Bumblebee Movie Review

Steven Spielberg has executive produced all five Transformers movies prior to Bumblebee and he holds that title here. Yet it’s in this prequel/spin-off that his influence feels the most pronounced. In the case of this franchise, that’s a welcome development. Michael Bay’s quintet of loud metal on metal action orgies that began in 2007 are generally nonsensical explosion excuses with occasional jaw dropping moments. Travis Knight, taking over directorial duties, gives Bumblebee a heart and the loudest audio belongs to the terrific 80s soundtrack.

This is a prequel and the happenings occur in 1987, which explains The Smiths, Duran Duran, and Tears for Fears providing the tunes. A prologue on the planet Cybertron shows our title character (voiced by Dylan O’Brien) being sent to Earth by Optimus Prime in order to escape death by The Decepticons. He crash lands, of all places, right in the middle of a military training exercise in California where no nonsense Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena) assumes him to be a hostile creature. Bumblebee manages to transform into that iconic 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, but not after being rendered mute when his voice box is disabled. By the way, this all happens in like ten minutes. Pacing is not an issue in this picture, unlike other bloated Transformers flicks.

That Beetle ends up in a junkyard frequented by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a gear head who’s just turned 18. It’s her storyline that brings the Spielberg vibes front and center. She’s experienced parental loss as her beloved father has passed. She’s an outcast in the suburbs. Charlie has an awkward pending romance with her neighbor (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). There’s also a resistance to diving (even though she’s a terrific diver) that we correctly assume will figure into the plot. She also works at a low rent amusement park that looks straight outta Adventureland. When she commandeers the Volkswagen, she discovers the giant yellow extraterrestrial and befriends him. Their relationship is quite E.T. like, if that alien had tires strapped to his back and communicated through radio waves playing Steve Winwood.

Knight, maker of the acclaimed Kubo and the Two Strings, is making a Transformers experience that could have been made in the 80s. And it mostly works. There’s only so much he can do with the fight scenes after the Decepticons (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux) track Bumblebee to this planet. The tech team here manages to make them easier to follow than Bay’s mashups. So when Colonel Burns and other dumber than they should be government types get involved in the plot, I found myself actually caring a bit. That’s due to screenwriter Christina Hodson’s establishment of Charlie as a full fledged character and Steinfeld’s work elevating her. Her charming interaction with Bee is enough to warrant something the Transformers epics don’t get and that’s a recommendation.

*** (out of four)

Replicas Box Office Prediction


Keanu Reeves returns to science fiction territory next weekend with the release of Replicas. The thriller casts him as a neuroscientist who clones his family after they’re killed in an auto accident. Costars include Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, and John Ortiz. Jeffrey Nachmanoff, best known as the screenwriter for The Day After Tomorrow, directs.

While its lead has certainly had success in the genre (The Matrix), it hasn’t always been that way (Johnny Mnemonic anyone?). Reeves should have a hit at the box office this year, but that will come in May with John Wick: Parabellum. This effort appears to be getting the unceremonious January dump.

I’ll say Replicas gets low single digits and disappears quickly.

Replicas opening weekend prediction: $3.4 million

For my The Upside prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/02/the-upside-box-office-prediction/

For my A Dog’s Way Home prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/01/02/a-dogs-way-home-box-office-prediction/

Bumblebee Box Office Prediction

Times have changed in significant ways for the Transformers franchise that started eleven years ago. They manifest themselves with the release next weekend of Bumblebee, a prequel to the multi-billion series. For starters, Michael Bay is not in the director’s chair for the first time after making the first five. Travis Knight, most known for the acclaimed animated Kubo and the Two Strings, takes over those duties. Hailee Steinfeld headlines the 1980s set tale alongside John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, and the voice of Dylan O’Brien as the title Autobot.

A second major difference: Bumblebee is unexpectedly getting very good reviews with a current Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97%. Nearly every sequel since the 2007 original has been critically lambasted while still bringing in the bucks. Positive word-of-mouth should only help, but competition is fierce as the holidays approach. Two days before this debuts, Mary Poppins Returns is out and will take away family audiences. Opening directly against it is Aquaman, which will siphon away action fans.

Which brings us to point #3 – expectations have fallen for the franchise and Paramount hopes its best revenge is better than anticipated returns. This will almost surely have the smallest premiere of the series. That’s even with the caveat that four of the five Transformers pics got early jumps and opened during the middle of the week. The series showed rust in the summer of 2017 when The Last Knight had a $44 million traditional Friday to Sunday rollout and a $130 million domestic haul (by far the lowest of the quintet).

Add all that up and I’m not convinced the pleasing critical (ahem) buzz gets this beyond mid 20s considering its venerable competitors.

Bumblebee opening weekend prediction: $26.2 million

 

For my Aquaman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/11/aquaman-box-office-prediction/

For my Mary Poppins Returns prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/10/mary-poppins-returns-box-office-prediction/

For my Second Act prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/14/second-act-box-office-prediction/

For my Welcome to Marwen prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/12/15/welcome-to-marwen-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Bumblebee

Alright, stay with me here. You might be thinking it’s silly to see a post with Bumblebee and Oscar Watch in the same title. However, let us not forget that the Transformers franchise (despite mostly negative reviews) has garnered seven nominations from the Academy over the last decade plus.

In 2007, the original film received three nods (Best Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing). Two years later, sequel Revenge of the Fallen got a Sound Mixing mention. In 2011, Dark of the Moon nabbed the same three category nods as part one. Follow-ups Age of Extinction and The Last Knight went empty-handed in the Academy’s tech categories.

This brings us to Bumblebee, the 1980s set prequel that opens on December 21. Critical reaction has been surprisingly strong and it stands at 100% at the moment on Rotten Tomatoes. Many reviews suggest it’s the best of the series.

Last week, the pic made the shortlist of 20 entries eligible for Best Visual Effects. Therefore, it’s got a chance and the sound races could come into play as well. My feeling is that some other high-profile blockbusters will get in before this. Yet I wouldn’t totally count it out based on the positive notices.

Bottom line: this franchise has shown its ability in three categories to get attention. Bumblebee has an outside chance at recognition. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Peppermint Box Office Prediction

Jennifer Garner is back to her action roots when Peppermint arrives in theaters next weekend. The revenge tale casts the former “Alias” star as a vigilante avenging a double family tragedy. While Garner has been out of this particular genre for a bit, director Pierre Morel has not. He’s best known for making the first Taken a decade ago, in addition to From Paris with Love and The Gunman. Costars include John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, and Method Man.

Peppermint will hope to bring a female and action oriented audience to the fold. Some of its anticipated crowd could be busy watching The Nun instead. You have to go back to 2005’s Elektra for the last time Garner was headlining a genre flick like this.

For a decent comp, I’m going all the way back to 2007 when The Brave One with Jodie Foster opened in the same time frame to $13.4 million. That actually sounds just about right, give or take a million or two.

Peppermint opening weekend prediction: $11.8 million

For my The Nun prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/08/28/the-nun-box-office-prediction/

For my God Bless the Broken Road prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/02/god-bless-the-broken-road-box-office-prediction/

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Some stuff is considerably bigger and louder in the newest iteration of the 84 year-old franchise featuring cinema’s most famous plus sized ape. The sound effects are turned up to a higher volume. Since it’s set in the mid 70s, the fashion is louder. The cast of characters we have to keep track of is more populous and filled with familiar faces. And King Kong, himself, is quite bigger. He’s the size of a building this time around. What’s not larger is the running time and that’s a good thing. It was something that hindered Peter Jackson’s lovingly constructed remake of the 1933 classic in 2005. That version ran three hours plus, which was about an hour too long. Kong: Skull Island gets the running time right (two hours) and it gets other things right, too.

I liked the fact that our title character is truly monstrous in size this time around. I enjoyed that it’s set in the Watergate era right as the Vietnam War is winding down. I appreciated the sense of humor and B movie escapism that this Kong often gleefully exudes. Yet when the credits rolled, I couldn’t shake a feeling that the idea of Kong: Skull Island was cooler than the overall execution.

The pic opens with a prologue during World War II where an American and Japanese fighter pilot crash-land on a deserted island. Confronting one another, they mistakenly believe they must only fight each other for survival. Turns out there’s another inhabitant hanging around and he’s about the size of a building.

Flash forward to 1973. John Goodman is Bill Randa, who works for a government agency called Monarch. He’s seen as a crackpot with wild conspiracy theories and one of them involves Skull Island, a remote South Pacific island. Bill convinces his higher-ups to fund a mission to the location and he takes along a whole crew of military guys. They include Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s looking for any action as the Vietnam War is closing out. There’s also British Captain Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), who’s charged with navigating through this unknown jungle terrain. Brie Larson is Mason, an anti-war photojournalist fresh from the war and she’s there to document Skull Island. I could continue listing the supporting players. There are lots of them and few of them are very interesting. This is not a screenplay where the human beings are given preferential treatment.

When the team reaches their destination, they discover they are not alone. Kong is there, of course, but so are the island’s natives and that American WWII fighter pilot who is now John C. Reilly with a beard that rivals what David Letterman looks like now. There’s other creatures, too. “Skullcrawlers”, as Reilly coined them because it sounded cool, are reptile like menaces that are the real villains around these parts. That doesn’t matter to Colonel Packard, however, as he’s determined to wipe out Kong for protecting his territory and destroying some of the Colonel’s men along the way.

While 2005’s overstuffed King Kong attempted to be a five-course meal in the giant ape’s filmography, Skull Island is junk food. It mostly knows it is. Many of the actors involved (some fun overacting by Reilly and Jackson) know it is. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts allows moments where the kitschy 70s vibe provides some smiles (watch that Richard Nixon bobblehead shaking during some helicopter escapades). The special effects are, as expected, state of the art. Having said that, I didn’t really feel the Kong we see here is much more impressive than the 2005 version, even though he’s much more ginormous.

The film may have been more effective had it not introduced so many humans and their threadbare subplots and focused instead on – say – three or four of them. Better yet, the focus could have been on the mutated animals and their battle royales. After all, the point of this picture is to eventually produce a King Kong vs. Godzilla extravaganza. In that sense, the 2014 Godzilla reboot directed by Gareth Edwards was a more satisfying appetizer while Kong is a bit less filling.

**1/2 (out of four)