It’s been 11 years since a Transformers movie left audiences feeling good at the movies. 2017’s The Last Knight pummelled out almost every last inch of joy the 2007 original sparked. With its lacklustre returns dooming the Transformers universe films into the unknown, it is a relief to see that Bumblebee recaptures and reinvigorates a franchise in much need of some Energon.
Travis Knight (who helmed the wonderful Kubo and the Two Strings) proves that while juggling intergalactic robot aliens at war with their human counterparts is a big deal, it doesn’t always have to punch you in the face all the time. And that, is a welcome break from the Michael Bayness that had engulfed the previous films.
With that said, Knight doesn’t shy away from appeasing long time fanboys. Bay was notoriously against making the Transformers exact replicas of their cartoon selves. Knight however, throws us long suffering fans a bone. The opening sequence (a nice throwback to the animated movie from 1986) takes place on Cybertron and is what has been missing from the Bayverse. It’s a few minutes long and says, “I got you”, to those long time fans.
Bumblebee escapes Cybertron to find a new home for the Autobots and finds himself on Earth, circa 1987. We know this because of the title cue, but also because of the glorious 1980s colour palette and music. Once the opening synthesizers of Bon Jovi’s “Runaway” start blaring out, the movie really finds its footing. Bumblebee meets Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a just-turned-18 young woman who like most teenagers, is finding her pre-adult life difficult. Charlie’s dad has passed away and she struggles to find happiness in her world.
She gets picked on, her job sucks, and she can’t seem to finish the project her and her dad worked on before he passed. Her character is one that is both relatable and sympathetic- qualities missing from just about every human character since the first two movies. Steinfeld’s Watson is resourceful, witty, and good at fixing cars. She’s actually a weird amalgamation of Shia LeBeouf’s Sam and Megan Fox’s Mikaela, except less shouty- which is a good thing. The point is, we like her.
She meets Bumblebee and the two bond. Like a good John Hughes flick, its awkward hellos and music that forms the connection. The two have to fight off incoming Decepticons who are after the location of Optimus Prime and the Autobot base. They get help from a pretty well rounded human cast, highlighted by the seemingly hopeless boy-next-door Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Sector 7 agent Jack Burns (John Cena being John Cena) and Charlie’s family.
Knight and writer Christina Hodson have done a good job with the humour. It’s a subtle blast of humour (Bumblebee no fan of Rick Astley or The Smiths? Gold), and thankfully, nothing painfully juvenile like scrotums on a giant robot or one urinating on a human.
It is this deftness that works. Sure, we get explosions and robot battles, but we also get some quieter, lighter touches. Both Bay and Steven Spielberg are credited as Executive Producers on this flick but its the latter whose influence seems more prevalent.
But more importantly, Knight has made us care about this franchise again. At least I do. Bumblebee is supposed to be a prequel to the 2007 film, and while we do get a lot of connections to that film, it still has a lot of work to do to connect directly to the original (but then again, everything became so confusing that maybe, it’ll be more of a reset than a prequel). Nonetheless, it’s great to see that with someone other than Bay at the reins, the Transformers have life. Sure, there’s some pure nostalgia written in (Stan Bush! Yes!), but there’s hope, and there’s joy.
A big blockbuster that’s got the touch. I guess you could say its more than meets…
Directed by: Travis Knight
Written by: Christina Hodson
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 114 minutes
Film Review: It Chapter Two
The sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans
The final installment in the It saga is a clever, scary, probably-too-long allegory about the power of friendship — complete with a 20-foot clown spider. Sure, it’s probably a half-hour longer than it really needs to be — but It Chapter Two is still a fantastic film that hits the sweet spot between Stephen King fans, horror fans and (believe it or not) comedy fans.
It’s a story about friendship, and just like the first film, it’s those relationships that make this story so compelling and keep it woven together in a way that you really care about what’s happening to all the folks Pennywise has been menacing across these two films. Sure, Bill Skarsgård’s absolutely terrifying performance as Pennywise is what puts butts in the seats, but at its heart, this is a story about the power of friendship to win out over pretty much anything. If we work together, we can overcome fear, loneliness, doubt, depression — and yeah — even a supernaturally godlike killer clown. Thankfully, all the blood keeps that message from getting too sappy along the way.
The first It in 2017 was a surprise, monster hit — but for good reason. The Stephen King adaptation by director Andy Muschietti is pretty much a horror masterpiece wrapped in a compelling coming of age story. Think Goonies meets a face-eating monster flick with jump scares galore to keep the blood pumping. But, despite a decently-closed ending to the first chapter, the story was always conceived as a two-part film run, which is pretty much the only way one could hope to possibly wrap up King’s massive tome (the studio actually briefly considered splitting Chapter Two into two films, because there’s just so much material).
It Chapter Two makes a wise decision to keep the stellar younger cast from the first film involved via ample flashbacks, while still providing space for the adult Losers to live and breathe (and, ahem, die) while bridging the gap between who they were and who they all grew up to be. It also embraces the inherent silliness and insanity of its premise to laugh, now seen through the lens of middle-aged adults as opposed to middle school minds. It’s a hard tone to hit, and it arguably might come off with more laughs than scares, but it’s true to the inherent madness of Pennywise.
The adult cast is also a home run by and large. James McAvoy makes for a capable adult Bill; Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of adult Bev; James Ransome nails grown-up Eddie; and Isaiah Mustafa does a capable job providing the necessary info-dumps as adult Mike. But the real breakout is Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader as grown-up Richie. There’s scattered buzz that Hader could be worthy of an Oscar nomination for his performance, and he deserves every bit of it. We knew Hader had comedy chops, and he uses them plenty to keep this dark tale from getting too dark, but he really taps into the emotion of what it’d be like to go through something so traumatizing. And the moments that break Richie will almost certainly break you, too.
As for the changes to King’s original novel, sure, they’ll certainly be noticeable for fans. That said, the book itself — especially the ending — is absolutely wild and arguably impossible to adapt in a way that could work on the screen. The ending on-screen largely stays true to King’s themes built into the novel, and for the story that’s been told across these two films, it really does work. Hell, even King himself shows up in a cameo to make a joke about just how hard it can be to get an ending right.
Thankfully, despite a few bumps, It Chapter Two pretty much nails the landing. In a world filled more and more with King adaptations, this two-film run will stand as one of the best.
It Chapter Two is in cinemas now
IT CHAPTER TWO
Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Cast: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run time: 169 minutes
Film Review: Hobbs & Shaw
If you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion
It is hard to believe that 2001’s The Fast & The Furious was just a film about the underground culture of street racing. Fast forward nearly 20 years later and the films have gotten so ridiculous that the only logical next step for the film series is to blast it into space. Our endless appetite for the series has seen us grown accustomed to cars taking planes out of the sky (Fast 6), cars jumping from one building to another (Fast 7), and cars being remotely controlled to act like a pack of mechanical wild dogs (Fast 8). Ridiculous is not a barrier the film series will ever brake for and so it brings us to this, the biggest spin-off the series has seen, Hobbs & Shaw.
When the chemistry between The Rock and Jason Statham proved magic in Fast 8, it only took The Rock butting heads with Vin Diesel to see that logically, the series needed a freshness to it. Who better than Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham? Well, as Hobbs & Shaw proves, if you’ve already got the volume at 11, you might as well blast it to oblivion as the film cares not for subtlety, pouring gasoline on the fire. The film sees the addition of Idris Elba as supervillain Brixton Lore and the effervescent Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, the sister of Statham’s character. Both characters fit in superbly well to the colorful, over-the-top personas of the series, but with one difference; they haven’t worn thin yet and are extremely likable. The film benefits greatly from the absence of Vin Diesel’s dopey head and the majority of the dopey Fast “family”, instead taking the Fast and Furious formula and giving it a spit shine, turning it sideways, and sticking it right up… well, you know the drill.
Hobbs (Johnson) and Shaw (Statham) play the unlikeliest (but most charismatic) buddy cop twosome since the days of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte. Unexpectedly, this film is really quite hilarious- with the two swapping one-liners and jibes that keeps the film light and funny. The two are tasked with stopping global genocide at the hands of the megalomaniacal terrorist organization known as Etheon. The “face” of Etheon is superhuman Brixton Lore (Elba), an agent left for dead and turned into a weaponized cyborg-esque villain using genetic engineering. He’s the “black Superman” as he says, and he’s got an array of tech and gadgets (including a transforming, autonomous motorbike that would have found itself at home in a Transformers movie) that are part of Etheon’s plan to rid the world of the “weak”.
Etheon are after a deadly virus that is in possession of Hattie Shaw and what ensues is the expected cinematic equivalent of flexing your muscles and undoing the top few buttons of your blouse soundtracked to explosions, fast machines, and zippy dialogue. Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2) keeps things by the book, and visually it’s all very on brand with the film series. But it is the chemistry and likability of the stars- namely Kirby, Statham, and Johnson- that keeps Hobbs & Shaw light on its feet, big with its set pieces, and never a chore. Kirby, in particular, has shown that her action chops are as deadly as her acting chops (is it too late to make her Black Widow? Or maybe just put her in all the action films). She never spends the film waiting to be rescued and is often the one quelling the childish, but hilarious quarrelling between Statham and Johnson.
The film trades the tired Fast family for real blood family, and while we still get the whole “family” and “heart” spiel that Vin Diesel loves to harp on about in these films, there is definitely a welcome change to the last few films. In fact, the Fast films haven’t been this fun in a long time. Unlike the last few, Hobbs & Shaw knows that the stakes of the film are global, but never does it take that too seriously and we the audience never feel too burdened by the ridiculousness of it all. There are some great cameos (two unexpected stars pop up that add the right comedic touches, plus Helen Mirren is always brilliant) and while the changing of scenery to Samoa is reminiscent of the previous Fast family vacations to South America et al, there’s something spiritual about this trip.
In the end, you don’t even have to turn your brain off because the film is soaked in charm and lightness that makes for a fun, smart enough romp that keeps its two-plus hour run time feeling like quite a breeze. Hobbs & Shaw is what this film series desperately needed. And while we can’t say the appeal will still be there when we’re inevitably sitting through Hobbs & Shaw 2, 3, 4, 5… we can say that for now, we’ll live this life one spin-off at a time.
HOBBS & SHAW
Directed by: David Leitch
Written by: Chris Morgan, Drew Pearce
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Vanessa Kirby, Idris Elba, Helen Mirren
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Run time: 135 minutes