Sunday, December 30, 2018

Movies: Bumblebee

Michael Bay's brand of cheesy, over-the-top action spectacle worked fine in the first "Transformers" movie, but it became increasingly hard to swallow in sequel after sequel (to the point where 2017's entry, "The Last Knight," barely cracked $600 million worldwide, which surely must've irked some Chinese investors).

"Bumblebee," a prequel/spin-off/soft reboot starring Hailee Steinfeld, wisely opts for a simpler approach:

The film is set in 1987 and follows a misfit teenager named Charlie, who is having a rough time of it after the sudden death of her father. One day, Charlie finds a decrepit yellow VW Bug in a scrapyard, and, wouldn't you know it, the car transforms into everyone's favorite Autobot scout. Unfortunately, old Bee ain't alone here on Earth. The Decepticons are hunting him and Optimus Prime, and it'll be up to Bumblebee, Charlie, and a hardnosed Section 7 agent (John Cena, doing yeoman's work) to thwart their plans.

This is the first "Transformers" movie helmed by someone other than Michael Bay, and the change works wonders. Travis Knight ("Kubo and the Two Strings") takes familiar ingredients, but instead of blending them into an incomprehensible Bay-sian stew, he puts them together into a functioning story with solid action and *gasp* emotional payoffs. By the end of "Bumblebee," the Bay films feel like garish parodies of the universe presented here. This is the "Transformers" movie that should have been made 11 years ago.

Now, I don't want to oversell "Bumblebee," because in many ways it's a fairly typical fish-out-of-water alien visitor/coming-of-age story (think Steven Spielberg's "E.T.," Brad Bird's "The Iron Giant," and "Suburban Commando"). There were also several times when the '80s nostalgia crosses the line from fun to obnoxious (I hope you like "The Breakfast Club" - Travis Knight sure does). Still, these are minor quibbles in what is probably the best live-action "Transformers" movie ever made.

Rating: 8/10


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