Bumblebee

 

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The sixth Transformers film morphs into a hybrid of King Kong and Disney’s The Love Bug.

   

Bumblebee

Genre mash-up: Hailee Steinfeld and big hero B-127 

 

The neat thing about the Transformers is that they can modify themselves into virtually anything they want. Likewise, the franchise, inspired by the Hasbro toy, would appear to be a mutable thing, grabbing at any genre that might fuel its longevity. The new film, actually a prequel to the first (2007), goes back to basics in which a teenager discovers that their first car is something else entirely. In spite of the cacophonous violence on display here, Bumblebee is actually aiming for a younger demographic, blending elements of E.T. The ExtraTerrestrial with Short Circuit. Note, Steven Spielberg gets an executive producer credit.

 

Hailee Steinfeld, who was nominated for an Oscar (at the age of 13) for playing the tomboy Mattie Ross in True Grit (2010), here plays the tomboy Charlie Watson. A former high diver who has swapped the swimming pool for a toolbox since the death of her father, Charlie is an ace with a spanner and screwdriver and dreams of owning her own car. In 1987, on her eighteenth birthday, a local junkyard owner (Len Cariou) gifts her a beat-up yellow VW beetle, not really believing that she can get it started. But she does, drives it home, and parks it in her stepfather’s surprisingly spacious garage. And after a bit of tinkering, Charlie inadvertently re-activates the autobot B-127. As it happens, the bot is an escapee from the planet Cybertron, and has been sent to Earth to set up a new home-from-home. He is also a refugee with vital information about the whereabouts of his leader, Optimus Prime, and the abominable Decepticons are on his tail.

 

Bumblebee is really two movies, a reboot of Disney’s The Love Bug and an intergalactic sci-fi epic. The first half is the more jolly and Steinfeld a winsome presence as her character navigates the pitfalls of family life and an irritating younger brother (Jason Drucker). So when she bonds with B-127, whom she nicknames ‘Bumblebee,’ her life gains a new purpose. These early scenes prove suitably engaging and recall the more magical moments of Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant and its ilk, before all hell lets loose. Then, as government mercenaries and the Decepticons enter the fray, the film mutates into King Kong and the volume is notched up several decibels. The CGI is predictably awesome, and it is astonishing how much emotion Bumblebee can convey with just a few movements (his power of speech has been destroyed). But the mix of the cute and the sense of global annihilation should make some parents wary.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Len Cariou, Ricardo Hoyos, Gracie Dzienny, Glynn Turman; and Voices of: Dylan O'Brien, Peter Cullen, Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux.

 

Dir Travis Knight, Pro Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Tom DeSanto, Don Murphy, Michael Bay and Mark Vahradian, Ex Pro Steven Spielbergh, Screenplay Christina Hodson, Ph Enrique Chediak, Pro Des Sean Haworth, Ed Paul Rubell, Music Dario Marianelli, Costumes Dayna Pink.

 

Di Bonaventura Pictures/Allspark Pictures/Tencent Pictures-Paramount Pictures

113 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 24 December 2018. Cert. PG.