Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the seventh film in the long-running live action Transformers franchise based on the toys by Hasbro. With this being the seventh Transformers film in 16 years, I did not have high hopes for it to be good, especially with the quality of Age of Extinction or The Last Knight (the Bumblebee prequel was okay).
However, I can say at the very least, this newest film is more enjoyable than those previous installments, and is much higher-quality this time around.
Like with Age of Extinction and its Dinobots, this installment features a kind of Transformer not seen in previous Transformers movies. We are introduced to them in the film’s opening: these new Transformers are known as the Maximals, an advanced race of Transformers that have beast modes which resemble different animals, and they and their homeworld are under attack by an all-powerful entity known as Unicron.
Unicron and his army seek the crown jewel of the Maximals: their Transwarp Key, which allows its users to open portals through time and space, and which, if he were to obtain it, would allow Unicron to take over the universe. The Autobots are also seeking this Key so that they can go back to their home planet Cybertron.
Meanwhile, on Earth, in 1994 Brooklyn, former soldier Noah Diaz (played by Anthony Ramos of Hamilton fame) is trying to support his family after his little brother falls ill, while Elena Wallace (played by Dominique Fishback of Swarm and The Deuce fame) is researching a newly found artifact that turns out to be this Key.
In one way or another, all of our characters eventually become thrown into the mix, and the story becomes a race to see who will get this Key first.
This may sound like a lot to take in, but the film’s breakneck pace makes the film incredibly digestible and is definitely one of its most valuable assets. It never lets up, but at the same time, it feels well-rounded and fleshed-out.
A surprisingly decent aspect of the film is the acting. Although Shia LaBeouf was excellent in his portion of the Transformers franchise, he was replaced by Mark Wahlberg in some of the later installments (namely Age of Extinction and The Last Knight), and Wahlberg’s performance left a lot to be desired, especially when compared to LaBeouf. Anthony Ramos may not be quite the successor to LaBeouf, but he comes much, much closer to such a title than Wahlberg ever did. This is not to slander Diaz’s acting, however.
Fishback’s performance is quite good, too. She is not given as much time to shine like with Ramos’s character, but when she is given the spotlight, she owns it. Peter Cullen, who plays Optimus Prime yet again, is fantastic in his role and shows he still has the talent, especially for his age (he will be 82 this coming July). Pete Davidson, whose roles are very hit-or-miss for me, is similarly very good and funny as Mirage, who has a similar down-to-earth role (including comedy) as Bumblebee in the first Transformers. The other major highlight of the performances for me was Michelle Yeoh, who recently won an Academy Award for her performance in Everything Everywhere All At Once, playing a falcon-like Maximal. She makes an otherwise somewhat uninteresting Maximal into something memorable, which is an incredible feat in my opinion.
As for the technical aspects of the film, the cinematography is great, and the effects are similarly good. They’re definitely not as visually striking as the recent Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, but they do the job. The popular music choices to represent 1994 Brooklyn are picked well: a lot of hip hop music from such artists such as SWV, the Notorious B.I.G., and the Wu-Tang Clan is represented here (though movies and TV just always have to use Hypnotize by the Notorious B.I.G. to represent anything hip-hop-related for some reason. Rise of the Beasts falls victim to this decision as well. But I digress.)
Going back to the characters for a second, the relationship between Noah and his little brother is very much a right step forward. Them referring to each other as video game characters, most notably Sonic and Tails (take a guess as to who’s who), is not only cute but sums up their relationship really well. The story even uses the dynamic of these characters’ relationship to represent other relationships between the characters in this movie, which is a really nice touch. Although Elena’s character falls into the somewhat obnoxious trap of “the underdog character is actually a prodigy after all,” the film does give Fishback the opportunity to fit into her character’s shoes over its runtime and make her well-rounded and believable.
Even with all of these perks, I still think there’s some problems with this movie. Sometimes, the dialogue is pretty corny at points. The plot also sometimes excises scenes that would otherwise be there, such as a character escaping some hazardous situation. Although it helps the pace, it does make the plot occasionally confusing. I also feel the film relies a little too much on fan service, particularly with Bumblebee’s character and the final reveal of the movie right before the credits, which was so mind-bogglingly stupid I’m shocked it even made it into the final film. It definitely doesn’t approach the pointlessness of some of the other Transformers installments, however.
As discussed before, Elena’s character falls into the trap of being a sort of unknown prodigy, which I feel has been used a lot recently in Hollywood movies, along with the fan service. The combination of the two doesn’t work well. Although I am trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible, I think something should be said about the final battle. This final battle is a sort of Avengers: Endgame style battle, and you’ll know what I mean when you see it. As a result of the battle closely resembling this battle in both style and (more or less) substance, it’s boring and not particularly engaging.
Additionally, I found some of the editing choices to be somewhat bizarre, and not connected to the movie in any way I could discern. For example, a battle in Peru is intercut with views of a parade, which is just as weird as it sounds. The humor is generally good, but it is definitely hit-or-miss at times and creates some embarrassing moments in the film. At least, I internally groaned when some of the humor was delivered. All in all, however, I actually felt most of the humor was on point!
Finally, there is the inevitable comparison of this film with others that have already come out this summer, mostly Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. On a technical level, Across the Spider-Verse blows it right out of the water with its insanely colorful and creative animation style. Spider-Verse may not have resonated with me as much as it did with other people, but most audiences are willing to see a sequel to a critically acclaimed and very successful Spider-Man film (especially with how popular superheroes are) over yet another Transformers film.
Overall, though, this is definitely not “yet another Transformers film” because of the various things it just does right, even if it walks its progress back with its various shortcomings. I’m sure most people have already gone and seen Spider-Verse already, so if you’re looking for something to see, this is definitely something to go and see. If you’re a fan of the live-action Transformers movies, I also think this is a good choice for something to see in the theaters. Turning to the Paw-O-Meter, my final grade for this installment of the Transformers franchise is 6.5 paws out of 10!
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is currently playing in theaters.