Bumblebee (2018)
Bumblebee (2018)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: December 21st, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Travis Knight Actors: Hailee Steinfeld, Dylan O’Brien, John Cena, Peter Cullen, John Ortiz, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux

 


 

C

ybertron is at war, with the Autobot rebellion meeting a climactic defeat at the hands of the oppressive Decepticon swarms, forcing the dwindling Autobot troops to flee in escape pods. B-127 (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) is tasked with finding harborage on Earth, where he must establish a base and protect it from enemy discovery. But the humankind of 1987 isn’t ready for a visit from an alien refugee; Agent Jack Burns (John Cena), who happens to be conducting training exercises with fellow soldier Danny Bell, believes his team is being attacked with napalm, and can only react by pummeling B-127 with gunfire.

On the run, and with critical failures to his memory core, B-127 takes the form of an old, yellow VW Beetle in a junkyard in Brighton Falls, California. His resting spot is uncovered by accident when 18-year-old Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) receives the forgotten vehicle as a birthday gift from Uncle Hank’s marine repair facility. The car might not run, but it’s better than the classic Corvette she’d been working on for a number of years with her father before he passed away suddenly. And she’s several hundred dollars away from acquiring the parts needed to finish that restoration, which seems unachievable with her limited income from Hot Dog on a Stick.

The opening sequence on Cybertron is full of action and destruction, which is then followed by further action and destruction when Burns and his squad attempt to subdue B-127. Fortunately, after these initial scuffles, the film quiets down to build up a relationship between klutzy, down-to-earth Charlie and her doglike, mechanical new friend, whom she nicknames “Bumblebee.” Joining this unlikely duo is a rockin’ ‘80s soundtrack, full of countless hits, which nicely complement the activities onscreen. Plus, Charlie sports an “Alien” poster on her wall, while her nerdy neighbor, Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), has his own “The Thing” poster taped up in his room; these kids are obviously well-versed on notions of extraterrestrial visitors, though they favor scenarios in which the aliens are annihilators rather than allies.

Here, the use of younger protagonists is entirely fitting, since the adults represent the seriousness and realism that get in the way of over-the-top sci-fi components. Cena, especially, becomes the exhaustingly standard, formulaic human villain, who inspires groans due to his stereotypical order-barking and unchangeable insistence on simply shooting at opponents. Interestingly, as if to add to the severity of the times, the Cold War serves as a subtle backdrop to the Transformers’ appearances, including when two Decepticons call each other “comrade.”

The movie is full of humor and heart, most effectively provided by Steinfeld, who manages to be both genuine and relatable, despite acting predominantly in front of fully CG personas. Her performance is aided by Bumblebee’s playful personality, who utilizes a few silent film tactics to convey emotions, since his vocal abilities were damaged in combat. It also helps that the story here is smaller in scale than the previous theatrical Transformers episodes, allowing a personal, intimate feel as the two mismatched outsiders collaborate on fanciful revenge pranks and action-packed escapes from evil governmental figures. Like “The Iron Giant” or “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the ultimate adolescent fantasy of commanding a powerful, personal bodyguard is bought to life with comic interactions, which not only save the day but also lend to a subplot of teen romance. There’s also an amnesia bit, though it gets lost in the mix, considering that Bumblebee can’t easily communicate anyway.

“Music can help you say what you’re feeling.” As the ever-present soundtrack continues to push to the forefront, a “Guardians of the Galaxy” vibe blends with “Short Circuit,” “WALL·E,” and even “The Breakfast Club.” The mood stays light, but the adventure dulls, turning “Bumblebee” into an overlong, repetitive, and predictable affair, even with its eventual transition into a slam-bang finale. It’s nevertheless routinely fun, marked by clever references to prior minor details and plenty of comic breaks, highlighting the fact that Michael Bay should have given up the director’s chair four movies earlier.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10