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Bumblebee doesn’t live up to all the buzz.


A girl and her... car?
A girl and her... car?

Like ‘em or hate ‘em (did anybody really love ‘em?), Michael Bay’s Transformers movies had a certain kind of frenetic energy that kept them entertaining, at least to a certain degree. But their oftentimes crass and offensive humor made them easier to keep at a distance instead of embrace.

And then there was last year’s The Last Knight, the fifth installment in the Bay-helmed series. Wow. A convoluted, overstuffed storyline was merely one contributing factor that made the movie unwatchable.

With the series in such a sad state, a reboot was in order. Enter Bumblebee, transporting viewers back to 1987 — a safe distance back in time from the Shia LaBeouf and Mark Wahlberg eras. It’s a seemingly random year to set the story, particularly given the original toys launched in 1984. Instead of going deep and playing off Orwell, this one simply goes for the easy stuff and tries its best to be an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser. It’s sort of like Super 8, a throwback to ’80s movies sensibilities, with a mild dose of Stranger Things thrown in for good measure.

The end result is a overhauled approach that treats the franchise with a healthy amount of respect, but one that also fails to generate much excitement.

Sapphire XVIII

Maybe it’s too soon to try a reboot. The storyline and situations, even with a whole new set of characters, are still too familiar.

With civil war forcing an evacuation of the Autobots from Cybertron, Bumblebee and his tribe seek refuge across the galaxies. Bumblebee lands on Earth and a couple Decepticons are dispatched to send him to the great junk heap in the sky.

It’s a fairly low-scale scenario, especially compared to the hyper, globe-spanning overload of the Bay movies. One Autobot and two Decepticons on Earth. Fine. There’s also the U.S. Army and a stereotypical military scientist who’s all too eager to help the Decepticons. That’s Dr. Powell (John Ortiz, Kong: Skull Island). He’s tag-teaming the effort with Agent Burns (WWE star John Cena). At least Agent Burns gets to deliver some dry humor along the way, but both characters are strictly one-note wonders.

And then there’s Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld, Ender’s Game). She’s just turned 18 and is still coping with the loss of her father. But Mom’s already moved onto another relationship, with a pretty lame muscle head. For her birthday, instead of getting some funds to help her fix her car, she gets a Moped helmet and a self-help book to help her smile more and win more friends.

Great. Exactly what a girl doesn’t want.

Allspark, no Current

Charlie is a fiercely independent tomboy who enjoys rummaging through her uncle’s junkyard. That’s where she runs into Bumblebee, hiding in the form of an old VW Beetle.

Unlike the God-like voice of Optimus Prime (supplied by longtime Transformers veteran Peter Cullen), Bumblebee’s vocal system was damaged and he has to rely on rapidly manipulating the Beetle’s radio signal to form sentences. It was cute for a hot minute in the first Shia LaBeouf movie. It’s a little tiresome now.

This unlikely pair meets cute, bonds cute and saves the world... in a not so cute — or exciting or innovative — fashion. There’s the occasional flash of a possible E.T. moment as Charlie and Bumblebee forge their unique friendship, but it flickers out quickly. The movie really needed a sense of magic and wonder to jumpstart the franchise. That should be in the wheelhouse of director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings), but it never materializes.

Clearly, sole screenwriter Christina Hodson (Unforgettable) was going for a tale of girl power mixed with a heavy dose of 1980s nostalgia, but the end result misses the mark on both counts.

Instead of fresh action and innovation, Bumblebee coasts on a rather tedious storyline, random pop culture references and quaint ’80s technology. And, for a sense of well-roundedness, an awkward love interest for Charlie in a self-proclaimed nerd named Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Spider-Man: Homecoming) is thrown into this Shake ‘n Bake mix. Kudos for Charlie taking the slow road, but they’ll need to crack open the chemistry books and study hard in school in order to generate something resembling an interesting relationship.

None of this is even remotely offensive, which is a nice break from the Bay-directed era. But then again, not much of it is particularly stimulating.