The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Michael Bay's first Transformers movie was a small work of cinematic alchemy. It brought Hasbro's popular, but cheesy toy line to the big screen in a way that was exciting. The resulting four sequels ran the gamut from mediocre to downright awful. To be perfectly blunt, my interest in the franchise had completely evaporated. Then along came Bumblebee. With a scaled-back approach and a new director (Kubo and the Two Strings' Travis Knight), the series has been unexpectedly revitalized.

Set in 1987, this entry is a prequel. With the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron under massive attack from the evil Decepticons, Optimus Prime sends a scout named B-127 to Earth to scope it out for a possible migration. Upon arrival, he encounters some members of the military, led by Lt. Jack Burns (John Cena), and a couple of Decepticons who have followed him. Scared and wounded, B-127 ends up disguising himself as a Volkswagen Beetle and hiding in the junk yard of a small California town.

Enter Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage girl who has a poor relationship with her mother and a deep sense of loss, thanks to her father's death. She discovers the car and, after getting over the shock of realizing that it's actually an extra-terrestrial being, dubs him Bumblebee. When the Decepticons strike a deal with Burns to track him down, Charlie is stuck right in the middle.

Bumblebee runs less than two hours and actually has a story, so that automatically makes it the best Transformers movie since the original. Whereas the sequels were all needlessly bloated, this prequel is leaner and more focused. At the heart of the plot is the bond that grows between Charlie and Bumblebee. She needs a friend because she feels her mother and stepfather are pressuring her "get over" her father's passing. He needs a friend because he's alone on a strange planet with enemies pursuing him. The movie pauses the action at regular intervals to develop things between them. It helps that Hailee Steinfeld gives a credible performance, acting opposite a co-star who was added in later via CGI.

There's a lot of humor in Bumblebee, including a very funny scene in which he wanders into Charlie's house and inadvertently damages things. There's also a lot of heart, as Charlie finds a bit of healing from her loss in the form of her visitor from another planet. The action scenes are tighter than in Michael Bay's films because they haven't been edited to death. You can actually tell what's happening. The '80s setting, meanwhile, helps set this film apart from the others, while simultaneously allowing for some amusing pop culture references, particularly in how Bumblebee uses songs from the era to communicate with Charlie.

Although it's true that there's nothing here we haven't seen before, the way familiar elements are presented is satisfying. Bumblebee makes the Transformers fun again.

( out of four)

Note: The 3D is fun when the film takes full advantage of it -- which is only intermittently -- but not essential.

Bumblebee is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action violence . The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.

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