Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a blockbuster toy commercial and empty spectacle that starts off decently enough, but quickly grows obnoxious and stupid in ways that aren’t particularly entertaining. By this point, no one is going to watch a Transformers movie expecting high art, but at least by now people know the difference between a good one of these (Dark of the Moon, Bumblebee, the first one) and a bad one (all the rest of them). Transformers: Rise of the Beasts starts as the former and ends up the latter.
Taking more inspiration from Bumblebee than any of its predecessors, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opens in 1994 New York City, where struggling former soldier and mechanical whiz Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is trying desperately to find a job that can support his mom (Luna Lauren Velez) and a younger brother (Dean Scott Vazquez) who’s suffering from Sickle Cell Anemia. Living in the inner city and faced with few prospects, Noah reluctantly agree to help a neighbourhood ne’er-do-well steal a luxury sports car. What Noah doesn’t realize is that the Porsche he’s trying to drive off in is actually Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson), one of the Autobots, a race of super-powerful robots that disguise themselves as vehicles and are looking for a way to get back to their home planet. Motormouthed and reckless Mirage takes a shine to Noah, bringing the human – and eventually a smart, but undervalued museum intern (Dominique Fishback) – into a hunt for a mystical key that can send Mirage, leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), Bumblebee, and female motorcycle robot Arcee (Liza Koshy) back home. This search puts them into conflict with the all powerful, planet eating Unicron (Colman Domingo) and his number one hench-bot, Scourge (Peter Dinklage). The Autobots latest adventure finds them outmatched by their adversaries, but gives them new allies in the form of the Maximals, animal-robot hybrids, led by ape-bot Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman).
There’s entirely too much ground and lore to cover in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, and it’s in service of an overall story that’s marginal. The human characters are basic, but likeable in a corny, cliched sort of way, and in the early going, most of the focus is placed on their experiences rather than the needs of the Autobots. The relationship between Noah and Mirage is fun enough until Davidson’s one-note schtick grows tiresome. The New York attitude and old school hip-hop soundtrack (including outstanding use of Black Sheep’s seminal “The Choice is Yours” during a car chase) keeps things light and refreshing in the same way that the surprisingly great 1980s set Bumblebee was. None of this particularly original, but it’s fun in a popcorn movie sort of way. It’s also, if nothing else, the most assuredly edited and photographed Transformers movie next to Bumblebee, with action sequences that allow the viewer to actually what’s going on instead of sitting through a cacophony of noise and blisteringly paced edits.
But just around the halfway point, when the action shifts from NYC to the jungles of Peru, that’s when Transformers: Rise of the Beasts stops being fun and starts being tedious. The titular beasts, with the exception of the Michelle Yeoh voiced eagle Airazor, aren’t memorable or exciting to watch. The pacing slows way, way down as the lore is deepened, and Ramos and Fishback fade further into the background. The action sequences settle into a repetitive, familiar groove, and things keep going endlessly because a single line of random dialogue is capable of dragging things out arbitrarily past a breaking point. Five writers are credited with providing the script for Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, but it feels like the work of a bunch of six year olds who were given a bunch of sugar and told to crank out a story in a single afternoon. The first half of the film feels like the work of kids on a sugar high. The second feels like they’re crashing and running out of good ideas.
Director Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II) does his best to keep things moving along, but there’s no way to reign in something that’s trying to accomplish so much with so little going for it. Had the entirety of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts stayed in New York (a setting that ends up being sadly under-utilized), this might’ve been a fun time. Instead, this is just another Transformers movie, with a closing, sequel baiting stinger that doesn’t have nearly the kind of impact it would’ve had if the rest of the film was better.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, June 9, 2023.
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