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)

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…

Kubo and the Two Strings Box Office Prediction

The animation division of Focus Features/Laika hopes for another solid performer as Kubo and the Two Strings plays theaters next weekend. The 3D stop-motion fantasy set in ancient Japan features a number of recognizable actors voicing the action, including Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, and OG Sulu George Takei.

Travis Knight directs and he’s served as lead animator for all of Laika’s previous efforts. Those would be: 2009’s Coraline, which opened with $16.8 million; 2012’s ParaNorman, which debuted at $14 million; and 2014’s The Boxtrolls, which premiered with $17.2 million.

Those are some pretty consistent numbers and I believe Kubo should fall right in line with them. In fact, I believe Two Strings has a good shot at just outpacing its two competitors opening against it: the pricey Ben-Hur remake and Jonah Hill action/comedy War Dogs. My prediction puts this right at where Coraline got things started seven years ago and Boxtrolls left things two years back.

Kubo and the Two Strings opening weekend prediction: $17 million

For my Ben-Hur prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/08/10/ben-hur-box-office-prediction/

For my War Dogs prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/08/10/war-dogs-box-office-prediction/