In one of the year's more unexpected developments, high up on the list of 2018’s most emotionally manipulative films is a Transformers prequel.
Imbued with a surprising amount of faux heartstring-tugging music courtesy of Oscar-winner Dario Marianelli (Atonement), Bumblebee attempts to milk tears and heart flutters from 18-year-old Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and her alarmingly close bond with the titular alien robot (voiced byThe Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien, through the filter of anonymous digital alteration) as a substitute for her deceased father, but viewers with an ounce of sense will see through this pap for the generic action flick that it is.
Set in the greater San Francisco area in 1987, the chronicle of alien robot solider B-127’s crash-landing on Earth and subsequent recovery from his war-mission amnesia with help from a Smiths-loving, mechanically-minded young woman is packed with nicely chosen tunes and lazy '80s references, though Bumblebee's appreciation for The Breakfast Club is commendable.
Written by Christina Hodson, who’s responsible for the expectation-defying 2017 thriller Unforgettable, B’s coming-of-age story has a decent amount of quality jokes (though roughly three times as many duds) and noticeably clearer action than its series peers.
These results makes sense coming from Travis Knight, who’s made stunning-looking but narratively hollow stop-motion animated films (e.g. Box Trolls) at his Laika studio for the past decade and brings both of those qualities to his live-action directorial debut.
Adding to Bumblebee’s middling nature is John Cena, still somehow getting work as Transformer-wary government agent Burns, whose role in determining the fate of the world when evil Decepticons “voiced” by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux come looking for the alleged yellow traitor is as predictable as the film’s award season chances.
Just as average-to-poor is Steinfeld, who sadly proves once again that if it’s not the Coens or Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen) writing the lines and directing her in how to deliver them, the best she can do is stumble mightily. With such a limited performer expected to carry the film’s big moments, it’s no wonder the alleged payoffs fall flat.
Grade: C. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Paramount Pictures)