Herbie: The Transforming Love Bug (Bumblebee review)

The Transformers franchise has, for a long time, been a joke among film lovers. While the films are entertaining enough, they are some of the worst written films of recent years, saved only by their pioneering CGI effects. Bumblebee, the latest in the series, has taken clever steps to ensure the characters are more important than giant metal creatures smashing together. Though it still doesn’t quite work, if you’re a fan of Transformers and The Iron Giant then this is the perfect film for you.

For those who don’t know, Transformers is a film franchise based on a beloved animated TV series of the 1980’s. Michael Bay directed the first 5 entries, treating them (as with all his films) as an excuse to showcase huge special effects, product placement and women in little clothing. Bumblebee made a very important decision; not having Michael Bay direct it. This was a master stroke, as it removed a certain level of the puerile tone that has made the Transformers films so widely disliked.

Travis Knight, the new director, has brought a definite higher class to this film. Known for previously directing the stop motion masterpiece ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ (2016) he knows how to get character from lifeless objects. This time, he turns his attention to a yellow Volkswagen Beatle which is Bumblebee’s new disguise. After falling to Earth, ‘Autobot’ Bumblebee was forced to hide from the ‘Decepticons’ by transforming into the classic car, in order to protect the location of Autobot leader Optimus Prime. Thankfully, this is the only bit of confusing franchise set up, and the rest of the film plays more much like a stand-alone adventure.

Bumblebee as a character is far and away the best thing about this film. He is cute and brave with his actions, and there are definite E.T vibes about him (the 1980’s setting further adds to that impression). The human cast includes Hailee Steinfeld as the teenage girl who finds Bumblebee, John Cena as a U.S Army Ranger hunting Bumblebee and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Charlie’s neighbour who is a nerd when the story dictates it, but also not a nerd when the story dictates it. As always, the human characters were slightly weaker, with John Cena’s wrestling catchphrase (“You can’t see me”) adding particular relevance due to the fact he has almost nothing to do with the plot of the film, and is always one step behind the actual narrative.

While the 1980’s period adds a lot of fun depth and a great jukebox soundtrack, the film is still a Transformers movie. While it’s the best transformers movie yet, there is still a disappointing third act filled with smashy crashy metal shapes, and some terribly written lines of dialogue. Whole scenes, in fact, seem bizarre and clunky, and these ruined the pace of what could have been a very slick and well thought out Transformers film.

Bumblebee is a great piece of popcorn entertainment that will make you laugh and give you some interesting stuff to look at. It’s all surface entertainment with little depth, but it’s good fun, and works wonders in rectifying what has been, up to this point, a deeply boring franchise.

5 stars 3

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