In the world of action cinema, the Transformers series has always been a cinematic spectacle to behold. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, the latest in this high-octane franchise, doesn’t stand out amongst the previous films as anything more than a cash grab. Directed by Steven Caple Jr. and written by a team that includes Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer and Josh Peters, the film boasts a stacked cast including Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback and Luna Lauren Velez, with voice acting by Michelle Yeoh, Peter Dinklage, Peter Cullen, Ron Pearlman, Coleman Domingo, Pete Davidson, Liza Koshy, MJ Rodriguez, John DiMaggio and Cristo Fernandez.
It all starts on an alien planet with the Maximals, alien robots with animal likenesses. Unicron is a world-eating entity aiming to destroy their world while henchmen Scourge (Dinklage) does its bidding. The leading warriors AirRazor (Yeoh), Cheetor (Tongayi Chirisa), Rhinox (David Sobolov) and their leader Optimus Primal (Pearlman) are given a key to protect from Unicron. They have to flee their world to hide in hopes they are never found. Unfortunately, things just aren’t that easy.
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Noah Diaz (Ramos), an inner-city guy, is living hand-to-mouth in the heart of Brooklyn in 1994. He’s had trouble finding work and needs money to help care for his mother (Velez) and brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez). An opportunity for money arises when the neighborhood hustler approaches him about boosting expensive cars from a museum parking lot, to which Noah reluctantly agrees. Elena (Fishback) works as an art historian specializing in alien artifacts in the same museum. She finds a hawk that looks like Air Razor with an unknown symbol, setting off a signal within the universe that alerts others of the key’s location. The two converge when Scourge and company find them at the museum, where Optimus Prime and his crew also show up to do battle against the bad guys. Now, the two humans are part of a larger purpose to help the Autobots and Maximals defeat Unicron or die trying.
The plot treads a well-worn path rather than pushing the boundaries of storytelling within the franchise. Travis Knight’s Bumblebee breathed new life into the series, which gave me hope that this would go in a different direction. Rise of the Beasts walks all of that back as another generic intergalactic menace from the sky carries all the plot predictability of a broken clock. Adding to its detriment, the thrill and urgency of the first act screech to a halt, replaced with exposition-heavy scenes that disrupt the rhythm of the narrative. The action sequences in the latter stages are undoubtedly impressive, though they can’t quite shake off the nagging feeling of convenient placements and obvious outcomes.
The Maximals create an exciting dynamic, often outshining the more familiar Autobots and humans in terms of intrigue and character interest. Still, it fails to match the standard set by previous entries, with the Autobots and Maximals needing more visual texture. It’s almost as if they weren’t fully rendered before the film’s release. A step back for a franchise known for at least providing the whole sensory experience. Optimus Prime is back to his usual wet-blanket attitude, whining about how everything is their fault, while Ramos’ and Fishback’s characters struggle to compete with it all. This was a missed opportunity in a series that could benefit from more nuanced character work.
For all its faults, the movie does make a noteworthy stride in inclusivity. The setting in Peru and weaving Peruvian indigeneity into Autobot lore offers a unique departure from previous films. The writers use that to incorporate some social commentary into the narrative. While it doesn’t dig deep, it’s an effort considering the expectations of a typical Transformers film are known more for robotic brawls than social introspection.
Rise of the Beasts exhibits the usual tenets of the Transformers universe, filled with plot armor thicker than Optimus Prime’s metallic exoskeleton. The narrative crutch of invincibility seems permanently welded to our robotic heroes, which could have been reimagined in a more balanced way by the franchise’s seventh film. Sure, there are the usual thrills, but the series needs a touch of that Autobot innovation to transform and rise to new cinematic heights.
Title: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
Release date: June 9
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Screenwriters: Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer and Josh Peters
Cast: Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Luna Lauren Velez, Michelle Yeoh, Peter Dinklage, Peter Cullen, Ron Pearlman, Coleman Domingo, Pete Davidson, Liza Koshy, MJ Rodriguez, John DiMaggio, Cristo Fernandez
Running time: 2 hr 16 min
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