Review / ‘Bumblebee’ (PG)*

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PRE-release information and the IMDb suggested that “Bumblebee” smacked of an origin elsewhere in the entertainment universe. Ordinarily, I would never have chosen to watch it for my own pleasure. 

It’s a collaboration between animator Travis Knight directing his second feature and writer Christina Hodson. They’ve gone back to the series which wound up in 2014 with “Transformers: the Age of Extinction”. I watched none of them, but I suspect it finished with a principal character, Optimus Prime, being turned into a yellow VW.

In California in 1982, Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is about to turn 18. She wants a car.  The family finances don’t run that far.  She takes a job in a second-hand shop.  Underneath a tarp at the back of the shed is this yellow VW. The boss has forgotten that it’s there. The engine fires first go when she tries to start it. Oh joy, oh rapture.  She does a deal to buy it and sets about cleaning it up. And she calls it Bumblebee.

In another universe far away, a signal arrives from Earth. It tells the rulers where to find freedom fighter Optimus Prime. A pair of tough guys gets sent there to terminate him.

This is the core of a plot as old as, if not the hills, at least Yuri Gagarin’s flight. It has long ceased to have any novelty. Every outer-space movie, every fantasy actioner produced under a comic book banner, is at its core the same. Good guys protecting Mother Earth from the depredations of bad guys from some other universe. They’ve replaced the Western in Hollywood’s library of genres. And that’s a terrible shame.

In one way, “Bumblebee” is a clever movie. Its human on-screen participation certainly doesn’t need an estimated budget of $US135 million. Where did the money go? Into the special effects is where. 

So here are three extra-terrestrials which can morph into whatever form and function that the director orders from the special-effects studio. The transitions between characters and machines are pretty cool. It could be cars, or fighter jet aircraft. But boats are a no-no. Electricity follows its own rules. Water and electric connections don’t mix. And the outer-space characters are crammed with electrical connections.

A sub-plot involves a quasi-military organisation assigned to take the visitors down.  It’s led by Agent Burns (John Cena) who’s a metaphor for pitiless military discipline and the gun insanity that blights the US.

Kids of or even beyond double-digit age may well go wild about “Bumblebee”.  Adults may find its 113 minutes of same-old same-old to be a bore.  I certainly did.  You have been warned!

At all cinemas

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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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