Yesterday was bad movie Sunday. This is how I spend my laundry days: usually watching really bad recent films once they hit HBO or one of the other services. Why not, they’re free! Well, as free as what I’m paying for the service of course.

This week I picked two movies featuring creatures of unusual size (COUS’s):  Godzilla: King of the Monsters; and Bumblebee.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

This movie starts with a flashback to San Francisco in 2014. I’m not sure if this refers to the events in the previous installment in this series, but I suspect the answer is yes. I went to see that 2014 film and remember zippety fucking doo dah about it beyond Brian Cranston being in it. It was a truly bad film… and it’s sequel doesn’t improve the genre.

The plot in this unfortunately too-long film is what you would expect. There are monsters, they’re coming back, some sort of eco-terrorist group wants to free them to bring “balance” to the world. Because apparently killing millions of human beings is balance. But we’re doing a shitty job of taking care of our planet, so maybe I can see their point a little. It’s rather like pointing a nuke at a murderer, though. Yes, you’ll kill the one responsible, but you’ll also wipe out a sizeable population center to get the justice you seek.

Pacing is abysmal. Moments of tension and suspense (“oh no, another monster is awakening!”) are drawn out way too long. Fight scenes between the unleashed creatures are drawn out way too long. Moments of “as you know” scientific goobledygook are drawn out way too long. And by now you know the military has no fucking solution that will hurt these creatures, so why the HELL are sending more troops in to get utterly pwned?

But there is a bit of snarky fun with actor Bradley Whitford (of West Wing and Cabin in the Woods fame). And Tywin Lannister… sorry, actor Charles Dance… is always fun to watch and tends to chew up the screen when he’s there for his brief moments of evil. Kyle Chandler, who I usually enjoy, doesn’t have enough to work with here and isn’t given any humor to play with, which is when he’s doing his best work.

And don’t even get my started on cinematography and CGI, both of which are woefully, horribly, laughably bad. The monsters look like fake creatures made by a computer. Everything tends to be shot in murk or darkness, which sucks and is a staple of the Hollywood giant monster films. Come on, we want color and daylight, let’s SEE this fucking beasts!

Typical scene showing murky nothingness as supposedly there are some monsters fighting here.

All in all, it was horrible. I spent more of my time playing Two Dots on my phone than I did actually watching this joke of a franchise struggling to put together a decent film. It’s not working, Universal. Try something new.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters gets 2 out of 10 pieces of Reynolds wrap from me.

Bumblebee:

I’ve unfortunately watched most of the entries into the Transformer franchise, a group of films that are almost all universally terrible. Terrible acting, terrible plots, terrible transforming robots that are god awful to watch in action because half the time you can’t tell what the fuck was going on. I went into Bumblebee not expecting much at all.

I was pleasantly and happily surprised.

This is apparently a reboot of the franchise, and for the most part is a FAR better entry into the lexicon of Transformers products. The main character, Charlie, is a young woman who is struggling to find her place in the world after the death of her father (never explained why he died, or how long ago it was, but it’s been at least a couple of years). Her mom is an overly safety conscious nurse, her younger brother a typical narc kid, and her mom’s boyfriend, Glen, is… way too happy all the time. Oh, and they like Alf.

Yes, the film is set in the 80’s. Which was an interesting choice. The first song played was Bigmouth Strikes Again by the Smiths, and I had high hopes the rest of the music would be as eclectically good. Alas, most of the rest were more standard rock tunes of the era. There was some incongruous hair styles for the late 80’s, as well as clothing choices, and while humvees had been introduced into the army by 1985, I felt that they were overly relied on in the film for military use when they wouldn’t have been so widely spread yet. In other words, they were hit and miss on representing the era.

The basic plot is fine. On a mission to earth to set up a base for the Transformers, who have been systemically wiped out by the Decepticons across the galaxy, Bumblebee is gravely injured, his memory lost and his vocal systems fried. He hides as a VW beetle, and our heroine Charlie, needing a car, decides it’s exactly what she’s wanted. But of course, the Decepticons are still looking for the scattered forces of Optimus Prime, the Autobot leader, and a signal from B-137 (Bumblebee) leads them to earth. Bumblebee and Charlie must stop the incursion while avoiding the military who the Decepticons have tricked into believing its the Autobots who are the baddies. Rote Transformers, nothing terribly new here.

Overall, there’s some decent writing here. Decent for what it is. The pacing was fine, the plot made sense, and best of all Bumblebee looked great, as did the transformations of all the vehicles. The only quibble I might have with the special effects is that we see robots get pummeled, crushed, stabbed, etc, and yet after each battle they seem fine and undamaged again. Or maybe I just couldn’t “see” the battle effects well enough on a normal sized television.

Acting was fine. Hailee Steinfeld was wonderful as Charlie. She brought some punk rock grit to the role while still showing her sensitivity, and without the usual “rebellious” teen stuff that Hollywood always gets wrong. She was the young woman in the remake of True Grit, and was in Enders Game, and she is rumored to be taking over the mantle for her father in Disney’s upcoming Hawkeye series. That makes me look forward to it even more, she’s a pretty damned good actor.

Charlie driving Bumblebee… or is she?

The cast members who played her family did a fair job. Her friend (wants to be her boyfriend), Memo, played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr., was adorable and sweet and very very helpful in an awkward, nerdy way. However, the role of the main military man who is hunting down these robots from another world was given to John Cena of pro-wrestling fame, and well… he’s decidedly not good. Only in his first scene did he exhibit anything remotely interesting, and all of the other stuff and military activities came across as too stiff and loud. Sorry folks, but if you NEED a pro-wrestler to star in your film, you can only hire ones with the first name Dwayne and last name Johnson. The rest universally seem to suck (except for Andre the Giant, but he’s passed on unfortunately). They DID give Cena one of the best lines of the film, though:  “They call themselves Decepticons, doesn’t that raise a red flag for anyone?!”

All in all, I was happily surprised by Bumblebee. Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but solid entertainment if you’re looking for big robots and cool cars and some popcorn fun on a Sunday afternoon. Which I was.

I’m giving Bumblebee six out of ten pieces of Reynold’s wrap. It’s not bad at all. Could be the start of a better series of movies.

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