There is no doubt about the fact that Michael Bay and his team turned a toy brand and its subsequent animated adaptations into one of the most successful franchises in the history of cinema. But since Bay relied on maximalism, grotesque racial stereotypes, and his trademark sexualization of women, it snowballed into the box-office bomb that was Transformers: The Last Knight and a total reboot (as well as a prequel) in the form of Bumblebee. Although the Hailee Steinfeld-led film didn’t rake in as much money as its predecessors, it ended up being the best out of the lot because of its Spielberg-ian take on the world-famous Transformer. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts attempts to evolve the path that has been paved by Travis Knight and Christina Hodson, and hopes to cause some Bayhem along the way.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opens with Unicron, a planet-devouring Transformer (I’m not really sure if it’s a Transformer), invading the homeworld of the Maximals, a species of Transformer that turns into animals. He obviously wants to consume the planet and nourish itself with its resources, but he’s also interested in something called the Transwarp Key, as it’ll simplify his interstellar travel. So, before gobbling up the celestial body, he sends his minions, called the Terrorcons, to extract the key. Scourge (the leader of the Terrorcons) fails to do so as Optimus Primal and some of the Maximals escape to Earth with the Key. In 1994, a part of this Key is uncovered by an intern at a museum, Elena Wallace, who unknowingly lights it up like a beacon. This causes the Autobots, which include Optimus Prime, Arcee, and Bumblebee, who have been stranded on Earth for the past few years, to reunite. But it also ends up notifying the Terrorcons about the key’s location, thereby putting Earth in danger. Noah Diaz, an electronics expert who is barely making ends meet, finds himself in the middle of all this as the car he tries to steal for his friend, Reek, turns out to be a Transformer named Mirage.
Director Steven Caple Jr. and his team of writers (Erich Hoeber, Darnell Metayer, Joby Harold, Josh Peters, and Jon Hoeber) certainly try to continue the Spielbergian vibes of Bumblebee in Rise of the Beasts. They not only name-drop E.T. and Indiana Jones; they shape the narrative like a proper relic-hunting mission filled with secret passageways and crypts too. There’s a segment in a museum where Elena Wallace has to hide from these spider-like Transformers, and it’s reminiscent of the Raptors scene from Jurassic Park. While the practically shot car chase sequences feel somewhat original, when they go into CGI-heavy territory, it seems like a scene from Ready Player One. And then the elaborate and explosive nature of some of the fights, accompanied by Steve Jablonsky’s iconic Autobots theme, makes it feel like Caple’s trying to wreak some Bayhem (the kind of onscreen mayhem that only Michael Bay can cause). But the overall product isn’t impactful. Don’t get me wrong; apart from some blandly constructed frames, the movie looks very competent. However, there’s no sense of tension, mystery, thrill, or excitement. Things just happen one after another until they end.
Much like Bumblebee and unlike Bay’s movies, the writers have come up with a relatable protagonist who has money woes and lacks confidence, but he comes into his own by going on a world-saving mission without being a total jerk. While Charlie’s relationship with Bumblebee was extremely sweet and heartwarming, Noah’s chemistry with Mirage has a more “brother-from-another-mother” energy to it. That’s supposed to echo the relationship between Noah and his biological brother, Kris. However, the payoff is generic in nature. I appreciate the attempt to balance Noah’s need to save the world with his mission to provide for his family. That said, it’s so surface-level that it didn’t engage me emotionally. They try to give a solid reason for Elena’s adventurous spirit, but even that’s very flimsy. The Autobots, Maximals, Terrorcons, and Unicron don’t have a lot of depth to them. It wouldn’t have mattered a lot if Rise of the Beasts had some kind of momentum or if the action was explosive enough. But since that’s not the case, the mix of self-aware humor and expository dialogue sticks out like a sore thumb.
Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback do give it their all to these paper-thin roles, though. Ramos is an incredibly gifted actor, and he has proven it earlier with In the Heights and The Bad Guys (I haven’t watched Hamilton, sorry). And he shows that even if he’s put in a dull, lifeless movie such as Rise of the Beasts, he is going to shine like a diamond. The dude has charisma and a level of magnetism that’s very rare among the current crop of actors. Everyone nowadays just bulks up and then forgets how to act. Ramos isn’t like that, and I hope he continues to flex his skills. Fishback is underutilized, yet she manages to display her comedic chops. I don’t know if it’s because I have seen her recently in Swarm, but I genuinely wished she turned out to be the villain of the movie because she has this amazing ability to bring an aura of duality to her characters. If the producers and writers can see that, they should make her reprise this role so that she can show everything she has to offer. Out of the voice cast, Pete Davidson ends up being the most memorable one, and that’s probably by design. The rest of them are good but not all that impressive.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a perfectly okay, one-time-watch film. It’s certainly miles better than the Michael Bay movies, but it’s not even close to Bumblebee. If you are a fan of either of those movies, I don’t think this will interest you. If you are looking to dip your toes into the franchise, this is an acceptable entry point. However, if the Transformers and the extended Hasbro franchise want to stand out amongst the millions of cinematic series that are vying for the top spot, then they have to get creative. They have to let their writers and directors swing for the fences. The action sequences have to be as hard-hitting as the moments where characters have a heart-to-heart with each other. Playing it safe so that you can appease everyone in the theater isn’t going to get you anywhere. And if nobody remembers your films, then what’s the point of making them in the first place?