dir Travis Knight
scr Christina Hodson
prd Michael Bay, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Tom DeSanto, Don Murphy, Mark Vahradian
with Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Jason Drucker, Len Cariou, John Ortiz
voices Peter Cullen, Justin Theroux, Angela Bassett, Dylan O'Brien
release US 21.Dec.18, UK 24.Dec.18
18/US Paramount 1h53
A girl and her car: Steinfeld and Bumblebee

cena kendeborg theroux
See also:
The Last Night (2017) Rise of the Beasts (2023)
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Bumblebee In flipping back to tell this prequel story, the Transformers franchise finally finds its soul. The script isn't particularly bright, but director Travis Knight and a sharp cast led ably by Hailee Steinfeld keep the story centred on the interplay between the characters. Not only does this give the people a lot more to do, but it also makes one of those robot aliens downright loveable.

It's 1987 near San Francisco, when 18-year-old Charlie (Steinfeld) convinces her scrapyard dealer uncle (Cariou) to give her a broken-down VW Beetle. Her mother and stepdad (Adlon and Schneider) aren't convinced this is a great idea, and they don't know that the car is actually an alien robot warrior looking for a hiding place for his race of Autobots. Charlie secretly befriends him, naming him Bumblebee. But tenacious soldier Burns (Cena) is determined to catch this invader, so Charlie and lovelorn neighbour teen Memo (Lendeborg) team up to protect their new metal friend.

The plot is by-the-books, with some head-scratching lapses in logic, but it clips along briskly, maintaining a strong sense of personality even in the action scenes. This means that the dialog is often hilarious, and Knight has a lot of fun packing the film with witty 80s references, including a fantastic greatest hits song score. Meanwhile, the digital effects are first-rate. But the audience is gripped because these characters are so strong that their relationships matter.

Steinfeld injects the right mix of sparky teen angst and feisty humour, adding layers to each scene that builds Iron Giant-style emotions between this girl and her car. She even dives into the action, putting a proper human element into the usual robot-vs-robot cacophony. Lendeborg is terrific as the shy nerd with an athlete's physique, quietly crushing on this strong young woman. And the adults play their roles just on the edge of caricature: ridiculous but believable.

If the script had a little more texture in its dialog, depth in its interactions and coherence in its narrative detail, the film might have been a proper gem. But it also would have had to avoid the franchise's relentless rush to violence, which the producers clearly adore. Almost everyone here, whether human or metal, reacts first by firing a big gun at whoever rattles them. This removes any possibility of nuance in the premise, not to mention thematic integrity. But at least it's entertaining, and surprisingly engaging too.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 9.Dec.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall