Thanks to Paramount Pictures, Ben Wilson, attended the New Zealand Premiere of Bumblebee on our behalf. Here’s his review of the film, which releases in cinemas on the 12th of December.
As in life, I’ve found I go through seasons as a reviewer. When I was a child, I thought near-everything was wondrous – ‘cause near-everything is ‘til later-life starts telling you disappointing things like ‘detour ahead’ and ‘mid-season finale’. So you adopt a nice shade of cynicism – ‘cause cynicism looks all cool and intelligent. Then you get bored of being a negative nelly, and join the optimists in chilling out and seeing the blissful merit inherent in all things – where your friends will repeatedly call you ‘naive’. Probably with a high-degree of accuracy.
That’s where I’m at. ‘Cause I actually thought Bumblebee was kinda alright. Maybe I’m just the kinda person who doesn’t like to dislike things, and while I know that’s undoubtedly true, I also know that was the first decent Transformers movie I’ve seen.
I was glad to find out Bumblebee was a prequel. It meant I didn’t need to watch Anthony Hopkins’ worst career decision. It’s also in the 80s. Which means kids of today get to sit down for two hours of real music. But it’s not fundamentally different from the legions of other movies with identical stories.
At times it’s a ‘save-the-world emergency; other times a teenager-meets-robot WALL-E experience; and at others an emotionally convincing grief struggle. You can argue whether that last part was necessary or not for a franchise with a rather primal reputation, but I would argue that’s what makes it better – there’s much less destruction porn and many more times of quiet. This is a smaller-scale version of the incomprehensible blockbusters where the intimate moments don’t feel like they’re merely there to frame a cacophony of never-ceasing action, and all the ‘transformer stuff’ is all the better for it. It makes Bumblebee oftentimes enjoyable to witness, with comically alien reactions that regularly turn normal circumstances into shennangious ones.
I was tentative when I saw John Cena was in this film as an anti-autobot action hero, though it seems John Cena himself was self-aware of the expectations; ‘cause he spends a considerable amount of time embracing the accidental comedy stars of his ilk are known for – to the point I was laughing at every scene with him in it, by merit of him simply being in it. A movie can be made that much better when an actor is in on their own joke, and after so many self-serious movies – Cena finally seems to be doing that.
What isn’t wonderful is the rest of the drama that fits more with the old Transformer movies; the impossibly vicious high school girls whose cheesy depravity barely resembles normal behaviour, even for bullies; or those one-liners that sound like the punchlines of B-grade animation trailers; or the difficult-to-ignore stock plot. I’m not even sure that last one is really a detriment. In many cases I’d criticise a movie for unoriginality, but in Transformers’ case, I’m tempted to encourage it for finally creating something at least coherent. That might make it sound like all this has been praise for simply ‘not being the other movies’ – but as far as I can dissociate Bumblebee from the rest of ‘em – it’s still frequently enjoyable.
And you can barely tell it’s CGI! I know, it’s a Transformers movie. I know.