Paramount have had quite a rocky relationship with the Transformers franchise. With Michael Bay taking our childhood toys and turning them into a clusterfuck of a movie franchise with some great highs and some horrible lows. After the disastrous box office return of the previous King Arthur inspired Transformers film, it was well overdue for a reboot with new writer, new director and new cast to take on the origin story of how Bumblebee came to Earth. The first two trailers were amazing, they showed a focus on story and characters, emotional bond between woman and machine did raise expectations. Unfortunately the film is slow, over stuffed and with some questionable CGI and lacklustre performances, Bumblebee disappoints in every sense of the word, giving us our first summer stinker of 2018.
The film instead of centering around Bumblebee as the title would suggest, centers around Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) a tortured soul who is the 80’s equivelant of an emo kid suffering after the unexpected death of her father. When Bumblebee crashes on earth after escaping Cybertron to keep watch over the planet and hide from the Deceptacons. When Charlie finds Bumblebee disguised as a yellow VW Beetle, the two form a bond (a really REALLY weird bond) to work together to save the world from another sky beam.
The worst thing about this film is the performances, Steinfeld is awful as Charlie. Her reactions feel really forced and her performance is as lifeless as her dialogue. In addition John Cena as “generic army officer” is a reflection of the previous films and regrettably a completely forgettable performance, apart from a couple of clever jokes that are great winks to the audience.
The look of the Transformers has had a complete overhaul with the robots looking more like the 80’s cartoon show. A bad offset to this is the CGI itself, it is quite muddy and there were some scenes that look horribly green screened and some that even look unfinished. That being said Bumblebee looks amazing consistently throughout the movie. The detail on the character is astonishing and the transitions from car to character are seamless every single time. It is just in some of the action scenes that things get a bit muddy which is distracting.
What did work is the seismic shift to focusing on characters and story over action, and while there is loads of it, it is a bit too much. The movie focuses more on Charlie than it does Bumblebee which at times brings into question who’s movie is this? The balance is way off and it definitely needs a few more tweaks to get the balance right. There were some great nods to the 80’s with Alf and Short Circuit as well as a killer soundtrack that while was a lot of fun, did also suffer from being over stuffed. One to many 80’s tunes may sound impossible but it felt like it was being made too much of a feature in this.
It may sound like I am ragging a lot on the movie, and to be fair I am. But releasing it this time of year when some pretty heavy hitters are coming out with quality, this movie really stands out as less than. It does shift focus to be more kiddy friendly entertainment (and the kids in our cinema did seem to enjoy it) It is a great shift to a more story and character driven franchise but it could also be too much too late.
Bumblebee is a small step in the right direction but still doesn’t enough to justify its existence. By focusing on Charlie as the major character of the story it does shift it in the right direction but unfortunately doesn’t get the balance quite right. The cartoonish style violence makes this more of an easy watch for children than the previous films, however adults and older fans will not find much joy here beyond the fleeting glances 0f 80’s nostalgia. Die hard fans may find some love here with a throw back to the original cartoon franchise, however Bumblebee fails to deliver a solid film of quality. If you have younger fans that are keen to see it, definitely take them, however there are many more movies out right now that do a much better job of entertaining.
Bumblebee is in Australian cinemas December 20.