going all the way back to the 1986 animated film. And although one could argue that that’s a relatively low bar, since narrative coherence and recognizable character development are all it really takes to best its predecessors, saying so is more than merely damning Bumblebee with faint praise. This really is a sound, satisfying, enjoyable action movie for the whole family." -William Bibbiani, The Wrap

"There's an inherent goofiness to Transformers that's impossible to avoid. We're talking about big robots from space that transform into Volkswagons and Camaros and fighter jets. Bumblebee doesn't shy away from that--it fully embraces the fun silliness. But that's not even the best part about this movie--that would be how it actually feels mostly like a 1980s Spielberg adventure movie, with notes of John Hughes sweetening the mix." -Michael Rougeau, GameSpot

"Bumblebee's director Travis Knight, the man behind the stunning Kubo and the Two Strings, strips things back to basics. Gone are Bay's brand of macho techno-fetishism, leering camerawork peering up the leading ladies' skirts and overblown CG nonsense (well, mostly). Instead, we get a movie based on a line of toys that's actually suitable for kids." -Richard Trenholm, Cnet

"It's an incredible relief to say that Bumblebee exceeds all expectations and delivers a fantastic, emotional, exciting film that ranks as the best live-action Transformers movie to date, by far ... If you grew up with Transformers, the opening five minutes will have you wanting to leap out of your seat and jump with joy. Director Travis Knight essentially lifts imagery from the start of the cartoon pilot to show the war on Cybertron – and it immediately assuages any fears. It's a statement that makes Knight's love of the lore clear, but also that he's putting his own stamp on the movie from a visual standpoint and in the way the action is shot." -Duncan Bowles, Den of Geek