Saturday, 29 December 2018

Review: Bumblebee

Bumblebee (2D)
Cert: PG / 114 mins / Dir. Travis Knight / Trailer

For imminent reference and to avoid gratuitous link-dropping within the text*1:
Reviews of Revenge Of The Fallen | Dark Of The Moon | Age Of Extinction | The Last Knight.
2007's Transformers was before I started writing reviews, but for what it's worth I enjoyed it thoroughly. At the time.

First thing first, the first ten minutes of Bumblebee brought a tear to my eye. Not through any emotional manipulation by the script, just the sheer jaw-dropping clarity, energy and joy with which Cybertron and its ongoing civil war are rendered. The first ten minutes of Bumblebee are from a photo-realistic animated film, the like of which would have made my younger self wet himself with excitement. From the other end, I mean. Not just the high-end detailing and weighting of the models on display, but also that these are pretty damned faithful 21st century interpretations of the actual G1 Transformers. Which is to say that Soundwave, Starscream and Shockwave look like their 1980s iterations, colours and all, rather than something which has been updated and re-imagined. As does Prime. And as does the little yellow fella.

This sequence also plants the suggestion that the best parts of Bumblebee may be the ones which don't feature any humans at all. And so it proves.


So: something something, 'Autobots have to flee Cybertron to avoid losing the war outright'; something something 'Bumblebee chosen as an advance scout'; something something, 'Bumblebee arrives on Earth way before everyone else and has adventures and that. This one happens in 1987'. I'll be honest, I think this pretty much gels with the first ten minutes of the first Transformers film, but as much as I enjoyed the first three of those, my memory has been somewhat soured by the following two, and to be honest I've just been too busy recently to go back and re-watch any of them, never mind all.

Also, I think there are bits of Bumblebee which don't dovetail into that film's timeline, and quite frankly I'm still too busy to start picking Transformers films apart again. There are others who can do that far better than I can, and I've spent my fury on the franchise. If the series wants to soft-reboot itself, fine. I only went to watch Bumblebee because it genuinely looked like a great ride which tries to recapture what made Transformers fun and engaging to begin with.


So anyway, it turns out that Bumblebee is a great ride which largely succeeds in recapturing what made Transformers fun and engaging to begin with. Don't get me wrong, it's not groundbreaking in looks, style or execution. But it's a firm step in the right direction. The central story of a girl, Charlie, and her first car is a touching one, played completely straight by Hailee Steinfeld (and is all the better for that). As a outsider figure and borderline geek, Charlie fits perfectly into the role typically filled by one of the Witwicky-kids, full of warmth and wonder. That said, as great as Steinfeld is (when is she not?) and as great as Bumblebee is (ditto), the two performances never quite meet in the middle. But that's of little consequence in a movie that's supposed to be throwaway entertainment.

And the rest of the humans? Well. John Cena illustrates once again that he's the loveable, wisecracking tough-guy you telephone when the casting budget won't stretch to Dwayne Johnson. In the guise of military curmudgeon 'Agent Burns', John also illustrates that you get what you pay for. Not awful, certainly an upgrade from Mark McMark, but bringing little to the party other than monosyllabically explaining the jokes ("Don't run! Don't run!!…" *Charlie runs* "…she ran.")


But what's a 1980s film without industrial levels of Nostalgia™, eh? And click in that seatbelt because Bumblebee hopes you've got a penchant for 80s songs at a needle-drop rate of one-every-three-minutes-or-so. And for the most part that's fine, the hits are in there and so are a few slightly more specialist tunes. Although speaking of which, one of the movie's more pointed gags left me exhaling slightly too loudly.

As intimated above, this an era through which I was lucky enough to live at a relatively musically cognisant age. As such I find it hard to believe that the kid who's into The Smiths and Motorhead (because she Wears The T-shirts™) is going to have a Rick Astley cassette just lying around in the garage, when in the Summer of 1987 that would have been brand new. In fact, unless 'Never Gonna Give You Up' appears here on a perfectly cued compilation tape, there wasn't a cassette release of that song until the 'Whenever You Need Somebody' album landed in November of that year. And this film doesn't look like it takes place in November, California or not. God I love being a middle-aged pedant.


But hey, it's not a documentary. We can perhaps console Sir Tim Berners-Lee dropping his popcorn at the notion that the Decepticons invented the internet (especially since TCP/IP was formulated in 1983 anyway) with the knowledge that a scene in sidekick Memo's (Jorge Lendeborg Jr's) bedroom showing a spectacular collection of Secret Wars figures on the shelf behind him. And we can probably gloss over the moustache-twirling army shenanigans and high school melodrama as something which come packaged with the story anyway.

And we can at least act surprised at the script-boomerang of Charlie's diving career managing to fly back in the third act, so utterly leaden was its execution in the first. And at times it's even possible to forgive the screenplay repeatedly playing the 'oh noes Bumblebee being tortured!' card, even though a) we've seen that in other Transformers films, and b) those all happen after this one so the character is never in any real danger anyway.

Just don't ask how the comedic family-sequences managed to work better when Shia LaBeouf was leading them. And maybe don't ask how stalwart voice-performer Peter Cullen manages to make Optimus Prime sound like Liam Neeson these days. And certainly don't ask how our central hero gets accidentally switched on and pumps out a tiny auto-signal which can be detected across the galaxy, but when two Decepticons want to send a simple homing beacon to their boss they've got to hijack a 200ft radio tower.


Bumblebee is quite good. And I promise you at this point, that's more than enough.

Oh, and this film takes place in 1987.
It Takes 2 was released in 1988.
Stop getting nostalgia wrong.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
For better or worse, other Transformers movies.
This is the sixth one, and you should expect that

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Just about, might as well see it big.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Yeah, although probably not until the disc-price drops (and/or you can stream it as part of your package).

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's not go that far.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The voices of Canto Bight's Master Codebreaker, GT-era Asajj Ventress and Zeb Orrelios are in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yeah like that usually bothers me… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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