Hailee Steinfeld and her brand new Transformer, Bumblebee.
Photo: Jaimie Trueblood (Paramount Pictures)

After the last few Transformers movies, it seems safe to say not many people are excited for another one. That’s why Bumblebee is trying to do something different. It’s got Travis Knight—the director of Kubo and the Two Strings—at the helm, and it takes place in the ‘80s, long before the original films started, and the era when Transformers became popular in the first place. At CinemaCon in Las Vegas this week, Paramount showed the first footage from the upcoming film, and it was extremely encouraging.

What we saw blended the best parts of the Michael Bay movies—the visuals and action—with what feels like a lot more character and heart. Here’s how it broke down.

An old-school alarm clock goes off at 8am. A young woman slams it and begrudgingly gets out of bed. She’s wearing a metal concert t-shirt and her room is plastered with rock posters. She grabs a cassette tape off the shelf and starts listening on her Walkman as she gets ready for the day. When she takes it off, though, she hears the same song coming from the garage.

She goes to investigate and sees the car she recently got from a junkyard, an old yellow Volkswagen Bug. The song was coming from inside. So she curiously looks at it and notices something has fallen from the bottom of the car. She goes underneath to check it and, while under there, notices what looks like a face. She shines her flashlight on it and the eyes light up. Suddenly the whole car is shifting around her until it becomes something totally new.

This Transformer looks very much like the Transformers of the last five movies, but with a few key changes. Mainly, a much more prominent area on its chest that looks like its car form, the VW Bug. It’s a pretty interesting mix of the new movie look and old, G1 toy look. At first, both the Transformer and girl are scared. She starts to run but he does the same and trips over something. She realizes he’s not a threat, he’s a klutz. So she slowly, hesitantly, walks back in.

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The girl asks the Transformer if it speaks. It shakes its head no. It then sees she has a wrench in her hand and gets scared. She assures it she won’t hurt it. “Can you understand me?” she asks. The Transformer nods. She asks its name and it doesn’t really know. But, thanks to the sounds it’s making, she says it sounds like a bee, and decides to call it Bumblebee. “Matches your outfit, too.” Bee then points at the girl as if to ask “Who are you?” She says she’s Charlie Watson and today is her 18th birthday.

From there, the footage cut to a more traditional trailer. Humvees, machine guns, military, you name it. It looks very, very much like the original Michael Bay movies, just with fewer Transformers. But there are other Transformers in the film, including what almost looked like a male and female that were blue and red, respectively. Then later, there was an evil jet (who may or may not have been one of those first two) that just happened to have bright red, white, and blue coloring. Yes, it looked very much like a G1 Starscream, except with those Michael Bay bones—a nice blend of the movies with recognizable touches. We can’t confirm if it was Starscream but this character was certainly made to look like it.

Overall, that balance is what really stuck out in the Bumblebee footage. The characters look like the new movies, but with some old flair. There’s a real relationship between a girl and her car at the center of the action, but there’s still a lot of action. It’ll be weird to have a Transformers movie without Optimus Prime, but Bumblebee could bring back the fans if the movie lives up to its potential.

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Bumblebee opens December 21.