The Movie Waffler New Release Review - BUMBLEBEE | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - BUMBLEBEE

bumblebee movie review
In 1987, a teenager discovers a very special Volkswagen Beetle.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Travis Knight

Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Justin Theroux, Angela Bassett, Pamela Adlon

bumblebee movie poster


Is there any high profile director working today whose work is as derided as Michael Bay? Bay's name has become shorthand for modern Hollywood at its worst, and his Magnum Opus, the Transformers series, provokes sighs from movie lovers every time a new one is announced. Yet, for a long time they kept raking in cash, until audiences were finally ground down by Bay's soulless excess and failed to turn out in numbers for 2017's endurance test The Last Knight.

With Bay exiting the director's chair for Bumblebee, a prequel/reboot set in 1987, and Travis Knight taking over directorial duties, we finally get to see what a Transformers movie looks like without his thumb prints all over it. Turns out a Transformers movie can be fun. Who knew?


bumblebee movie review

Exec producer Steven Spielberg's original pitch for the first live action Transformers movie was "The story of a boy and his first car," though of course Bay never realised the potential of that very Spielbergian premise. Bumblebee is the story of a girl and her first car, and it skews a lot closer to how I imagine Spielberg envisioned this series.

The girl is 18-year-old Californian Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a grease monkey obsessed with repairing the sports car her late father spent his life working on. The car is Bumblebee, an Autobot transformer who escapes to earth when the villainous Decepticons stage a coup on his home planet of Cybertron.

While rummaging through a junkyard for parts, Charlie discovers a broken down yellow Volkswagen Beetle, which she is gifted in a suspension of disbelief testing moment of kindness from the scrapyard's owner. Managing to get the car running, Charlie is shocked when it transforms into a giant robot, but the two quickly become friends.


bumblebee movie review

On the tail of Bumblebee are the US government agency Sector 7, led by John Cena's gung ho soldier Burns, and a pair of Decepticons who have traced the Autobot's signal to California. Along for the ride and to provide comic relief is Charlie's nerdy neighbour Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). Along with shady government agencies and killer droids, Charlie has to contend with bullying bimbos, an annoying kid brother and parents determined to ruin her fun.

Following Brad Bird (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) and Phil Lord and Chris Miller (21 Jump Street), Knight is the latest director to make the transition from overseeing animated features to helming live-action, and like his aforementioned colleagues, he brings an animator's visual flair along with him. There's more economic and clever visual storytelling in the first 10 minutes of Bumblebee than in all five of Bay's movies put together, and Knight and screenwriter Christina Hodson manage to convey important plot points in simple fashion, with none of the over-written, exposition heavy speeches that have plagued this franchise.


bumblebee movie review

Previous installments have been written by committee, with no less than five writers working on the script for The Last Knight. Employing a single writer in Hodson pays off in spades, as she constructs a very easy to follow plot that never gets tied up in itself. It's a throwback to the tight storytelling of the era the film takes place in, and Hodson and Knight replace Bay's crude gags with family friendly charm. Most of the cast here come from comic backgrounds, which greatly aids the film's light and breezy '80s vibe. If Bumblebee had been released in '87, it probably would have been the biggest movie of the year.

Yet while it's a fun ride, Bumblebee is by no means a classic of its genre. Once again we have a Transformers movie that fails to do anything interesting with its robots' ability to transform and blend in with earth, and the plot, while commendably economic, is essentially a knockoff of every boy/girl meets robot/alien movie spewed out by Hollywood in the wake of E.T's box office success. But after five movies of soul destroying blandness from Bay, I'll take the innocent simple charms of Bumblebee. This saga of tin men has finally found a heart.

Bumblebee is in UK/ROI cinemas December 26th, with previews December 15th and 16th.


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