‘Blu-ray or Bust’
BUMBLEBEE (2018, PG-13, 114 minutes, ALLSPARK PICTURES/PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
I have enjoyed reviewing the TRANSFORMER movies over the years, mostly due to the fact that they have allowed me to come up with new descriptive terms.
Save for the first one (which I enjoyed), they allowed me to first use the phrases “bucket of monkey vomit”, “as useful as shark nipples”, and “Michael Bay”. The reasons for my dislike of every one of those films (besides the first) was, essentially, that they became too Michael Bay-ish. Yes, he can put together an effective and wonderful action-packed spectacle; ARMAGGEDON and THE ROCK are personal favorites, as is BAD BOYS. Yet at some point, his films became a tad too spectacular, so much so that you have a hard time following the action. Every TRANSFORMERS film seemed determined to out-battle the last, and the crashing metal and exploding machines became redundant and downright careless in execution.
Why on earth would anyone think that an additional entry in the franchise would be necessary? Hasn’t the audience had quite enough? With BUMBLEBEE comes a sudden realization that, holy horse grenades, yes, we did need another TRANSMORMERS film.
Director Travis Knight (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS), working from a script written by Christina Hodson (of the upcoming genre films BIRDS OF PREY and BATGIRL), makes it so the character of Bumblebee, who launched the first film in the franchise, is possibly the most important of the metallic beasts. Set in 1987, and incorporating music and trends from that era, restarts the series on a simpler note. Gone are the myriad of transforming robots, gone are the battle scenes that were mostly close-up views of shredded aluminum cans being crunched together. Here, you only have to worry about the title character, who has escaped his home planet of Cybertron in an effort to scout out a new home base for his fellow machines, and the two baddies hot on his tail—er, trunk, I suppose.
Young Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld, who was the heart and soul of the Cohen Brother’s remake of TRUE GRIT in 2010) finds Bumblebee in a junk yard; he is a beat up, barely drivable VW bug, but the deception does not last long. The relationship which quickly develops between the two is totally attributable to Ms. Steinfeld’s acting ability; she creates chemistry with a robot that she had to imagine during filming, and her work here is spotless. Equally impressive is the dorky Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr), a boy in love with his neighbor. Lendeborg’s delivery is perfect, and his awkward performance is nearly as impressive as hers.
And then there is John Cena; Mr. Cena, of WWE fame, plays “Agent Burns”, a military man hell-bent on Bumblebee’s destruction. What occasionally comes across as a one-note role is given new life by his layered performance. The Outtakes in the Special Features is more like a John Cena comedy fest; who knew the man was actually tat stinkin’ funny? The twinkle you see in his eyes while in the role of Burns belies the seriousness displayed by his character, and it almost becomes distracting. Here’s the thing, though: he knows he is in a TRANSFORMERS movie, and he is determined to have fun in this particular one—just as soon as he’s done playing the hard-laced guy.
The only drawback to the film is all that heavy CGI. It looks well enough, and the effects are quite seamless. And it isn’t nearly as much animation as you are used to from the other films. But there are one or two instances which harken back to those confusing battles; the entire opening sequence is entirely comprised of CGI, and what looks like a marvelously rendered alien planet quickly becomes overwrought in an action sequence which tries to be fluid but can come across as clunky.
This entry in the franchise is a must have on Blu-ray. While it still carries a bit of the Michael Bay-ish mayhem, it also has a strong, beating heart at its center, one which relies more upon its human characters than it does the CGI ones. And that is what marks this as wholly different from the others. That, and the fully realized character of Bumblebee himself, who has more personality than all the other films combined.
Film Grade: B+
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: Absolutely
- T.S. Kummelman