Transformers: Rise of the Beasts isn’t the Beast Wars adaptation we wanted, but gosh darn it, it’s the one we deserve. The action sci-fi film is an exciting, if predictable, adventure romp that sees cars transform into giant robots who fight other giant robots, some of who can transform into giant animals (but not very convincingly). These animal-robot-aliens — the Maximals — are a race of guardians from the future. They are descended from the Autobots, the good guys we’ve come to know and love from the Michael Bay series. Except none of that has happened yet. If your brain is starting to shut down, don’t worry — you won’t need it to have a good time.
The latest entry in the Transformers movie series Rise of the Beasts occupies an unusual position in the franchise: not only is it both a prequel and a sequel, but it’s also set in the ’90s. Turns out, this doesn’t actually have that much of an impact on the plot, but it does result in a kickin’ soundtrack. Rise of the Beasts serves as a standalone sequel to 2018’s surprise hit Bumblebee, but it introduces a whole new set of human characters, along with a new motivation for Optimus Prime and his crew. After being stranded on Earth thanks to the events of the last film, the Autobots discover a way to return to their home planet Cybertron. It’s a tantalizing opportunity, but one with a pretty significant catch: In short, the entire planet is at risk of total annihilation.
It Takes a Village To Write A Sequel
Rise of the Beasts was directed by Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II), with Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, and Jon Hoeber receiving writing credits. Seeing so many names on the screenplay is never a good sign (Bumblebee was written by just one person, Christina Hodson). Anthony Ramos (A Star Is Born, In the Heights) plays the human protagonist Noah Diaz, a tech whiz with a military past — neither of which really informs his character’s actions or personality though. (How many writers does it take to write meaningful motivation? Apparently, not five.) Dominique Fishback plays Elena Wallace, an underappreciated museum intern who feels extremely overqualified for her job.
Credit where credit is due: Harold et al. manage to write a straightforward narrative that is easy to follow and internally consistent. The exposition is perhaps a bit light, but it’s delivered in organic dialogue that doesn’t slow down the overall pacing. The general sequence of events is thought through — even explaining how the heroes get from place to place — and by the end of the story, all the loose ends are tied. Overall, the writing isn’t exactly strong, but the structure and plot are solid — and in 2023, the era of convoluted, over-complicated maximalist action stories, this feels like a victory.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Delivers A Captivating Spectacle
Rise of the Beasts is one of the best-looking Transformer films. Caple Jr. clearly has an eye for action; what’s more, his fondness (or at least respect) for the property shines through. Each Autobot and Maximal design has a ton of personality, and the transformations evoke the look and feel of the Hasbro toys. Arcee (voiced by YouTuber Liza Koshy) is particularly fun to see in live-action, with her sleek, nimble movements and distinctly feminine design bringing a different flavor to the battles. The Maximals are a compelling fusion of organic-looking materials (fur, feathers, etc.) and steel. Airazor (Michelle Yeoh) is a surprising standout — partially because Yeoh is such a great actor, but also because the cyborg-like falcon’s design and movements are so visually interesting. The 3D animators who worked on the film all deserve a raise.
Despite some cool set pieces and the introduction of Maximals, there’s something almost quaint about Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. The writing relies far too heavily on archetypes and other short-hand tactics typically employed in television shows to maximize the 22-minute runtimes. Even with the literally apocalyptic stakes at play, the action and pacing feels like a two-part, Saturday morning cartoon special. The villains this time around are the Terrorcons, but they might as well be Decepticons; Unicron (Colman Domingo) is their master, and they exist to serve him. Unicron’s only motivation is to eat planets. If this was used as an allegory for capitalism or something similar, it could have been effective — but as is, the extremely shallow characterization feels juvenile. Where Rise of the Beasts really falls short is in sophistication and depth.
It’s A Little Light On The Beasts
Major fans of Transformers lore will be perplexed by the creative choices here as well: rather than an original story or a direct adaptation of a particular storyline from Beast Wars, the toy-line lore, or even the IDW comics, Rise of the Beasts is a bizarre amalgamation of various parts. Generally, Caple Jr.’s film feels like a soft reboot of the 1986 The Transformers: The Movie cartoon but with elements of Michael Bay’s 2007 live-action film — just with “Beasts” sprinkled in for good measure. The Maximals’ evil counterparts, the Predacons, aren’t used at all. Mirage (Pete Davidson) is really fun and likable in the film, but his design and personality are taken from the Autobot character Jazz — probably because Mirage in the existing lore is a pretentious, affluent snob, and Jazz was already used and killed in Michael Bay’s 2007 film. Scourge (Peter Dinklage) is the Terrorcon leader in Rise of the Beasts, but he doesn’t really resemble his namesake, and his role is essentially that of Megatron/Galvatron in the 1986 movie.
This begs the question: Why bother doing a Beast Wars film if the main conflict is just a redux of the Unicron storyline? It feels like Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), Rhinox (David Sobolov), and Cheetor (Tongayi Chirisa) didn’t need to be in this movie at all. And this is just the start of the creative problems with this film, which relies on a MacGuffin-based conflict, a sky beam, faceless CGI armies, and a menace from another world. We’ve seen this movie over and over again. It might have felt interesting in 2003, but in 2023, these tropes are beyond tired. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is an entertaining-enough action film, and it lacks the egregious faults possessed by some of the other films in the series — but it’s also overly safe, and — perhaps most fatal of all — a little boring.
TVOvermind Rating: 3/5
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