Rise of the Beasts Frees Transformers from its Robotic Shell
Former US Army private Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) has returned to Brooklyn to help his mother (Luna Lauren Velez) look after his resilient little brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez). After striking out on a job interview and needing cash to pay his sibling’s growing medical bills, Noah agrees to boost a one-of-a-kind Porsche that’s been strangely collecting dust for months inside a Manhattan parking garage.
But this expensive sports car is more than meets the eye. It’s not a Porsche; it’s the playful Autobot Mirage (Pete Davidson), who’s been ordered by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) to lay low. But things change with the discovery of a mysterious artifact at an Ellis Island archeological museum by research intern Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback). Now Prime needs all of the Autobots to roll out, including Mirage with his unexpected passenger, Transformer and human alike embarking on an epic adventure upon which the fate of Earth precipitously hangs in the balance.
Set in 1994, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts takes place between the events of 2018’s Bumblebee and 2007’s Transformers. The first half of this latest entry in the long-running series, directed by Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II), plays more like the former film, with an emphasis on character building as it fleshes out the growing friendship between Noah and Mirage. The next third plays like a goofy Indiana Jones meets Tomb Raider knockoff, with Elena taking center stage as she attempts to decipher an archeological puzzle in the ancient wilds of Peru.
The climactic stretch is where things most resemble the five original films directed by Michael Bay. The Autobots team up with the Maximals, led by the robotic simian Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), to battle the Terrorcon Scourge (Peter Dinklage) and stop the planet-eating Unicron (Colman Domingo) from consuming the planet. Noah and Elena find themselves at the center of the action, while robots of varying shapes and sizes duke it out for supremacy in the shadow of a volcanic tower straight out of The Lord of the Rings.
Bumblebee gave this franchise new life, adding an underlying layer of humanity and heart that all but the first Bay film were sorely lacking, and it looks like Caple learned the right lessons from that success. He gets rid of most of the adolescent immaturity of the initial series and instead accentuates many of the same traditional character beats from that 2018 prequel. Noah and Elena are well-rounded, and while their motivations frequently drift into half-baked melodrama, the emotions driving each human to assist the Autobots and Maximals in their fight are genuine.
The plot is undeniably dumb, but it’s at least not so purposefully convoluted that the screenplay ends up inadvertently amplifying just how unrelentingly inane the whole thing is. This was a problem in many of the original Transformers pictures, especially the two obnoxious Mark Wahlberg entries, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Transformers: The Last Knight. Heck, Caple and company even include a musical callback to 1986’s animated The Transformers: The Movie almost as if they want to hammer home how cartoonish this is, knowing that the inherent sweetness at the center of these bombastic events will mitigate some of the silliness.
Caple is a little less successful in the action department, at least in comparison to some of the central set pieces in Bay’s otherwise bombastically bludgeoning endeavors. But as fluid and surprisingly unchaotic as the final fight between the Autobots, Maximals, and Terrorcon may be, it still doesn’t come close to equaling the eye-popping spectacle of the Quatar sequence in the original Transformers or the Chicago climax of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Ramos and Fishback do a fine job making the human characters worth caring about, while Davidson, Perlman, and Michelle Yeoh (as the godly avian Maximal Airazor) are strong additions to the Transformers vocal universe. If this film does kick off a new trilogy, having Noah and Elena as the human headliners would be perfectly fine with me.
Will it, though? That’s hard to say. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is arguably the best film with the word “Transformers” in the title and frees the series from its robotic shell, but that’s not saying a heck of a lot. Much like Bay’s original that kicked this lunacy off almost two decades ago, there is plenty of fun to be had, but it’s fairly ephemeral and not particularly long-lasting. That was enough for audiences back in 2007. Whether it still is remains a question only time (and ticket sales) can answer.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)