Reel Opinions


Friday, December 21, 2018

Bumblebee

Bumblebee is the live action Transformers movie I have been waiting to see since 2007.  After the five previous Michael Bay-directed entries emphasized sex, racism and low brow jokes, here is a movie that goes right to the heart of the story, has a gentle sense of humor, and likable characters.  Bay gave us preposterous world-shaking stakes, as well as clunky and jerky giant robot battles that never seemed to end.  This latest film is quieter and gentler, but still able to deliver on action and thrills.  In other words, this is the direction these films should have been going in since the beginning.

Michael Bay is still attached as a producer, but director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) and screenwriter Christina Hodson (Unforgettable) have wisely pretty much tossed the entire saga up to now aside, and started fresh.  This is essentially a prequel film, allowing the filmmakers to strike out on their own.  And rather than focus on a wide variety of giant robots, and their eternal struggle, the movie decides to focus on just one little alien robot outcast, and his relationship with a human teenage girl who feels like an outcast in her own society.  Yes, we've seen this plot before in movies like E.T. and The Iron Giant, but it works within the universe of these characters.  This is a more personal and intimate movie, or at least as personal and as intimate as you can get when one of your main characters is a towering robot who changes into a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle.   It's also leaner and much more tightly edited, running at just under two hours.  Considering the last few movies were pushing three hours, this is almost like a gift from the Heavens.

The movie kicks off in a familiar fashion for these movies, with a massive battle being raged between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons for control of the planet Cybertron.  The Autubots are being forced to pull back, and their noble leader Optimus Prime (voice by Peter Cullen) orders his troops to escape and regroup at a later time.  One of Prime's soldiers, a little yellow robot named B-127, is sent to Earth to scout the planet, and contact his fellow Autobots once he feels it is safe for them.  The robot lands on our world, and has the extreme misfortune of running into some military soldiers led by the suspicious Agent Burns (John Cena), who immediately sees the alien visitor as a threat.  His troubles continue when two Decepticons, Shatter (voice by Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (voice by Justin Theroux), follow him to Earth and try to destroy him before he can complete his mission, and wind up destroying his electronic voice box, so he can no longer speak.

The frightened robot is forced to go into hiding, passing himself off as a junked car, until he is discovered by the tomboyish Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), who has a passion for fixing cars, and doesn't fit in with the teenage crowd at her school.  Charlie finds the robot in the form of a Volkswagen Beetle, fixes him up, and quickly learns his secret when he is forced to reveal his identity in front of her.  She names him Bumblebee, and the two bond over the fact that they are both outcasts.  She teaches him how to use radio signals and music to express what he's feeling, since he can't talk, and he in turn teaches her how to overcome the pain of losing her beloved father a few years ago, and to move on with her life.  If this all sounds cheesy (or possibly insane), it is, but the way the movie handles the material is kind of sweet, and it ropes you in with a knowing sense of humor and a surprising amount of heart.

Bumblebee is set in 1987, and it constantly likes to remind you of that fact.  There is of course the soundtrack, made up of popular hits from the era, as well as the numerous references to The Breakfast Club, ALF, and Mr. T cereal.   This is all pretty stock, as is the plot itself, which asks the question of can a machine designed for war learn to love and respect life?  I assume anyone who has seen the aforementioned The Iron Giant already knows the answer to this question, but the movie gets a lot of support from the lead performance by Hailee Steinfeld, and the relationship that she builds with the CG robot.  Steinfeld has long been one of our most talented young actresses, since she came into the spotlight with 2010's True Grit.  But here, she shows an uncanny ability to create a realistic and heartfelt performance when a majority of her scenes are spent talking to something that wasn't there on the set.  She is constantly believable, likable, and creates a much more genuine human lead than we usually see in Transformers.

Even the lead robot is much more sympathetic than we expect.  Bumblebee is a funny and adorable reluctant hero, and the movie seems to share his view that it would be much better to play on the beach or explore a forest than to engage in explosive Sci-Fi battles.  As I mentioned, this is a much quieter film that wants to explore the building relationship between this unlikely pair.  But, when it's time for the special effects to completely take over, the movie is equally strong, featuring cleanly edited battles that are easy to follow.  And because this movie actually bothers to create emotional stakes for these battles (a first for the franchise), we find ourselves actually caring about Bumblebee as he blasts at Decepticons and tries to keep Charlie safe.  Am I saying that this is a deep or powerful movie?  Certainly not.  But, when Bumblebee snatches Charlie up into his arms, and runs away from danger to protect her, it actually manages to have an impact on the viewer.

Bumblebee has a lot of inspirations, and it's easy to spot them, as the movie does little to hide the fact that this is essentially one big nostalgic 80s movie.  But the filmmakers know better than just to fall back on familiar names or references, and gives the film an actual heart and knowing sense of humor.  My only wish is that future films in the series use this as their template, and that jaded fans who felt bilked by the earlier movies will give this one a chance.  I understand if you're suspicious.  So was I.  But I walked out pleasantly surprised.

1 comments

09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005
10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005
11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005
12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006
01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006
02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006
03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006
04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006
05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006
06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006
07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006
08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006
09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006
10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006
11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006
12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007
01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007
02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007
03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007
04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007
05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007
06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007
07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007
08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007
09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007
10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007
11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007
12/01/2007 - 01/01/2008
01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008
02/01/2008 - 03/01/2008
03/01/2008 - 04/01/2008
04/01/2008 - 05/01/2008
05/01/2008 - 06/01/2008
06/01/2008 - 07/01/2008
07/01/2008 - 08/01/2008
08/01/2008 - 09/01/2008
09/01/2008 - 10/01/2008
10/01/2008 - 11/01/2008
11/01/2008 - 12/01/2008
12/01/2008 - 01/01/2009
01/01/2009 - 02/01/2009
02/01/2009 - 03/01/2009
03/01/2009 - 04/01/2009
04/01/2009 - 05/01/2009
05/01/2009 - 06/01/2009
06/01/2009 - 07/01/2009
07/01/2009 - 08/01/2009
08/01/2009 - 09/01/2009
09/01/2009 - 10/01/2009
10/01/2009 - 11/01/2009
11/01/2009 - 12/01/2009
12/01/2009 - 01/01/2010
01/01/2010 - 02/01/2010
02/01/2010 - 03/01/2010
03/01/2010 - 04/01/2010
04/01/2010 - 05/01/2010
05/01/2010 - 06/01/2010
06/01/2010 - 07/01/2010
07/01/2010 - 08/01/2010
08/01/2010 - 09/01/2010
09/01/2010 - 10/01/2010
10/01/2010 - 11/01/2010
11/01/2010 - 12/01/2010
12/01/2010 - 01/01/2011
01/01/2011 - 02/01/2011
02/01/2011 - 03/01/2011
03/01/2011 - 04/01/2011
04/01/2011 - 05/01/2011
05/01/2011 - 06/01/2011
06/01/2011 - 07/01/2011
07/01/2011 - 08/01/2011
08/01/2011 - 09/01/2011
09/01/2011 - 10/01/2011
10/01/2011 - 11/01/2011
11/01/2011 - 12/01/2011
12/01/2011 - 01/01/2012
01/01/2012 - 02/01/2012
02/01/2012 - 03/01/2012
03/01/2012 - 04/01/2012
04/01/2012 - 05/01/2012
05/01/2012 - 06/01/2012
06/01/2012 - 07/01/2012
07/01/2012 - 08/01/2012
08/01/2012 - 09/01/2012
09/01/2012 - 10/01/2012
10/01/2012 - 11/01/2012
11/01/2012 - 12/01/2012
12/01/2012 - 01/01/2013
01/01/2013 - 02/01/2013
02/01/2013 - 03/01/2013
03/01/2013 - 04/01/2013
04/01/2013 - 05/01/2013
05/01/2013 - 06/01/2013
06/01/2013 - 07/01/2013
07/01/2013 - 08/01/2013
08/01/2013 - 09/01/2013
09/01/2013 - 10/01/2013
10/01/2013 - 11/01/2013
11/01/2013 - 12/01/2013
12/01/2013 - 01/01/2014
01/01/2014 - 02/01/2014
02/01/2014 - 03/01/2014
03/01/2014 - 04/01/2014
04/01/2014 - 05/01/2014
05/01/2014 - 06/01/2014
06/01/2014 - 07/01/2014
07/01/2014 - 08/01/2014
08/01/2014 - 09/01/2014
09/01/2014 - 10/01/2014
10/01/2014 - 11/01/2014
11/01/2014 - 12/01/2014
12/01/2014 - 01/01/2015
01/01/2015 - 02/01/2015
02/01/2015 - 03/01/2015
03/01/2015 - 04/01/2015
04/01/2015 - 05/01/2015
05/01/2015 - 06/01/2015
06/01/2015 - 07/01/2015
07/01/2015 - 08/01/2015
08/01/2015 - 09/01/2015
09/01/2015 - 10/01/2015
10/01/2015 - 11/01/2015
11/01/2015 - 12/01/2015
12/01/2015 - 01/01/2016
01/01/2016 - 02/01/2016
02/01/2016 - 03/01/2016
03/01/2016 - 04/01/2016
04/01/2016 - 05/01/2016
05/01/2016 - 06/01/2016
06/01/2016 - 07/01/2016
07/01/2016 - 08/01/2016
08/01/2016 - 09/01/2016
09/01/2016 - 10/01/2016
10/01/2016 - 11/01/2016
11/01/2016 - 12/01/2016
12/01/2016 - 01/01/2017
01/01/2017 - 02/01/2017
02/01/2017 - 03/01/2017
03/01/2017 - 04/01/2017
04/01/2017 - 05/01/2017
05/01/2017 - 06/01/2017
06/01/2017 - 07/01/2017
07/01/2017 - 08/01/2017
08/01/2017 - 09/01/2017
09/01/2017 - 10/01/2017
10/01/2017 - 11/01/2017
11/01/2017 - 12/01/2017
12/01/2017 - 01/01/2018
01/01/2018 - 02/01/2018
02/01/2018 - 03/01/2018
03/01/2018 - 04/01/2018
04/01/2018 - 05/01/2018
05/01/2018 - 06/01/2018
06/01/2018 - 07/01/2018
07/01/2018 - 08/01/2018
08/01/2018 - 09/01/2018
09/01/2018 - 10/01/2018
10/01/2018 - 11/01/2018
11/01/2018 - 12/01/2018
12/01/2018 - 01/01/2019
01/01/2019 - 02/01/2019
02/01/2019 - 03/01/2019
03/01/2019 - 04/01/2019
04/01/2019 - 05/01/2019
05/01/2019 - 06/01/2019

Powered by Blogger