Transformers: Rise of the Beasts did it. Directed by Steven Caple Jr., the latest chapter in the franchise based on iconic toys from Hasbro and Takara made me hyped about the present and future of the series. Somewhat of a sequel to 2018’s Bumblebee and, while not technically a prequel to the five films that came before it, Rise of the Beasts takes us to 1994 Brooklyn where former military private Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is struggling to make ends meet and help pay for his little brother Kris’ (Dean Scott Vazquez) medical bills.
But when an aspiring historian Elana Wallace (Dominique Fishback) accidentally discovers the key to a spacetime portal, she triggers the arrival of the Terrorcons led by Scourge (Peter Dinklage) to herald their master Unicron’s (Colman Domingo) devouring of Earth. Thankfully, Noah and Elana come to team up with the Autobots and the Maximals, two clans of Transformer refugees who happen to be hiding on Earth to stop the Terrorbots and prevent Unicron’s coming.
I started off pretty worried. The first substantial portion of the movie after the relatively brief opening sequence is all about building out Noah and Elana’s backstories. This first portion overstays its welcome and could have had whole scenes trimmed out without missing a beat. Plus, I struggled to figure out the tone of the movie at first. There are a ton of one-liners from mostly Mirage (Pete Davidson) and Noah, many of which land, and others that had me rolling my eyes. Their dynamic is fun though, either way. There are a whole lot of soft curse words dropped constantly alongside some pretty sophomoric and crude humor, and it uses a very particular vernacular that makes evident what demographics the movie hopes to attract to the franchise’s return to theaters. But once you get past the umpteenth “this is a 90s movie” reference and settle into the pace and tenor of the jokes, listening to all of the kids have an uproariously good time with every wisecrack their parents wished they didn’t hear, it becomes easy to just laugh along yourself.
Very early on, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts sets a high visual standard. The first wow moment is right away when Scourge makes his menacing entrance and it carries through until the final fight. The CGI is honestly impressive throughout the majority of the movie. There are a few obviously digitally rendered backgrounds that pale in comparison to the many real shots taken in iconic locations, and a couple of action sequences had a moment of quality slippage each. But on the whole, the Transformers are all looking by far the best they’ve ever looked, and the many action sequences are rendered excellently.
In fact, this movie possesses what may be the best action finale of the year so far with its epic concluding battle. It’s not only a visually fun affair but also has a number of pretty rad moments for basically every hero, human or robot, to shine. There are a few Transformers that don’t get nearly enough screen time despite being the main members of their teams, but by the end, everyone gets their moment to shine at least once.
The main theme running throughout the movie is what it means to be a leader. Optimus Prime and Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), leader of the Maximals, begin the movie with pretty different views on how to lead, both informed by terrible losses and wars against the forces of evil. Prime sees victory as safety and that victory only has one definitive approach. He leads with great guilt on his shoulders. Primal, meanwhile, sees safety as a victory, and that victory can take any number of shapes. Their approaches seem to be at odds at first, but as the movie goes on, we learn that both could be wrong and either could be right, but ultimately they are stronger together for their differences. It’s a fun lesson to watch both leaders learn as they both come to blows and have epic team-ups.
It was also enormously refreshing not to have some kind of military or paramilitary faction playing a role in a Transformers movie. There are really few human characters outside of Noah, his brother and mother, and Elana who play a substantial role in the movie. Besides Reek (Tobe Nwigwe) who does have some fun early on. It’s just far more interesting to watch alien robots fight each other in a battle of black and white good and evil than to have to watch the kind of typical military team-up or takedown so many of the previous movies relied on to drive their plots. Unfortunately, the final moments did concern me that by the time the next movie rolls around we may already get stuck back in that same pit.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a great time. It looks good pretty much the whole way through, treading the balance between alien robot fights and human concerns just right, and it has maybe the best action finale of the year so far. Honestly, I’m hyped for this franchise to have a comeback if they continue to produce movies of this kind of quality and fun.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is playing in theaters everywhere June 9th.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a great time. It looks good pretty much the whole way through, it treads the balance between alien robot fights and human concerns just right, and it has maybe the best action finale of the year so far. Honestly, I’m hyped for this franchise to have a comeback if they continue to produce movies of this kind of quality and fun.