"Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" stars Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Luna Lauren Vélez, Tobe Nwigwe, Peter Cullen, and Ron Perlman. Released on June 9, 2023, the film has the Autobots teaming up with the Maximals to battle the Terrorcons.
The film is directed by Steven Caple Jr., who also directed "The Land" and "Creed II". It is the seventh installment in the "Transformers" film series. The 1990s provided plenty of historical moments that defined us. That includes kids being into things "tubular", the rise of cable television and the internet, and the groups of giant transforming alien robots battling each other for Earth's fate. I'm pretty sure no one remembers the latter during that decade. The robots in disguise are back once again for more summer blockbuster goodness, as the latest installment in the toy-based franchise continues its fresh path that started with the 2018 spin-off, "Bumblebee". You know, after Michael Bay gave up on his take on the "Transformers" with "The Last Knight". This refreshing direction, along with the nostalgic G1 elements and compelling narrative, helped make "Bumblebee" the best film in the franchise, even though it didn't make as much cash as the previous installments from Bay. Regardless, it was successful enough to spawn a sequel that finally unites the Autobots for another globe-trotting adventure, with the long-awaited characters from the "Beast Wars" storyline joining the action. So is it able to continue the franchise's booming trend, or does it belong in the scrap heap? Let's find out.
The story takes place in 1994, seven years after the events of "Bumblebee". It follows Noah Diaz (Ramos), an ex-military electronics expert attempting to support his family in Brooklyn. Noah eventually comes across a vehicle that turns out to be a transforming alien robot from the planet Cybertron. The robot, named Mirage (Pete Davidson), is part of an Autobot resistance team led by Optimus Prime (Cullen), who's attempting to find their way back to Cybertron. However, the Autobots' quest led to them crossing paths with a new alien race known as the Terrorcons, led by the villainous trophy hunter Scourge (Peter Dinklage), with Noah, along with artifact researcher Elena Wallace (Fishback), getting caught in the middle. Even worse is that the Terrorcons' master, a world-devouring god named Unicron (Colman Domingo), is on his way to gobble Earth up like a meatball. Knowing how ruthless the Terrorcons are, the Autobots must join forces with a group of animal Transformers called the Maximals, led by Optimus Primal (Perlman), to save Earth from destruction.
The "Transformers" films serve as guilty pleasures regardless of the quality. Even though their flaws resulted in them being "curses" to the art of cinema, there's this sense of endearment of how thrilling and dumb they are that makes some of us glad they exist. As I've grown older, I understood that the so-called "Bayformers" aren't perfect additions to the sci-fi action genre, mainly the sequels. However, I still find enjoyment in them regarding their intense action sequences, impressive visual effects, and Peter Cullen's performance as Optimus Prime. I even thought "The Last Knight" was an okay watch despite Bay's direction not being on par with his previous installments. As for "Bumblebee", I agree that it was a massive step up from Bay's "Transformers" due to its small-scale direction and mixture of action, humor, and heart. It even lacked Bay's brand of adult humor that tends to go over kids' heads, to everyone's relief. So now we have a follow-up that seeks to start a new trilogy filled with nostalgia and giant robots beating the scrap out of each other. Thankfully, the lovable Bumblebee won't be alone again in this adventure.
"Bumblebee" stood apart from the other "Transformers" films by reinvigorating the franchise's formula as a self-contained "E.T."-inspired family adventure yet retaining some of the elements from the previous installments. This resulted in it being a superb start of a new path for the film series and one of the most delightfully charming movies of the 2010s. "Rise of the Beasts" goes back to the basics of the Michael Bay movies regarding the plot, with the Autobots racing across the globe to prevent Earth's destruction with an artifact tied to Cybertronian history. In this case, it is a Transwarp Key, which the Autobots can use to return to Cybertron. However, their newest adversaries, the Terrorcons, also pursue the Transwarp Key to bring Unicron to his main course: Earth. So if you've watched the installments by Michael Bay, you'll likely see some similarities in "Rise of the Beasts", minus the beefy runtimes and humor relating to sex and stereotypes.
To me and many others, "Rise of the Beasts" is unsurprisingly a step down from "Bumblebee" story-wise. However, it would likely satisfy others who enjoy the pre-"Bumblebee" movies for their massive Earth-saving narratives. But, of course, it all comes down to the enjoyment factor. Even though the plots in "Transformers" and its four sequels are similar, the films' enjoyability ranges from great to explosively middling. In my eyes, they're usually enough to compensate for their narrative flaws and headache-inducing explosions. So where does this one lie regarding this factor? Well, it's far from spectacular, but it is also not a complete train wreck. While flawed in some places regarding its story, "Rise of the Beasts" continues the franchise's track record of providing cinematic popcorn entertainment and nothing else.
Despite its familiar elements, the story in "Rise of the Beasts" managed to be more tolerable than the pre-"Bumblebee" installments. The main reason is that the characters have a genuine balance of comedy and heart, mainly the humans Noah and Elena. Noah struggles to find a job and earn enough cash to pay his little brother's hospital bills, while Elena tries to gain recognition for her research because her boss is a moron. Of course, their problems get sidetracked by a planet-eating robot god, forcing Noah and Elena to help the Autobots stop it. Unlike Bay's installments, the film doesn't use these characters as a source of adult humor amid the explosive action. Instead, it injects a sense of humanity and sincerity into them, making the characters more wholesome and fun than annoyingly cliched. However, there's one thing I thought could've been better regarding the characters. That thing, in particular, is that it could have focused more on the Autobots in specific moments, especially Optimus's arc and relationship with Mirage. Other than that, the film continues the franchise's attempt to provide a soul into its robotic core, even though it didn't live up to the emotional standards of "Bumblebee".
The only movie I've seen from Steven Caple Jr. was 2018's "Creed II". Regarding his direction, I thought he did a splendid job continuing the Creed legacy. So I had no problem seeing him tackle a big-budget summer blockbuster like "Transformers". After viewing the movie, I would say that Caple Jr. didn't disappoint with how he handled this task. One thing he did right was the human side of the story for its Brooklyn representation and authentic 90s elements. More importantly, he made the human characters as entertaining and charismatic as the heroic CGI alien robots regarding their comedy and depth. As for everything else, Steven Caple Jr. was tasked with balancing the intensity and explosive thrills from the Michael Bay movies with the refreshing scope originated from "Bumblebee". While there were a few moments that may not rival Bay's direction, believe it or not, Caple Jr. was able to provide enough Energon in its action sequences to maintain the franchise's pulse.
Of course, I can't forget about the cast, which was why the characters were likable. Anthony Ramos takes the helm as the human lead in the film after Shia LaBeouf, Mark Wahlberg, and Hailee Steinfeld had their chances at helping the Autobots. Ramos has impressed me with his previous works, and unsurprisingly, his performance as Noah is no exception. He offered plenty of heart to his character but with a dash of genuine humor thrown in there for good measure. Dominique Fishback also did well with her performance as Elena, while Tobe Nwigwe served as an acceptable comic relief as Reek. As for the Autobot team, they're obviously delightful, especially Peter Cullen, who's still great as usual as Optimus Prime, and Ron Perlman as Optimus Primal. However, the big highlight of the Autobot cast is Pete Davidson as Mirage. Mirage also serves as the movie's comic relief for his rebellious nature and energetic vibe, which could make or break the film depending on the direction. Fortunately, Mirage managed to avoid a similar fate to the Twins in "Revenge of the Fallen" by delivering a joyful mixture of charm and comedy that benefited from Davidson's vocal performance. Peter Dinklage was also serviceable as the villainous Scourge, who proved himself as formidable as Megatron and Lockdown from "Age of Extinction".
Like the previous installments, "Rise of the Beasts" also benefitted enormously from its visual effects. Regarding the Transformers G1 designs and the Maximals, the CGI succeeded in bringing the nostalgic robots in disguise to brimming life. More importantly, they made them more distinguishable, which should fulfill the needs of people who couldn't tell which robot was which in the Bay films for some reason. The effects also worked well in portraying its action set pieces, including the final battle on the volcano, which weren't as overstuffed as the previous installments.
Overall, "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" continues the franchise's refreshing streak with another satisfyingly fun and action-packed approach to its tried-and-true formula. However, it doesn't pack the same amount of Energon as "Bumblebee" and the first "Transformers" movie regarding its narrative. Nonetheless, it's another genuinely entertaining step in the series's new direction, showcasing that there's more to the blockbuster franchise than meets the eye. Thanks to its cast, Caple Jr.'s direction, decent action scenes, likable characters, impressive visuals, and a mixture of comedy and heart, the movie is another summer blockbuster treat worth seeing on the big screen. If you enjoyed the other "Transformers" movies as much as I did, this latest installment is worth rolling out to the theater to check out.