TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS Review: Robot-Centered Franchise Returns After a Five-Year Hiatus

Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback star; Steven Caple Jr. directed.

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS Review: Robot-Centered Franchise Returns After a Five-Year Hiatus

Like the unceasing, perpetual conflict between the supposedly peace-loving Autobots and the despotic Decepticons, the decades-old, multi-media Transformers franchise isn’t likely to end in our lifetime or even the next.

Six big-budget, blockbuster entries, the first five directed by vulgar auteurist Michael Bay (Ambulance, Pain & Gain, The Rock), in eleven years proved its commercial, if not necessarily its artistic, worth.

Falling box-office revenue, middling reviews, and audience apathy, especially after Shia Leboeuf retired from the series and Mark Wahlberg replaced him as the superfluous human lead for the fourth and fifth entries, suggested a studio-mandated hiatus for future big-screen entries just might be the next, best course of action.

Between the global pandemic and executive indecision, the Transformers franchise quietly retreated from multiplex screens, five years between Bumblebee, a better-than-expected, 1987-set prequel, and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, a loose sequel to Bumblebee set in 1994.

Directed by Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II, The Land), it also doubles as an introduction to an entirely new/old group of planet-protecting robotic warriors, the animal-themed Maximals. Led by Optimus Primal (voiced by Ron Perlman), Transformers: Rise of the Beasts pits the new-to-the-franchise toyetic Transformers against the aptly named Terrorcons.

In turn, the Terrorcons, servants to a Galactus-sized threat, are led by the villainous, hiss-worthy Scourge (Peter Dinklage). The Maximals are shown in a prologue escaping the destruction of their world with the latest Thingamajig/Whatsit, the ultra-advanced tech both sides will spend the rest of the film chasing down and/or trying to safeguard from the other.

It’s as simplistic, rudimentary, and reductive a premise as any found in the Transformers multimedia franchise, serving as the primary plot engine that pulls in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ obligatory human characters, Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos, In the Heights), an unemployed, unemployable electronics expert and army veteran, and Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback, Judah and the Black Messiah), an artifacts researcher interning at an Ellis Island-based museum. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts parallels Noah’s inability to find gainful, legal work, a result of inadequate references, an increasingly desperate situation involving his ill younger brother, and Elena’s growing frustration at being ignored, belittled, and uncredited for her work at the museum.  

From there, it’s only a matter of time before Noah, teamed up with a hyper, quippy, borderline irritating Autobot, Mirage (the ubiquitous Pete Davidson), and Elena cross paths at the museum. It takes even less time before the Autobots, led once again by series MVP Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), face off against the Terrorcons and Scourge, losing badly as a result.

The basic plot then takes the new human-Autobot alliance to Peru for an Indiana Jones-style adventure among and around the ruins of Machu Picchu, a frantic search for the second piece of the Thingamajig/Whatsit, and a long-delayed reintroduction of the Earth-dwelling Maximals, chilling in rural Peru for no particular reason.

Nothing that fills the back half of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts will come as a surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with the series. Per the Transformers formula, Optimus Prime steps up to deliver a rousing, uplifting speech to the assembled robotic throngs. Moments later, the same Prime turns into an annihilating whirlwind of robotic gears-and-grease destruction.

A giant, alien-constructed tower, impossibly extruded from a plateau, promises once again to bring the a robot-themed apocalypse to humankind. Credibly making the leap to mega-sized budgets, Caple Jr.,ensures that the frenetic, CGI-reliant action, including the obligatory faux-demise of a fan-favorite character before his inevitable, applause-worthy resurrection later, rarely flags until the final, sequel-ready moments.

On the non-transforming side, Ramos and Fishback make for a winning, root-worthy duo, though as always, the screenplay, here credited to five separate writers, Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, and Jon Hoeber doesn’t do them any favors. The by-the-franchise-numbers script forces Ramos and Fishback to elevate implausible, occasionally cringe-worthy dialogue through the sheer force of their individual and collective talents, usually with a dollop of earnestness.

At least their presence in the latest sequel, like Hailee Steinfeld’s earnest turn in Bumblebee, doesn’t grate or irritate like some of the lesser performances from the previous entries. Caple Jr. makes the sonic experience all the more appealing by cramming the soundtrack with mid-90s hip-hop classics from A Tribe Called Quest, the Wu-Tang Clan, and LL Cool J (among too others to list here).

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opens Friday, June 9, only in movie theaters, via Paramount Pictures.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

  • Steven Caple Jr.
  • Joby Harold
  • Darnell Metayer
  • Josh Peters
  • Pete Davidson
  • Michelle Yeoh
  • Ron Perlman
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Anthony RamosDominique FishbackLuna Lauren VelezMichelle YeohPete DavidsonPeter CullenPeter DinklageRon PerlmanTransformers: Rise of the BeastsSteven Caple Jr.Joby HaroldDarnell MetayerJosh PetersActionAdventureSci-Fi

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