Saturday, December 22, 2018

Film Review: BumbleBee

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

There are so many things that I admire about this Transformers reboot, BumbleBee.  I only wish that this admiration had been fully realized in the film's execution.

This movie is a retcon/ reboot of the Michael Bay directed Transformers films.  It is confusing because a lot of the look of the movie is the same.  And they keep elements intact from that original series of films like the issue with BumbleBee's voice.  However,, the look of the robots is simplified to look much more like the Generation One design of the original cartoon show.  In fact, the film is set during that show's original time period of the 1980's

The story begins with the Autobots escaping Cybertron.  I must admit that this sequence made the 80's child in me giddy with nostalgic fun.  BumbleBee (Dylan O'Brien)  is given a mission by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) to protect Earth.  When he lands, he crashes into an American military training exercise led by Agent Burns (John Cena), which causes injury to his men.  When a Decepticon arrives, American lives are lost.  BumbleBee has his voice and memory damaged and reverts to the form a Volkswagen Beetle.  He is later found by Charlie Wilson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage mechanic who recently lost her father.  Together, she forms a friendship with BumbleBee that is reminiscent of ET and The Iron Giant.  All the while, the Decepticons are hunting BumbleBee as well as the American military.  The two of them, along with Charlie's nerdy neighbor Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), they must keep the world safe from invasion.

As I said, there is a great deal to admire about this film.  The action set pieces are wonderful specatcles.  The relationship between BumbleBee and Charlie feels very real, which is a feat for the director Travis Knight, considering that one of them is CGI.  You can tell a lot of work went into making BumbleBee's facial expressions something that would evoke empathy and pathos.  The designs are not only a clear throwback to the originals, but the simplified look is more pleasing to see than the previous designs.  And I have to say it is such a relief to have a transformers film where I high-school aged girl is not constantly being sexualized by the camera.  Charlie is slightly tomboyish, but she is clearly feminine without the director leering at her body constantly.  In that sense it reminded me of how Patty Jenkins directed Wonder Woman.  And Steinfeld is fantastic.  In fact, she is much better than all of the other actors in the movie put together.

To be clear, the acting quality in the rest of the movie is poor, even for a Transformers movie.  Cena is particularly the worst offender.  I feel badly writing this, because he seems to be a genuinely good dude and you can tell he is really trying.  But he really needs to work with an acting coach.  He tries to be like Mark Wahlberg, but he reminds me of Simpsons character Rainer Wolfcastles trying to play Radioactive Man.  He plays the emotion and not the character.  The other actors all hit the same problem, like the ones who play Charlie's family or the mean girls who pick on her.  Lendeborg is fine and has a geeky charm about him, but there is no question that Steinfeld is acting rings around everyone else.  To her credit, she doesn't ham it up like Shia LeBouf did when he had the lead.  She fully commits to the emotion of the movie and that raises it out of the cheesiness.

While the story has heart it in no way feels fresh.  The ground that the script is treading is well-worn and familiar to the point of cliche.  When we find out that Charlie quit her diving career when her father died, we know that it will play some role by the end.  But it all feels shoehorned and the scenes feel like disconnected moments strung together by screenwriter Christina Hodson.  And honestly it is in the script that the movie could have been elevated.  This is ironic since in some ways this is the cheapest part of the process and requires only a little more time.  But if they had just pushed a little harder on the emotional depth and cast some slightly better actors, this could have been the best of the Transformers films.

But as it is, it is not noxiously bad like Revenge of the Fallen or The Last Knight, but it also never really achieves those knockout action moments in Dark of the Moon or Age of Extinction.  Instead, BumbleBee lands just on the positive side of average, but with potential to grow.  If you are willing to spend the time and money, it is a diverting, though insubstantial, couple of hours.

image by Yasir72.multan

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