Saturday, December 22, 2018

Movie Review: Bumblebee

I know it's a cliche to refer to a movie as a love letter, but I can't think of a better metaphor for Bumblebee. Only it's not one letter - it's a mailbag full of the things, and each of them was carefully considered and meticulously written.

If' you grew up with any incarnation of the various Transformers animated series, you're going to feel like this movie's a love letter to your childhood. Hell, you won't have to wait long: the opening on Cybertron is going to be one of the best things you see in theaters this year - it's worth the price of admission on its own. It's a short sequence, but if you remember the 80's show, it's a thing of beauty.

Even if you don't have any attachment to this property, don't write this off. This is a movie containing transforming robots, but unlike its live-action predecessors, it's actually still a movie. There are human characters with engaging stories, believable emotions, and genuinely touching arcs. And it's all told with loving nods to John Hughes, Steven Spielberg, and their contemporaries.

Yeah, yeah, it's hardly the first love letter to 80's adventure cinema we've gotten in the past few years. Amblin throwbacks have become commonplace, we've become too attached to 80's nostalgia, and so on and so forth. We should probably address all that at some point, but... maybe not today. Because this one just nails the formula. I mean, it doesn't just capture the magic of 1980's summer adventure movies; it recreates it in a way that should appeal to you whether you're 40 or 8.

There's some fighting in this, but it's not an action movie. The Transformers are part of the movie, but they're not the stars - that role's taken by Hailee Steinfeld, who plays a teenage girl with a knack for cars and some seriously unresolved issues stemming from losing a parent. This is more her story than Bumblebee's, and for once that isn't a complaint. If Christina Hodson's script, Travis Knight's direction, or Steinfeld's acting had been anything less than perfectly sincere, this would have felt like a distraction - instead, you find yourself ready to watch a sequel following the character even if it doesn't include a single alien robot.

Side note: If Hasbro wants to make a movie set a year later with Steinfeld's character somehow getting mixed up with a secret government organization called G.I. Joe, I'm ready to pre-order tickets today. Hell, John Cena could return, as well - if they want to launch a shared universe, they'll never have a better opportunity than this.

Simply put, this is a wonderful movie. It's not a complex movie - you've seen this outline a dozen times, at least - but it's so lovingly constructed, you won't mind. The story's simple, but they use that as a backdrop for teenage comedy and a touch of drama. And, of course, robots that transform into cars and planes.

Right. I should probably mention those.

They're fantastic. Unlike Michael Bay, Travis Knight actually likes the property he's developing. He likes the original designs, he likes the characters, and he likes the audience... and all that comes through. You know what else comes through? What's happening on screen. In addition to Transformers, Knight likes color, so you can actually tell the robots apart for a change. The fight scenes, when they do come up, are fun to watch.

But most of all, I think Knight and Hodson love the fans. They deliver moments and characters (albeit briefly) most of us never thought we'd see done justice in a live action movie. Also, I should note there's a scene that serves as a love letter to a subsection of the fanfic community I really never thought would get a nod in a live-action movie like this.

And it's a touching scene, too.

I'm saying you should go see this movie. Especially if you're a fan of the property, but even if you're not, this is worth making time for this holiday weekend. And... look. I know some of you are probably skeptical, because I'm one of the few people left who will still defend Bay's first installment. But I want to be clear about something: the 2007 movie has its merits, but when it say it's arguably a good movie, that's with a dozen caveats relating to distinctions between technical success versus narrative, movies designed to play for a world audience versus US preferences, and semantics around the term "good."

When I say Bumblebee is a great movie, I just mean it's a really great movie.

No comments: