Transformers: Rise of the Beasts tries to take the series into a different direction from the Michael Bay movies. Does it succeed?
PLOT: The fate of the Earth, and potentially hundreds of other planets, once again hangs in the balance when an alien beacon in NY grabs the attention of both Autobots and Decepticons at its location. The beacon can either send the Autobots to their home planet or summon the evil Unicron, and the Autobots will need the help of new human friends and the animalistic Maximals to ensure order and peace are once again restored.
REVIEW: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a touch better than the other transformers movies. The headache-inducing bombast of the Michael Bay films has been lessened some by director Steven Caple, Jr., and though the narrative is still filled with contrivances and unnecessary clutter, there’s a slightly more engaging atmosphere here than in the previous entries. For the transformers fans out there, there are still a bevy of sequences where robots smash and wrestle with each other for minutes on end, but it’s a slightly more coherent spectacle this time around.
Perhaps getting away from the kinds of characters who populated the Bay movies is one reason Rise of the Beasts is a minor step up. Gone are the tedious leads played by Shia LaBeouf and Mark Walhberg; jettisoned too are boring army guys, shady human villains and dim-witted excuses for comic relief. Instead, our leads are two grounded New Yorkers, giving us a chance to see a different side of this world. Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is a young man in Brooklyn struggling to get a proper job as to help out his single mother (Lauren Velez) and sick younger brother (Dean Scott Vasquez). Jilted at a job interview, Noah reluctantly turns to a local criminal who assigns him a car to boost. Wouldn’t you know it, said car turns out to be Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson), who immediately throws Noah into the galactic civil war between the Autobots and the planet-eating Unicron (voiced by Colman Domingo).
Noah accepts this fate relatively quickly, and soon we’re off to Peru to meet the Maximals – those are Transformers who resemble animals, for the uninitiated. The Maximals will be close allies for Noah, Optimus Prime and the rest of the gang as they square off against Unicron’s main henchman Scourge (voiced by Peter Dinklage) and his band of evil Decepticons – or Terrorcons, if you prefer.
Do the intricacies of the plot matter? Not at all. As with the other films in the series, there’s a MacGuffin everyone’s trying to get to that will decide Earth’s fate, this one being an alien beacon that calls forth both good and bad transformers. For a movie with five credited writers, it’s not unreasonable to say much of Rise of the Beasts feels like it could have been written by AI, especially the humdrum, by-the-numbers dialogue. Again, I’m fully aware that we don’t expect Eugene O’Neill from these movies, but I’d point to something like Across the Spider-Verse as an example of a film that manages to be smart and creative while having an equally outlandish storyline. Just because the plot is inherently silly doesn’t mean the end result has to be dumbed down.
But as far as these things go, Rise of the Beasts is not the numbing experience its predecessors were. Caple Jr. keeps things moving at a fairly solid pace, though the film’s first act might be a little on the slow side and light on Transformers action for some. What’s encouraging is that the movie takes a little time getting to know its human protagonists, as opposed to instantly throwing us into the clanking, blasting maelstrom of Transformer-on-Transformer violence. That said, there’s plenty of that to be found in the film’s second half, even though at this point if you’ve seen one fight between an Autobot and a Decepticon, you’ve seen them all. The Maximals bring the slightest bit of uniqueness to the proceedings, but the reality is there is very little novelty left in these beings. However, if the sight of a robot gorilla furiously chasing a robot eagle through the mountains of Peru is your kind of thing, then there’s no reason not to sit down for Rise of the Beasts.
Solid too is the voice cast. Much to my surprise, Pete Davidson makes for a moderately amusing sidekick who doesn’t wear out his welcome. Dinklage’s voice is a natural fit for a fearsome villain, and other highlights include Michelle Yeoh and Ron Perlman as soulful Maximals. Bumblebee is back doing his schtick as well, though he’s interestingly sidelined for a chunk of the picture, and often overshadowed by the bevy of new Autobots.
Ramos and Dominque Fishback (as a researcher who stumbles upon the alien beacon that helps summon Unicron) have a natural chemistry and end up being fairly effective leads. As mentioned, there’s a refreshingly low amount of human characters in this installment, with Ramos and Fishback being the only two notable flesh-and-blood people on board. Most importantly, the two actors look appropriately convincing while talking to their intergalactic companions.
The finale is predictably explosive and epic in scope, and more or less effective in execution. It’s actually nice that we’re not once again relying on the destruction of major cities to get a rise out of the audience, and on a purely visual level the conclusion boasts some attention-grabbing VFX. And the very end of the movie teases an interesting new direction for the series (it will probably be spoiled for you by the time this review is published), so maybe there’s hope yet that the franchise is willing to embrace new adventures. as far as transformers movie go, Rise of the Beasts is an acceptable new start.