Movie Review – Spider-Man: Far from Home

Marvel closes its third phase with a light, entertaining coda about everyone’s favourite webslinger.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Spider-Man: Far From Home is one of the better Spider-Man movies because, try as he might, poor Peter Parker can’t seem to do anything right and spends a great deal of time coming to terms with his role as a hero. He enjoys his time as Spider-Man, but he also wants to hang out with friends, enjoy the class vacation to Europe and tell his crush, MJ (Zendaya), how he truly feels. That’s hard enough for a regular teen. Try doing it when you have bad guys to fight and a world to save.

This time the bad guys are monstrous. Gigantic otherworldly creatures based on the four elements. Peter (Tom Holland) teams up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and a newcomer, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), who says he’s a warrior from a parallel Earth and seems like everything Peter could hope for. He’s friendly. He says all the right things, like a compassionate Tony Stark. When he slips on a pair of Tony’s glasses, he even looks like him. And now that he’s come to fight on Earth’s behalf, could Spider-Man finally be able to hang up his leotard, permitting Peter Parker to begin life as a regular teenager?

I won’t divulge much more than that. But if you’re familiar at all with the Spider-Man property, you’d know that Mysterio is a master of trickery and illusion, which means no one, not even us, should take him at his word. All this builds up to great drama for Peter, who completely wins our affection because he’s awkward and goofy and so bad at everything. In our hearts we want him to succeed, both at kicking the villain’s butt and walking away with the girl. Tony Stark chose him to be an Avenger for a reason, and now that Tony’s dead, the responsibility to be Spider-Man weighs heavier than ever.

Far From Home is directed by Jon Watts, who also directed Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and feels just as comfortable the second time around. There’s more for his spunky cast to do, especially MJ, who was quiet and aloof before but is now allowed the space to strut about as a desirable love interest. Zendaya, with her lanky frame and knowing eyes, projects just the right balance of sophistication and immaturity to appear as Peter’s ideal partner. And of course, with the initials “MJ”, her fate is more or less sealed.

This is a fun, well-made movie, with crisp CGI and a villain who embraces the theatrical. I like it when superhero stories delve deeper into their characters instead of simply flinging them through special effects. Nothing drives character like conflict, and because Spider-Man is but a wee teenager, he is a jumping, swinging canvas for conflict. Tony Stark wanted to be Iron Man. Bruce Wayne chose to save Gotham City. Peter Parker never asked for that mutated spider to give him a love bite. It just happened, and it may be a long time before he’s able to find peace with it.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is available in Australian cinemas from 1 July

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

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Movie Review – Dark Phoenix

Fox ends its X-Men series with a pathetic, useless whimper.

⭐ 
Zachary Cruz-Tan

About five minutes into Dark Phoenix, I realised I was done. I’ve been following these characters for almost twenty years, grinning and nodding along like a good sport, and now, finally, I just don’t care anymore. The X-men franchise has run its course, flopped over, died, and has somehow managed to bury itself. 

This is quite plainly a bad movie, meek in ambition, clumsy in storytelling, lacking in character and emotional depth. It’s a superhero movie, sure, but its heroes seem completely un-super. The X-Men are peacekeepers of the Earth, working to maintain their benevolent image. When a space flight goes horribly wrong, the X-Men are sent up – in a jet that’s about as space-worthy as a paraglider – to rescue the stranded astronauts. Mid-mission, poor Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is whacked in the face by a potent cosmic force. She absorbs all its power, lapses into a coma and awakens as the malevolent Dark Phoenix.

The X-Men, meanwhile, are coping with a loss so tragic that Beast (Nicholas Hoult), perhaps the most level-headed of mutants, falls completely out of character to become a vengeful killing machine. And of course there’s the endless bickering between Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who, since time immemorial, have been unable to reconcile their ideological differences. Every time they meet, an awkward silence descends, like a divorced couple seeing each other for the first time since breaking up. Guys, seriously, it’s been 19 years. Hug it out, arm wrestle, mud wrestle, play a game of hopscotch. I don’t care. Just do whatever it takes to MOVE ON WITH YOUR GODDAMN LIVES.

Anyway, there are also aliens in this movie. Yes, aliens, who turn out to be shapeshifters hell-bent on destroying Earth. Why? Who cares, really? As supervillains go, they are thin soup. Their powers are undefined, their motives are sinister because they have to be, their complete lack of engagement with the audience wastes the talent of Jessica Chastain, who plays their platinum-haired leader and performs a great many stunts in high-heels. 

Is this it? Have the X-Men finally been reduced to space battles and tedious alien invasions? More perplexingly, if James McAvoy’s Xavier crossed paths with Patrick Stewart‘s Xavier in Days of Future Past (2014), and Stewart was apparently killed by the Dark Phoenix in The Last Stand (2006), wouldn’t that mean they share continuity and that, by extension, Jean has become the Phoenix twice in one lifetime? Does it also mean my brain could possibly erupt from trying to make sense of all this rubbish?

At the end of the day, I struggle to think of who would, could and should enjoy Dark Phoenix. I am certainly not among them. My interest in these once complex characters has all but vanishedThe X-Men used to do significant things. They dealt with global catastrophe and affected the political landscape. These X-Men are a long way from home.

Dark Phoenix is available in Australian cinemas from 6 June 2019

Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox 

Movie Review – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

 More spectacular stunts, breathless action sequences and brutal executions – yeah, we’re thinking he’s back… again.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Unstoppable ex-hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has placed himself in a very dangerous situation. He’s carried out a forbidden killing on the grounds of assassin haven the Continental, and has been declared ‘excommunicado’ by the crime lord syndicate known as The High Table. With an international contract of $14 million on his head, John calls in an owed favour from former fellow killer Sofia (Halle Berry), who may be his only shot at getting the bounty lifted. Meanwhile, The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a representative of The High Table, conducts an investigation on John’s colleagues Winston (Ian McShane) and Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne).

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum hits the ground running and knows exactly how nuts it is from the opening moments. Now a proper trilogy, Chad Stahelski’s John Wick series has swooped in unexpectedly out of left field to become, surprisingly, one of the most consistently entertaining action franchises currently running.

Unashamed to be light in substance and heavy on carnage, it’s managed to strike the perfect balance between sheer ridiculousness and taking itself seriously enough to merit real investment in its characters and stakes. In its third instalment, CGI overkill once again takes a back seat in favour of brilliantly choreographed and bone crunchingly real fight scenes.

Chapter 3 is everything a fan of the first two Wicks would have come to expect from the series, and it certainly delivers on all expectations. The action comes hard, fast and insane. Motorcycles are flipped, trained dogs rip out the throats of henchmen and gunfights are conducted underwater.

The penchant for bloodthirstiness over storytelling depth means that, narratively, this never quite reaches the dizzying heights of Chapter 2, but it’s so balls-to-the-wall thrilling that you’ll likely be too busy cheering to care. It largely rests on the ever-game shoulders of Keanu Reeves, who’s found a role that perfectly combines his stiff, emotionless demeanor with his unrivaled talent for aesthetic martial arts and all-round badassery.

There’s perhaps one exception to expectations here – a swansong this isn’t, as its ending promises further ordeals and no mercy for the never-resting Wick. Be it a fourth chapter or the proposed TV series, as long as Keanu and company are back we’re here for it.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is available in Australian cinemas from May 16 2019 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal 

Movie Review – Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Despite an electric performance from Ryan Reynolds, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu squanders its potential.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

Thousands of episodes, dozens of videogames, a collection of straight-to-DVD films and one viral mobile game – as a brand, Pokémon has churned out its fair share of material since bursting onto the scene in the nineties. It’s frankly surprising that we’ve had to wait until now for a live-action Hollywood makeover, but here we are.

Based on a fairly average Nintendo DS game of the same name from a few years back, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu reimagines everyone’s favourite electric mouse as a hard-boiled detective with a deerstalker hat, a caffeine addiction and the voice of Ryan Reynolds. The film sees Pikachu – who can wisecrack, and piece together clues on top of delivering a vicious zap – join forces with Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a former Pokémon trainer who is on the trail of his missing father.

Much of Detective Pikachu’s appeal is derived from the novelty of seeing the wacky creatures fans know and love coexist in the fictional metropolis of Ryme City. Machamp, a hulking beefcake with four arms, directs traffic at a busy intersection; Charmander, a cute fire salamander, helps heat food at a night-time noodle market; and Aipom, cheeky chimp-like critters, chatter away atop glowing neon signs. Ryme City feels like a living, breathing city, akin to Zootopia or Monsters Inc, and much like Robert Zemeckis’ classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the integration of animation and live-action is pretty much seamless.

However, this is more or less where the fun begins and ends. Detective Pikachu soon leaves the neon-soaked streets of Ryme City behind – and the fun noir vibe along with it – for a more generic family action film. The questions at the centre of its plot – is Tim’s dad still out there somewhere? What caused his disappearance? – aren’t that compelling to begin with, and then the film ties itself in knots trying to explain it.

Fans will see similar beats regurgitated from 1998’s Pokémon: The First Movie, while newcomers will feel all at sea surrounded by swarms of Rufflet, Loudred and Morelull. But while the myriad of Pokémon add colour and creativity, the same can’t be said of the human characters. Smith is a bland audience POV character with nothing interesting of note, while Kathryn Newton plays a common, plucky reporter with a “nose for a story”. The saving grace is Reynolds, with his natural charisma dialled up the 11.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu has many good points, but as a whole it’s a rather run-of-the-mill film that doesn’t do enough with the rich world at its fingertips.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is available in Australian cinemas from May 9

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Avengers: Endgame

After 22 films, 11 years and a rapidly expanding gallery of heroes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe culminates in Avengers: Endgame, a three-hour epic that is suitably shocking, stunning and satisfying.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

At the end of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were vanquished by the villainous Thanos (Josh Brolin). Having united all six Infinity Stones, Thanos was able to click his fingers and wipe out half of all life in existence – including the likes of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-man (Tom Holland) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Avengers: Endgame picks up 23 days later. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) is adrift in space, light-years from home and nearing the end of his oxygen supply. Back on Earth, the surviving Avengers – Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) – are left to pick up the pieces.

If Infinity War was an adrenaline-soaked frenzy of action, Endgame is the sombre hangover. For the first time, our heroes are faced with the fallout of their failure – they lost, and they’re struggling to move on.

Endgame takes its time to explore what that means for those left behind (fans of HBO’s The Leftovers will be getting déjà vu here) for a solid chunk of its runtime, which means the action doesn’t kick into gear until over an hour until the film. But that’s okay – letting the dust settle (pun intended) and shifting focus to the characters isn’t just done well, it’s necessary for what comes next.

It also gives the cast a chance to impress. Evans is brilliant once again as a steely but downbeat Steve Rogers; Downey Jnr and Hemsworth similarly shine, representing several other stages of grief – anger and depression respectively. Endgame isn’t afraid to steer the characters in new directions either – Jeremy Renner returns with a darker version of Clint Barton while Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) arrival drives the plot forward in unexpected ways.

That’s really all you need to know. Marvel has done an excellent job of marketing this film while only showing you stuff from the first 15-20 minutes. They don’t give away much, so neither will I. Rest assured, Endgame has a lot of surprises in store. The structure isn’t unexpected – the dour, character-driven first act makes way for a loopy middle third before everything ties together for a grand finale – but it’s how the film hits those beats along the way, offering twists and turns aplenty, that gives it the edge over Infinity War, which was bombastic and raced along at breakneck speed.

Endgame doesn’t just wrap up the events of Infinity War, it serves as a full stop for ideas and arcs first introduced in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Age of Ultron and beyond. It’s one great big victory lap that sees Marvel pushing even more the envelope of what was previously possible and going several steps further, just as they have done on a number of occasions in the past.

Endgame is a heartfelt, sincere and emotionally shattering love letter to what has come before, a fitting finale for some, and a new beginning for others. It’s the payoff, the triumph and the pathos you’ve been looking and hoping for. In terms of finales, it’s up there with Return of the King or Return of the Jedi. What more is left to say other than – go see it for yourself.

Avengers: Endgame is available in Australian cinemas from April 25

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Movie Review – Shazam!

A DC Comics staple gets his time in the spotlight courtesy of David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

A troubled teen with a good heart bouncing from foster home to foster home, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) finally lands on his feet when he’s plopped on the doorstep of gentle foster parents Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa (Marta Milans). The caring couple and their menagerie of foster children – including Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer) ­– open their hearts to Billy, but he’s too busy getting into trouble and looking for his birth mum to pay them any attention.

A good deed leads Billy to a chance encounter with a mystical wizard (Djimon Hounsou), who gifts him with the ability to transform into the muscled lycra-clad adult hero Shazam (Zachary Levi), who is invulnerable to bullets, can leap buildings in a single bound and shoot lightning from his fingers. With Freddy in tow, Billy discovers the benefits of being older and super – but his gift isn’t without danger, which he comes to realise when the villainous Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) arrives on the scene.

After a rocky start, DC’s interconnected series of superhero films has come good recently. Wonder Woman remains the high watermark, and Aquaman proved even the lamest of heroes can be fun when in possession of enough charisma. David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! continues this upward trajectory, courtesy of its playful tone, colourful characters and abundance of heart. To say you’ll be beaming from ear to ear in an understatement.

While the sprawling ensemble cast is packed with great characters, Billy and Freddy’s friendship shines brightest. A second act montage where the duo experiments with Shazam’s myriad of powers (with varying results) is hilarious. It’s a gleeful exploration of how two tearaway teens would act when gifted with a grown-up body and superpowers. They buy beer, visit a strip club and generally cause mischief. Basically it’s Tom Hanks’ Big with ancient wizards and gruesome demons thrown into the mix. What’s not to love?

Levi (best known for the titular role in Chuck) and Grazer (who viewers will recognise from 2017’s It) bounce off one another with aplomb, with the former nailing the mood of a kid who just discovered they can fly at the speed of sound. Fun isn’t something audiences have come to expect from DC films, but Shazam! is making up for lost time.

Of course, every hero needs a villain, and Sivana is a passable one. Strong skulks around behind dark sunglasses, snarls about his evil intentions and has a horde of hulking monsters at his back. He exists solely to create some third act drama, but isn’t what you would call memorable.

At its core, Shazam! is about family. Billy is searching for one but looking in all the wrong places; Sivana is similarly lonely, but chooses to channel this into anger; Victor and Rosa’s home may be unconventional, but there’s no shortage of familial love at their dinner table. Because of this (and in spite of a few scares which reveal Sandberg’s horror roots remain intact), Shazam! is the perfect Saturday matinee film for the family. A simple premise with heart and humour in equal measure, Shazam! doesn’t reinvent the genre or defy expectation, but it does deliver on its promise of unbridled fun. Comes recommended.

Shazam! is available in Australian cinemas from April 4

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Captain Marvel

Ten years and 21 films into its sprawling ‘cinematic universe’, the much-loved sausage party that is Marvel Studios finally unveils its first female protagonist in Captain Marvel.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

A disjointed first act introduces us to Vers (Brie Larson), an amnesiac commando who fights for the Kree in a vast intergalactic war against the Skrulls, a race of nefarious shape-shifters. Tutored by Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers remembers very little about her past and refuses to play by the rules as a result. When a tussle with Skrull commander Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) causes Vers to wind up stranded on Earth, the fiery solider must untangle her past to learn the truth about her future.

If you’re not up-to-date on your Marvel lore, the first 30 minutes of Captain Marvel won’t sit and wait for you to catch up. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck aren’t interested in lengthy exposition or explanation in what can only be described as a disorderly opening. Things start to settle into a groove once Vers arrives on Earth and the customary fish-out-of-water shenanigans begin. Set in 1995, a killer soundtrack and lots of humour at the dated technology ensures laughs aplenty.

Crossing paths with SHIELD agent Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson, back in all his Jules Winnfield glory courtesy of a computer) and a fresh recruit called Coulson (Clark Gregg, also sans wrinkles), the jigsaw pieces in the Captain Marvel puzzle start to fall into place during a much stronger second act. At its core, Captain Marvel is a film about empathy and embracing your inner strength – it just takes a while for all this to coalesce into a coherent narrative.

The film struggles to make everything fit, offering us glimpses of Vers’ mysterious past while also tying the film into the wider Marvel timeline. It works, but you get the feeling that a lot has been surgically removed to trim down the runtime – most notably in the lacking scenes with McKenna Grace and Annette Bening in their respective roles as young Vers and [redacted].

A powerful finale makes good on the film’s early promise; once Vers gets going, nothing will stand in her way – an apt and resonant message that feels essential in 2019. The only thing really holding Captain Marvel back from reaching that upper echelon in the Marvel pantheon is its presentation; the action is often dark and murky, a far cry from the vivid bursts of colour splashed across the screen in James Gunn’s similarly space-bound Guardians of the Galaxy films. Meanwhile, its villains are run-of-the-mill and rote, with Marvel’s batting average with antagonists continuing to slip further into ‘disappointing’.

When it works, it really works. But this is a clunky and inconsistent opening chapter, akin to 2016’s Doctor Strange or the first Thor. I suspect, as with those characters, Captain Marvel will really come into her own when she gets to bounce off others in upcoming Avengers sequel, Endgame. Until then, we’ll have to make do with ‘good enough’.

Captain Marvel is available in Australian cinemas from March 7

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Alita: Battle Angel

Robert Rodriguez tackles the conventional with Alita: Battle Angel, a dystopian romance that never quite takes off.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Alita: Battle Angel gets one thing right: Alita herself. Just about everything else makes little sense. Alita’s a cyborg who has lost her memory, except when she’s cornered, then she instinctively knows how to somersault from ledges and rip off arms like a raging gymnast crossed with Jason Bourne. She has the face of Rosa Salazar, the actress who portrays her, but her eyes have been enlarged and her jaw narrowed so that she looks like something out of a comic book, which she is. She’s never less than captivating.

The movie starts in the 26th century with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz), a renowned cybernetic scientist, discovering Alita’s torso in a scrap pile. He reanimates her body, revives her core and raises her like his own. He warns her to avoid the dreaded sport, Motorball, which is essentially roller derby played at the level of the Super Bowl and is the fuel that runs the city.

We are told that 300 hundred years ago, a terrible war was fought that left the world in ruin. What caused the war? Who knows? Never mind. Alita soon discovers that she may have been built as a weapon long before the war even began, and that some of her answers could lie in Zalem, the legendary metropolis that hovers ominously above her lower-caste city.

The Motorball league is run by Vector (Mahershala Ali), your typical bad guy in the penthouse suite. He is in cahoots with the impossibly silky Dr. Chiren (Jennifer Connelly), Ido’s ex-wife whose motives, frankly, are unclear. Together they do the bidding of Nova, a mysterious mastermind who lives up in Zalem and has his finger in every pie. Then there’s Hugo (Keean Johnson), the strapping renegade who does whatever it takes to survive, including – gasp! – betraying the one he loves. And how could I forget the subculture of cyborg bounty hunters?

See, the problem with Alita is that it has a wonderful central character and an intriguing set-up, but overcrowds its margins with too many supporting players, many of whom feel ultimately redundant (Vector is remarkably one-note). The movie comes alive as long as Alita’s on screen, preferably beating someone up. Once the attention moves away, everything seems to grind to a halt.

It is directed by Robert Rodriguez and based on a limited 1990 Japanese manga series called “Gunnm”. However, it only contains pockets of imagination. If you enjoy high-tech movies with awesome fight scenes and big explosions, Alita: Battle Angel is for you. I wanted more, because Alita is designed for something greater. But hey, it looks like I will get more, because there will certainly come a sequel. I just hope it’s not in 3D.

Alita: Battle Angel is available in Australian cinemas from February 14

Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Aquaman

Aquaman swims into cinemas this Boxing Day. Will DC’s latest tentpole cause a splash or be all lost at sea? #sorrynotsorry

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

What do you get you pour a dash of Jules Verne, a drop of Shakespeare, a dollop of Star Wars, a smidge of Indiana Jones, a pinch of Jupiter Ascending and a whole load of generic superhero cheesiness into a bowl and mix it up? Something that resembles James Wan’s Aquaman, it would seem.

If I had to sum Aquaman up in one word it would be ‘daft’. There are a lot of other words I could choose from – colourful, scattershot, goofy, beautiful and fun rate among them. But it’s ‘daft’ that sums up this overlong, tonally-confused blast more than anything else.

Aquaman, which features an octopus that can play the drums, is so far removed from Zack Snyder‘s doom and gloom vision of Batman and Superman that asking audiences to buy into the idea that these three characters coexist in the same world is a huge stretch, and confirms that DC has performed a complete 180 with its film series. The game plan going forward is all about having fun, even if that means ignoring a little thing called character.

Set after the events of Justice League, Aquaman sees Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) tussling with small-time pirates but refusing to take up the mantle of king of Atlantis. When his half-brother and current Atlantean monarch Orm (Patrick Wilson) threatens war with ‘the surface’ (i.e. humans), Princess Mera (Amber Heard) reaches out to Arthur and urges him to ‘fulfill his destiny’ by retrieving a long-lost magic trident or some such – you know the drill.

It’s in the plotting that the cracks start to appear. Key moments, such as a tidal wave that devastates the east coast of America, are quickly pushed aside for next big action beat. The quest to retrieve a magical MacGuffin that proves Arthur’s royal credentials skips around a fair bit, with the treasure hunt taking Arthur and Mera from Massachusetts to the Sahara, Sicily and a spooky trench in the North Sea. Each chapter in the quest in punctuated with some surprisingly well-staged action, with Wan calling on his background in horror (The Conjuring, Insidious) to open each set piece suddenly and loudly, with pyrotechnics in place of scares.

However, this jolly adventure doesn’t have time to rest and focus on character. Everything about who Arthur is, why Orm is the way he is or what Mera wants is spelled out in the broadest of strokes. Instead, Aquaman would rather move onto the next exciting scrape or scuffle, provided the transition is soundtracked by Pitbull’s woeful cover of Toto’s ‘Africa’ of course.

Undeniably fun but fatally flawed, Aquaman offers an entertaining diversion with wave after wave of action, noise and colour. If only it had time to reflect on its actual characters, rather that simply tossing them from place to place in search of the next punch-up.

Aquaman is available in Australian cinemas from December 26

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Bumblebee

Travis Knight’s Bumblebee spin-off flies into cinemas later this month. We caught an early preview to see what all the buzz is about.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

After five increasingly bombastic entries from Michael Bay, Paramount’s weary Transformers series was in dire need of reinvention. Said change arrives this December, taking the form of a souped-up, cute-as-a-button VW Beetle and actress, model and songstress Hailee Steinfeld. So long Shia and Marky Mark. You will not be missed.

Set in 1987, 20 years prior to the first Transformers film, Bumbleebee sees the mute robot in disguise on the run and taking refuge in a remote junkyard. Charlie (Steinfeld), a lonely teen on the cusp of adulthood, is gifted a bright yellow bug as an 18th birthday present, unknowingly beginning a beautiful friendship and charming buddy film.

Bear withme here, but this film – yes, the one with the huge hulking robots that smash into one another and can turn into a Subaru or whatever – is one of the most heartfelt blockbusters of the year. At its core, Bumblebee is a coming-of-age tale. There are enemies to defeat and worlds to save, but what it boils down to is a girl, her car and the bond they grow to share.

The screenplay, penned by Christina Hodson(who will soon write DC’s Birds of Prey and Batgirlmovies), pushes all the hallmarks of a Transformers film to the periphery. Gone is the unbearable military jingoism, leery male gaze and explosions full of fireworks and Catherine wheels. The garish filter that drenched everything in oversaturated colours is gone, the Transformers themselves more closely resemble the original designs that fans will remember from the 80’s and the action is more sporadic and less frenetic, with cleaner edits and less unintelligible CGI cluttering the screen.

That said, cynics might sneer at the soundtrack, which is jam-packed with 80’s hits. This is a fair complaint, as Bumblebee definitely panders to the same nostalgia centres of our brain as, say, Stranger Things or Ready Player One, simultaneously catching kids who love Transformers now and adults who loved Transformers in the 80’s in its web.

So, there you have it. 10 years after Michael Bay introduced the world to Megan Fox and splashed his bombastic brand of auteurism across a classic 80’s cartoon and we finally have a half-decent Transformers flick. There have been moments of greatness, but Bumblebee is the first film in the series to possess both the ‘warm and fuzzies’ and the colourful explosions we’ve come to expect.

Bumblebee is available in Australian cinemas from December 20

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures