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Film Review: Bumblebee

Bumblebee (2018)
Paramount Pictures

Directed by: Travis Knight
Written by: Christina Hodson
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena, Dylan O’Brien, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon & Stephen Schneider.

So this is an interesting film for fans of the Transformers franchise, but for the rest of the movie going public this is a screenplay that seems to be paying homage to ET and Stephen King’s Christine. That might not necessarily be a bad thing, but I wonder what the real Transformers fans might think of it. Michael Bay may have been a producer on this, but the direction was handled by Travis Knight, who has brought the whole thing a little more down earth. The emphasis has been shifted to a more character based approach, telling the story of a disillusioned 18 year old girl and her relationship with her car that’s also a robot.

Knight seems to be more engaged in the relationship between Charlie and B than he is with the actual lore of the Transformers. You can tell that there has been more time spent making us believe in the idea of their friendship, than has been spent on the overall backstory of the Decepticons, Optimus Prime and The Autobots. Funnily enough, as a casual viewer, this made the film a little more accessible for me, as the previous transformer films have left me bewildered and bored. That’s not a criticism of the franchise, I’m sure that the demo-graph they are made for enjoy the CGI action sequences and smash em up premise, but to see something slightly different was at least refreshing.

However despite the attempt at doing something new, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is another film hidden in here. Without spoiling anything, the story of teenager meets alien friend, is an old one. ET springs to mind, as does Iron Giant and for horror fans John Carpenter’s Christine. The film is set in 1987, so there are lots of winks to the pop culture of the era. The Breakfast Club (now there’s a screenplay) is shown several times, and B himself mimics the final scene of that movie in the last reel of his.

Charlie (played by Hailee Steinfeld) does a fine job, but she reminds me of Arnie in Christine, an outsider that finds an old car, fixes it up and discovers it’s much more than what he thought it was. Now I know Charlie in Bumblebee doesn’t exact horrific revenge on the bullies around her, but the comparison is obvious and i’m surprised no one else has mentioned it. Now as an older film fan, all the nods and Easter Eggs suddenly became more distracting to me, and when you find yourself lost in the hidden details of a movie, rather than the actual plot, you come to the realisation that the film has actually failed on it’s premise to engage me as a viewer. That’s the problem with the whole production.

Despite looking great and with an interesting premise, the minutia became more interesting than the actual production, and at that point I lost interest. When I started cringing at the soundtrack that tries to be like Guardians of the Galaxy, but with no point, everything else began to fail for me. I love a good 80’s soundtrack as much as anyone, but it has to be relevant. There’s a reason the Guardians soundtrack works.
It’s part of the plot and important to the main character. Here, they have shoehorned a few appropriate tracks in whenever they can, and there was a couple of really bad versions in there too, making this a double fault.
I know that B uses tracks to communicate with Charlie, but that’s not soundtrack. Throwing in Save A Prayer by Duran Duran just because, is just lazy, and though I love the Smiths, I’m not sure Girlfriend In A Coma really fitted in with the movie in general.

Overall Bumblebee was frothy entertainment for teenage fans of the franchise, that at least tried something new – however a bit predictable and bashing us over the head with everything 80’s makes it distracting. It will pass the best part of 2 hours in between the holidays but it’s not a classic and will be easily forgotten by cynical reviewers like myself.