Thursday, 30 May 2019

Film Review #108

Bumblebee (2018)
Director: Travis Knight Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Dylan O'Brien, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux

Certificate: 12A Running Time: 114 Minutes

Tagline: "Every adventure has a beginning"

Like many 80's kids, I was very excited when I heard Michael Bay was making a Transformers film back in the mid-2000's. As it turned out, also like many 80's kids, I was distinctly underwhelmed and didn't even bother watching its sequels after hearing virtually unanimous vitriol directed towards them. However, announced around the time the fifth film in the series was in the cinema was Bumblebee which was, surprisingly, being touted as a reboot. Whatever they decided to call it though, I wasn't really interested in watching it back then. After all, Transformers films suck - that was, by this point, the rule. But then, reports began to surface that it was, in fact, not crap. Could it be true? Well, Michael Bay didn't direct it so there was at least a chance. Could there really be a Transformers film that doesn't suck ass?

In true reboot style, it goes back to the beginning. In this case, to that most glorious of decades - the 80's (hooray!). Here we find Charlie (Steinfeld), a slightly tomboyish teen - independent and mature but with few friends and an unhappy home life, partly due to the death of her father with whom she used to work on cars. Needing a set of wheels to get around in, she makes a deal for an old knackered Beetle she finds, only to find soon afterwards that it's actually a giant robot thingy - crikey! After naming him Bumblebee because of the weird buzzy noises he makes (owing to a damaged voice box), she decides this is probably something best kept to herself, but her secret is soon rumbled anyway by the curiously-named Memo (Lendeborg, Jr), a neighbourhood guy who wants to explore her lady-garden.

Of course, he isn't the only one to become aware of the alien clanker. Two ghastly Decepticons, Shatter and Dropkick (voiced by Bassett and Theroux respectively), detect his signal and quickly pursue it. Their arrival isn't as quiet as that of Bumblebee so they immediately attract the attention of the US Army who, under the command of Col. Burns (Cena), agree to help them find the 'fugitive and traitor' so he can be returned home. Naturally though, young Charlie and her lovestruck new buddy aren't too keen to part ways with their new toy. One malfunctioning clanker and two teenagers versus two fully operational (and evil) clankers with the support of the mighty (and notoriously trigger-happy) US Army? Bring it on!

Jokes aside, the plot isn't hugely original - no surprises there - but there are three vital differences to the earlier films. Firstly, the whole thing is far smaller in scale. There are no universes, or even planets that need saving here. There's just one alien robot, and most people never even know he exists. That means, rather than having massive overblown action sequences where you can't work out what's going on, you can actually follow things here, and you even care about the clumsy yellow oaf of the title. The action is pretty great too, whether it's 'simply' one of the clankers transforming, or if all three of them are knocking seven barrels of crap out of each other. It's all pretty seamless and easy to follow either way.

The second difference with this film is of course the cast. I can't even remember who was in the 2007 film besides LaBeouf and Fox. I guess that says it all really, and I wasn't particularly keen on the two I do remember. Bumblebee, on the other hand, has a much more likeable cast. Including John Cena, in fact. This is the first time I've seen him acting (besides some of his WWE skits) but he's... pretty good. It's entirely unsurprising he's playing a military dude but he pulls it off okay and he has some great lines too. Lendeborg Jr is also pretty funny as the bumbling, out-of-his-depth friend, but best of all is Steinfeld who, unlike Megan Fox, is much more than just eye candy. Her backstory and resultant rebelliousness are rather cliched but she is nonetheless very appealing and has a great screen presence.

The special effects team must also get some recognition. This was one of the few areas the previous films excelled in too, admittedly, but they've brought Bumblebee (the character) to life superbly here. The last major difference between this and the earlier films is one of the most important for viewers of a certain age - the 80's setting. For some it won't mean anything of course, but for me and I'm sure many others, it's truly wonderful! The atmosphere and sense of nostalgia really does add a lot to the enjoyment of an already-enjoyable film and the end result is a fantastic (and rewatchable) sci-fi action film and the biggest pleasant surprise of the year so far. So yes, to answer my own earlier question, there is now finally a good Transformers film! Lets just hope the inevitable sequels don't revert to type.

RKS Score: 9/10


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