Bumblebee

I enjoyed the first of the “Transformers” movies, it was loud and full of explosions and destruction, but all that got a little tiresome as the sequels came. Since I was not a child in the 1980s, I barely knew what the Transformers were and probably missed the relationship that younger audiences had with the original cartoons. Still, it is a series based on a toy line, and that seems like the biggest product placement you can have. I assume it has been working, at least up to the last film which was apparently a bust and abysmal.

“Bumblebee” may not draw in the big bucks that the first three films managed, but it will go a long way to restoring some sense of purpose to the concept. This film still has big effects and robots bashing each other, but not nearly as much and the purpose is not to gawk at all the Metropolitan destruction on screen. The battles here are smaller, easier to follow for a number of reasons, and they are mostly connected to the story.

Hailee Steinfeld plays Charlie, an alienated teen (is there any other kind in the movies?), who discovers that the VW Beetle she owns, is not really a Bug, but rather an Apoidea. We see how the robot from another world got here and we know it’s mission, but because of combat, it’s memory has largely been lost and Charlie and Bumblebee have to figure out was is going on as the story unfolds. The thing that this film seems to get right is the relationship that Charlie and Bee develop together. It takes it’s time evolving and there are bumps along the way, but by the end of the film, you can almost believe the tears that will be shed by these characters.

As usual, there is a subplot involving a secret organization of the military, tracking the presence of the robots on Earth. This film is set in 1987, so in essence it is a prequel/reboot of the original films, and thus humans can be deceived by Decepticons, even though we know that is what they call themselves. The smaller scale of the story allows for more coherent visualization of the battles. They are all almost one on one without having to shift angles and focus to close ups every 5 seconds. It made for a more relaxing but still exciting film. Jon Cena has the thankless role of the xenophobic military officer who needs to be enlightened. He is perfectly fine but he does seem like a stand in for Josh Duhamel or Mark Wahlberg.

To say that this is the best “Transformers” movie might be a little bold, but it is clearly more engaging than any of the sequels have been so it has that going for it. The 80s vibe is heavy so all the kids who really did love the cartoons should be happy and there is a good chance that a whole bunch of new wave acts will see a spike in their Spotify numbers in the next month or so. It is entertaining but not essential, go at your own level of desire to see this character, because that’s it’s real selling point.

Blockers

This will be a relatively short post because there is on;y a little bit to say about this film. I had seen the trailer and thought that it was a raunchy comedy that I could safely skip. My wife had expressed a little interest but the butt chugging gag in the trailer was not promising. I’m going to blame the guys on one of the podcasts that I listen to for talking me into seeing this. They discussed it on one of their recent shows, and both of them thought it had some funny lines of dialogue. They were not impressed with the physical gags but thought there was a theme here worth looking at. Since I have been blocked myself [from seeing several other films until a certain member of the household was available] , it seemed right to give it a chance.

Indeed the film is raunchy. The parents act in some pretty stupid ways in their attempt to track down and stop their girls from making what they see as a mistake. There are three or four completely superfluous scenes that exist only for the humor and add nothing to the story. The aforementioned beer chugging sequence makes zero sense as soon as the parents identify themselves, but the contest goes on anyway. There is a car crash scene that gets laughed off, but of course in real life would entail huge consequences for those involved. The most extreme sections involve peeping into another home and catching the occupants engaged in some sexual activity. and then later returning to the same location, to break in, and ending up in a preposterous sex game which has nothing to do with the story. At least the sequence was honest enough to feature male frontal nudity rather than the traditional reveal of a nude woman. Gary Cole did his own reveal here and while it may not be my cup of tea, it was refreshing that the film treated men the way women are usually exploited.

One of the themes of the movie revolves around the sexist assumption that girls need to be treated differently in regard to their initiation into being sexually active. Indeed, that is a worthy goal but it is barely part of the story. First we have to have some version of naked “Sardines” with strangers, and then there has to be serial vomiting. The warm turn that the film takes in the last act is very typical of a teen film from the 80s or 90s. “Porkys”, “American Pie”, and “Clueless” all end up with more sincerity than you might expect. “Blockers ” turns into a family story with the adults and children learning to accept one another despite the flaws that all of them have. This is not exactly original, but it turns out kinda sweet anyway.

The older stars are adequately over the top. Jon Cena and Leslie Mann are the central figures and both play the parts as you expect. Mann is a neurotic mother with attachment issues and a whinny voice, who pushes things forward. Cena is an overprotective dad who sees his girl as a child, despite the fact he has nurtured her into being a successful athlete. Ike Barinholtz ends up stealing the film from the others by having the most comic payoffs to his dialogue and the story that has the most to say about trying to parent a child and ultimately succeeding.

So it is not a great film, it has a few good laughs but it is not original and if you are a sympathetic vomit-er, you might want to skip out on it. The sex issues seemed to bother the parents more than all the drinking and drug use that is part of the story. The girls are fine and their arcs play out pretty much the way they are telegraphed. This movie is not really made for me, I could tell by the soundtrack playlist which featured no music ever heard by a baby boomer. The next generation of teen comedies seems to be moving forward without a need to appease the older crowd. That seems an apt result given the storyline.