I enjoyed the first of the "Transformers" movies, it was loud and full of explosions and destruction, but all that got a little tiresome as the sequels came. Since I was not a child in the 1980s, I barely knew what the Transformers were and probably missed the relationship that younger audiences had with the original cartoons. Still, it is a series based on a toy line, and that seems like the biggest product placement you can have. I assume it has been working, at least up to the last film which was apparently a bust and abysmal.
"Bumblebee" may not draw in the big bucks that the first three films managed, but it will go a long way to restoring some sense of purpose to the concept. This film still has big effects and robots bashing each other, but not nearly as much and the purpose is not to gawk at all the Metropolitan destruction on screen. The battles here are smaller, easier to follow for a number of reasons, and they are mostly connected to the story.
Hailee Steinfeld plays Charlie, an alienated teen (is there any other kind in the movies?), who discovers that the VW Beetle she owns, is not really a Bug, but rather an Apoidea. We see how the robot from another world got here and we know it's mission, but because of combat, it's memory has largely been lost and Charlie and Bumblebee have to figure out was is going on as the story unfolds. The thing that this film seems to get right is the relationship that Charlie and Bee develop together. It takes it's time evolving and there are bumps along the way, but by the end of the film, you can almost believe the tears that will be shed by these characters.
As usual, there is a subplot involving a secret organization of the military, tracking the presence of the robots on Earth. This film is set in 1987, so in essence it is a prequel/reboot of the original films, and thus humans can be deceived by Decepticons, even though we know that is what they call themselves. The smaller scale of the story allows for more coherent visualization of the battles. They are all almost one on one without having to shift angles and focus to close ups every 5 seconds. It made for a more relaxing but still exciting film. Jon Cena has the thankless role of the xenophobic military officer who needs to be enlightened. He is perfectly fine but he does seem like a stand in for Josh Duhamel or Mark Wahlberg.
To say that this is the best "Transformers" movie might be a little bold, but it is clearly more engaging than any of the sequels have been so it has that going for it. The 80s vibe is heavy so all the kids who really did love the cartoons should be happy and there is a good chance that a whole bunch of new wave acts will see a spike in their Spotify numbers in the next month or so. It is entertaining but not essential, go at your own level of desire to see this character, because that's it's real selling point.