The novelty of seeing robots turning into cars and vice-versa on the big screen doesn’t seem to have worn off for people in the 16 years since the first Transformers movie. Despite the subsequent four movies having pretty paltry critical and audience appreciation, they still made grips of money for Paramount and Hasbro. They are toy commercials after all, so literally seeing toys fighting each other on screen seemed to be all they needed. 2018’s Bumblebee was a shot in the arm the franchise needed. While the five Michael Bay-directed movies got bigger and louder, Bumblebee made it smaller, and gave it more heart.
Now, for the seventh movie, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, they seem to try to split the difference a bit. It takes bits of what worked in Bumblebee and gives us another loud, Earth-ending plot. And the result is fine. It’s enjoyable enough; it’s a lot more of the same. But if you had hoped for either more of Bumblebee‘s tone, or a proper rise of Maximals, you will find yourself a bit disappointed.
The movie takes place in 1994, seven years after Bumblebee. Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is a former decorated soldier who quit the Army when his little brother got sick. Now he’s having trouble paying medical bills and can’t catch a break in the job department. He finally agrees to help his lowlife friend Reek (Tobe Nwigwe) steal a fancy car. That car, a Porsche, happens to be a Transformer. Mirage, to be exact, who sounds exactly like Pete Davidson. New Yawwwwwk.
Seems the Autobots (Optimus, Bumblebee, and Arcee) have a problem. They need to find a way home and a beacon, recently uncovered by a museum intern named Elena (Dominique Fishback), is their key. Unfortunately, it’s literally a key to bring Unicron—the planet-eating Transformer—to Earth. Unicron’s number-one, Scourge (Peter Dinklage) has come to collect, and seems more than a match for the Autobots. Fortunately for them, Airazor (Michelle Yeoh), a Maximal, comes to aid. Together, all the goodies go to Peru to meet the other Maximals and try to thwart Scourge and Unicron.
Lotta names, lotta MacGuffins. It even has a big laser thing shooting up toward the sky. It’s all done well enough, with loads of action and destruction and most of the time enough focus on the characters so you can actually see what’s going on. We get to know a fair amount about our human characters, which I’m sure comes from director Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II). The Maximals, on the other hand, the titular beasts? They don’t factor in much at all. This is still an Autobot movie, for better or worse.
The biggest issues I had with Rise of the Beasts came down to clashes in focus. The movie seems to think the central relationship is Noah and his little brother; it also thinks it’s Noah and Mirage becoming buds. But then it also wants us to care about Noah and Elena, and Noah and Optimus, and Elena and Airazor kind of? None of them really seem to land aside from that first one.
The second biggest issue is that Pete Davidson is very prominent in the movie and just doing his usual schtick but this time as a big car robot. Mirage is a neat enough character, but making him a bro with a questionable romantic history was a strange choice. (Part of that is not in the movie.) And the third biggest issue, for me, a big fan of 1996’s Beast Wars, is just how little the movie actually has for the Maximals to do. Airazor is the exposition, and Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) offers his namesake a different view on humanity. Other than that, they barely feature. Cheetor and Rhinox might as well not have been there at all. Also Unicron. It’s weird Unicron is in this.
Ultimately, I can’t be too mad at a Hasbro movie made to sell Hasbro stuff. It was probably a little much to ask for a ton of Beast Wars continuity, anyway. So Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is definitely not the worst Transformers movie. I had fun watching it, even if the final act devolves into a robot punch orgy. The soundtrack, made up of ’90s and late-’80s hip-hop absolutely rules. Ramos is good (too good, if I’m being honest) and your kids or younger relatives will have fun. And there’s no oil pee or car farting or whatever, so that’s a step in the right direction. Have I talked myself into liking it? Not really. I’m gonna go have a sandwich.