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Film Reviews Review: Bumblebee is a huge step up from Michael Bay’s Transformers sequels — but so is a slap in the face

  • Bumblebee
  • Directed by Travis Knight
  • Written by Christina Hodson
  • Starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena and Pamela Adlon
  • Classification PG; 113 minutes

rating

Hailee Steinfeld in Bumblebee (2018).

Paramount Pictures

After the cacophonous abomination that was Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight, I suppose the mere whiff of competency smells good in comparison. Still, the critical hosannas greeting Bumblebee, the first Transformers film to ditch Bay and dial down the madness, are disconcerting.

The new film, directed by animation veteran Travis Knight, has a story with a clear beginning, middle and end. Its characters – the eponymous Autobot, stranded on Earth circa 1987; Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), the alien-robot’s new teenage best friend who’s going through her own family issues; John Cena’s military man, who either has no name or came equipped with a forgettable one – seem decent facsimiles of real people. And its battle scenes are filmed so that you can actually understand which giant robot is fighting the other at any given time.

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But basic narrative competence and visual coherence shouldn’t be greeted as the second coming, or at least the 96 per cent “fresh” score Bumblebee currently boasts on Rotten Tomatoes. (For comparison, 2018′s actual best film of the year, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, has the exact same score.)

Basic narrative competence and visual coherence shouldn’t be greeted as the second coming.

Paramount Pictures

Derivative in plotting – it’s Autobots versus Decepticons again, although at least this time a character has the good sense to call out the latter on their inherently evil name – and unimaginative in just about everything else, there’s no reason Bumblebee needs to exist. Other than, I suppose, the obvious: $.

So if Paramount’s bookkeepers required the Transformers franchise to be stretched beyond Bay’s five (five!) films, the studio could’ve done worse than hiring Knight, who brings a clear sense of compassion to the characters, whereas Bay treated everyone (mechanical and human) as toys to smash against the wall. And the soundtrack neatly aligns with the current moment’s nostalgia for ’80s pop (we’re one more season of Stranger Things away from the burst of that Simple Minds bubble). And hey, I’m glad the wonderful Pamela Adlon, playing Charlie’s frantic mother, earned a Hasbro-financed payday.

But stripped of its parts, Bumblebee (as annoying to type as it is to say!) is just another needless franchise extension that should’ve been junked years ago.

Bumblebee opens Dec. 21.

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