Review: Transformers – Rise of the Beasts

The Transformers movie franchise really had the quietest renaissance ever, didn’t it? It is an actual shame no one really cares.

Following, loosely, after 2018’s prequel Bumblebee, the Autobots are stuck on Earth and in hiding. But when an ancient technological device is recovered by a museum, it could be their ticket back to their home planet. However, the device belongs to another sect of robots, The Maximals, and it is also being sought after… by The Terrorcons.

Just to be direct: I personally love Transformers. I have an Optimus Prime on my desk. I grew up with G1. I never watched Beast Wars, the series that this film takes inspiration from. I thought the concept at that time was silly; why would the Autobots needs to disguise themselves after crashing on a prehistoric world? The dinosaurs aren’t going to be any more offended than they already are. So going into Rise of the Beasts I personally had little interest, despite it having the same pedigree as the 2018 film Bumblebee, which was the best Transformers film yet made.

I said it then, and I will say it again: watching these films now, with all the baggage they have, is bittersweet. These should have been the first ones

A whole new cast, Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback play our human leads Noah and Elena, both New Yorkers, one an ex-military man-turn-potential thief, and the other a museum researcher. A new director (who’s name was heavily underplayed in the credits) Creed II‘s Steven Caple Jr. Rise of the Beasts is fine. Which is heavily signifying how tainted all of this is after Michael Bay’s run of it…

Mirage is a genuinely good Transformers character, alongside human lead, Noah.

What really is most troublesome, is that Paramount never outright announced that these new films were separate from the “Bayverse” movies preceding them. Even though they clearly are rebooting the storyline; so much has changed. Which is baffling, and really piles on any sincerity or conviction going forward… What’s happening? Are they going to tie things together somehow? Considering the utter mess that is the Bayverse narrative… deliberately not retconning all of it and starting again is mystifying.
It is probably because Bay’s production company is still involved. It is usually because of money.

But what can be said for Rise of the Beasts? Well, it is narratively like every other Transformers live action film we’ve seen yet. Robots are on / arrive on Earth at historic time. Magic Macguffin that everyone really really wants is on Earth. World-ending catastrophe is lured to Earth. Robots and humans need to work together to save everyone. Sky beams. Sky portals. Noble sacrifices. Grumbling bad guys. Etc.
Less broad strokes though, it is a good time. Transformers as a franchise has gone through the wringer. But as with Bumblebee, this one also doesn’t have any of the Michael Bay stupidity or insanity. The film has characters who act like… human beings. They have real problems and real emotional attachment to people. There aren’t any dog humping scenes.

The robots as well, are looking better than ever. Although the transformation sequences have never been as good as they were in the 2007 movie, unfortunately. But here, they have a G1 look. Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen, of course) looks great with his visor (he still has the funny mouth, though) Arcee looks phenomenal. Mirage is the new Bumblebee for this film, and he is also a lot of fun (maybe a couple of out-of-place jokes, but when compared to the Bayverse, they are tame)

Yes, of course, no one will look twice at the metallic cheetah that’s the size of a bus…

The action sequences are still the Bayhem style, they are extremely messy and hard to follow. The Maximals (voiced by the likes of Ron Perlman and Michelle Yeoh) are… fine? They don’t resonate with me (see aforementioned comments on Beast Wars) and the Terrorcons are… okay? Not as memorable as the Decepticons in Bumblebee. They are led by Scourge, voiced by a completely indiscernible Peter Dinklage. Seriously, it could have been anyone.
And then there is… Wheeljack… Oh boy, sorry Wheeljack fans. Apparently the racial stereotyping that brought us the Twins from Revenge of the Fallen got written in here and was even defended upon in the script. For some reason.

The human characters… again, aren’t quite as good as Hailee Steinfeld’s character in Bumblebee. Not sure what it is, but Dominique Fishback was not selling “I am conversing with giant robots” to me as well as other actors in these films. Anthony Ramos’s Noah had more emotional connection with Mirage, and the backstory of his younger brother, to lean on.

What is most bothersome, is that this film, like Bumblebee, will be slighted for the mess that preceded it. A mess that it should be fully liberated from. If these two films had released in the late 2000s, Transformers would be a massive success in cinemas. There’s just enough heart to make you care, there’s great sci-fi action and set pieces, the designs are cool, the characters have emotional arcs (mostly) but… It all feels too late.

Ultimately, if you are a rare one and have kids who have yet to see any Transformers movies but are heading towards enjoying the franchise… Start with Bumblebee, then this one (obviously, whichever cartoon is in vogue right now as well) and ignore the Bayverse completely. Let’s start it all again ourselves.

Additional Marshmallows: Unfortunately… the end credits scene paints Hasbro’s cinematic intentions very clearly. Personally, Transformers might be over just as they are beginning (again) folks.

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