Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Review – A Franchise Continuing to Marginally Transform Itself

The first thought that comes to mind when thinking about Hasbro’s Transformers are usually giant mechanical vehicles transforming into humanoid mechanical creatures – punching and shooting other mechanical humanoid creatures. If Michael Bay is involved, the movies are usually incredibly long, filled with scantily clad women, industrially harsh lighting, insufferable human characters, and surprisingly innovative sound design. The latest entry, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, is a small step forward in this long running series, but not without stepping in a slick puddle of oil along the way.

Based loosely off the Beast Wars storyline that is well regarded in the fandom, the narrative is once again very simple. There are the bad robots – Terrorcons, and the good robots – Maximals, both advanced species of Cybertronian origin. The Maximals are trying to keep safe a ‘trans-warp key’, a spacetime link that planet-eating god Unicron is after to use for his nefarious methods. Yes, Unicron, not a Unicorn. When Unicron’s disciple, Scourge (voiced by Peter Dinklage) comes knocking on the doorstep of the Maximals, leader Optimus Primal (voiced by Ron Pearlman) uses the key to allow him and his gang to flee to Earth. What ensues is a couple of hours where, in the most colloquial way possible, the good robots must find the thing that will stop the bad robots from doing the bad thing.

Borrowing from the success of 2018’s Bumblebee, a prequel that reinvigorated the franchise by injecting a likeable human lead and capturing the more emotive side of the human-transformer connection, Rise of the Beasts continues the trend, even if the scriptwriting holds it back from delivering any properly earned emotionality. Set in 1994 Brooklyn, we meet Anthony Ramos’ Noah Diaz, an ex-military electronics expert. He is trying to find himself a stable vocation, but all that gets put to the wayside when he is convinced by his friend to steal a Porsche 911 – which in turn is the Autobot transformer Mirage (voiced with quippy enthusiasm by Pete Davidson). The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (series veteran Peter Cullen still providing Optimus the vocal gravitas he deserves), have been hiding out on Earth since losing their home planet of Cybertron. The catch: the trans-warp key can also take the Autobots home. The rest you can probably figure out.

Peter Cullen continually holds this franchise up with every deep note his dynamic voice proclaims. The script may have been drafted on crayon, but now 81-year-old Cullen will always rise to the occasion, delivering depth and weight to Optimus’ tortured history. While its story is quasi-forgivable for being derivative considering it is based off a toy line, the humour and endless quip making is not. Ramos and Dominique Fishback’s Elena are most definitely an upgrade on the whinging humans of the Bay series, but the script does them little favours towards eliciting any proper heart. They do have some charm, enough that families should find themselves routing for them. The ‘beasts’ themselves are surprisingly side-lined for a lot of the runtime, only making a splash once the second half kicks into gear when the heroes reach Peru.

Directed by Steven Caple Jr., most recently known for helming Creed II, he provides a stable pace to the metallic goings on. Most of the battle sequences are set in the daytime, the camera is in focus on the Transformers even when the visuals are spotty, and there is even an attempt to explore the Black and Latino experience peppered along the way. It doesn’t all work, but considering how low the mainline series has fallen to, it’s nice to see a gradual improvement.

The editing is by far the most breathable in comparison to any of the Bay entries, it leans hard in certain sequences toward some memorable action spectacle – even generating a few goosebumps for fans who relish in the ‘hype’ moments by having shot times last longer than a split second. Gone are the dizzying drone shots and maximalist CGI splurge. It still suffers from grungy and hazy animation, along with plot contrivances that make the head scratch a few times toward the end.

Overall, it’s as mixed and contorted as Paramount’s visual effects department, but fans will gladly see more of these cybernetic beings back in action – considering how expansive the Beast Wars lore is. Good to see the Transformers’ design look more rounded and like the actual cartoon as well, let’s see if the next entry can bring back the heart Bumblebee began to sparkle at.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a lot of blockbuster fun, featuring a good message for all about teamwork and family. It borrows too much from Marvel’s post Guardians of the Galaxy book of quips, but it’s safe to say the franchise is still on an upward trajectory, despite its quibbles. Autobots, roll out the sequel, people are always hungry for giant toys fighting other giant toys.

Never thought the words Hasbro Cinematic Universe would be written, but here we are…

Director: Steven Caple Jr.

Cast: Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Peter Cullen

Writers: Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber, (story by Joby Harold)

Kahn Duncan

Kahn is a passionate Melbourne based film lover who looks to film as a tool for both entertainment, education, but also feeling. Attempts to watch at least one feature film a day, but unfortunately life gets in the way sometimes. Prospective Graduate of Media Communications (Screen Studies) and Business (Marketing) at Monash University.

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