Thursday, December 27, 2018


Before we get to the review, allow me to take a moment to get one bit of stupid nit-picking off my chest.


Why on Earth would Shatter and Dropkick be speaking English where a human could hear them and discover their planned betrayal? Wouldn't they speak Cybertronian or Decepticonese or just communicate with radio or something?

Thank you.

It is, of course, kind of ridiculous to care about this, as this is a movie about humanoid robots from another planet that has collapsed under the weight of its own backstory before, and I'm pretty sure that nobody in the proper target audience of ten-year-olds would actually care. But, then, that's the basic issue that these movies kind of have at their core anyway: They are based upon something very silly whose best-known and fondest-remembered incarnation (the TV show that came on the air in 1984) is, when seen again with older eyes, not very good, but which burrowed its way into enough childhoods that young fans demanded it keep growing with them. Which it did; the tie-in comics from Marvel, Devil's Due, and IDW became sprawling sci-fi epics with a devoted-enough fanbase that the same writer was retained across those three companies even when there were long gaps in publication, and hiring Michael Bay for the films certainly meant Paramount was targeting the part of the audience that had grown up to like less improbably-bloodless entertainment.

By the time Bay's run was done, though, it had perhaps swung too far in the other direction; there was a lot of talk about just how many people must have died in one of those movies and how Optimus Prime had become too grimdark and the like; it was certainly ripe for a soft reset, and I admittedly would have liked it if they'd gone for a harder one, with particular attention on going back to G1 designs, but I can't necessarily fault the producers for sticking with what had recently done fairly well for them.

I do kind of wonder what effect this will have on Hasbro's and Paramount's efforts to make this a Marvel-style or Star Wars-type ultra-franchise. You don't have to squint much to look at Bumblebee and see something like the Rogue One and Solo "Star Wars Stories", and I suspect that this went into production when Rogue One was a huge hit only to come out when Solo... wasn't. Meanwhile, DC is having unpredictable results, and is trying to merge this with a rebooted G.I. Joe and MASK really going to do that well?

I dunno. As much as this thing isn't perfect, it does have moments where it absolutely hits its target. I certainly hope that any more movies in the series have more in common with it than the Michael Bay one I've seen


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 December 2018 in AMC Assembly Row #9 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

Having bailed on the live-action Transformers movies after the first because it was just not my thing despite my 1980s fandom a few neat sequences, I can't describe Bumblebee as the best of the lot with particular authority, but I wouldn't be surprised: It scores more direct hits on its nostalgia targets while just being generally less of a mess and friendlier than Michael Bay's work, and it probably doesn't hurt to step back and do something simpler rather than trying to go bigger every few years. It's maybe not the best possible movie you could get from a studio trying to squeeze a little more out of a series based upon a 30-odd-year-old line of toys, but it's impressively competent and charming, which is not a bad way for a franchise with impressive box office but a bad reputation looking for a new direction to go.

It kicks off with a giant battle between sentient robots on their home planet of Cybertron; with the planet about to fall completely to the cruel Decepticons, heroic Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) dispatches his troops to new planets to search for a hiding place where they can regroup, with small but brave B-127 (voice of Dylan O'Brien) sent to "Earth". Things go wrong right away as he is targeted by both a Decepticon assassin and a group of U.S. special forces, and escapes with his memory damaged, camouflaged as a Volkswagen Beetle. That's how Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) finds him at a scrapyard on her eighteenth birthday, and when he revives in front of her they - and Charlie's neighbor Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) form a bond. "Bumblebee" awakening alerts a pair of Decepticons on one of Saturn's moons, though, and soon Shatter (voice of Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (voice of Justin Theroux) have arrived on Earth and convinced a "Section 7" scientist (John Ortiz) that the Autobot is a dangerous fugitive, though his colleague Burns (John Cena) is less likely to take them at their word.

This is all going down in 1987, and the opening sequence on Cybertron is pure pandering to the adults in the audience who were watching the Transformers TV show and reading the comics at the time. As one of those people, I am not going to pretend that I don't appreciate the heck out of it; director Travis Knight and the visual-effects crew pull out the "Generation One" designs and polish them up nice, but it's also worth noting that Knight's stop-motion animation background is a big help during this all-CGI sequence: There's a lot happening on-screen but it's always just short of visual overload, with the FX/stereo guys crew doing a good job of creating a bit more depth when the film is seen in 3D, which is especially helpful in a movie like this where the relative sizes of various things flying through the air may not be obvious. It's solid, clear action staging that continues when Bumblebee and his pursuers reach Earth and less of the movie is being rendered on a computer.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: