Transformers: Rise of the Beasts marks the seventh film in the long-running series based on the Hasbro toy line, and the second not directed by auteur of high trash Michael Bay. Picking up seven years after the events of 2018’s Bumblebee — itself a prequel to Bay’s original five-film opus — we are introduced to the Maximals, a race of robot/animal hybrids whose distant home planet has come under attack from the deadly Terrorcons, controlled by the evil planet-eating god Unicron. As the film opens, the Maximals attempt to defend their home, before escaping to Earth using the Transwarp key, which Unicron desperately wants to obtain in order to travel across the universe and satiate his hunger for power. Meanwhile, Optimus Prime and his crew of Autobots are stuck on Earth and desperate for escape, with the sudden discovery of the Transwarp key offering their possible salvation. Somehow, a former military electronics expert named Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) and art history museum intern Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) get caught up in all of this nonsense, and so they team up with the Autobots to defeat Unicron and his Terrorcons, who have made their way to the third planet from the sun and will stop at nothing to get the MacGuffin fueling all of this chaos.
If this all sounds needlessly complicated, the execution thankfully registers at roughly a fourth-grade level, for both better and worse. Director Steven Caple Jr. — best known for helming 2018’s Creed II — attempts to keep things moving at a clip so that any sort of deep thought in regards to plot or, gulp, themes proves impossible. That he succeeds as often as he does is certainly to the film’s advantage, yet Rise of the Beasts is ultimately, somehow, too simple for its own good, regardless of the absurd number of robot protagonists and antagonists that make spellchecking any review of the film an absolute nightmare; it feels geared far more toward children and tweens than the nostalgia-hungry adults who are actually going to buy tickets to this rickety contraption. Noah and co. discover that Elena’s museum only has one half of the Transwarp whatchamacallit, so they then travel to Peru to obtain the other half before Unicron can get it. And, well, that’s about it, except for a few Transformery fight scenes that punctuate the perfunctory plot and Noah’s familial woes: his little brother has cancer, and Noah is doing all of this to save the world for him, even as Noah and his single mother are unable to procure the necessary funds to save his life, which… ironic?
This all amounts to a whole lot of talk about self-sacrifice in the name of honor and family, best summed up in a dialogue exchange near the film’s end, as Optimus Prime attempts to give his life in an effort to save his new friends: “Your sacrifice is our oath.” “Thank you.” The script — courtesy of a whopping five screenwriters — is on the whole as clunky as that exchange suggests, its emotional earnestness proving equally obvious and enervating. Say what you want about Bay’s specific frenetic style but he is, without a doubt, one of the greatest action directors working, always able to locate a balletic grace and coherent order within the chaos of his overstuffed spectacles. Caple’s directing style, on the other hand, could be best described as functional, the action proving relatively easy to follow but mostly lacking in thrills and finesse. And then there’s the matter of the film’s ending, which sets up a sequel/crossover so absolutely absurd that it almost circles back around to genius. It’s also the only memorable thing about Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, which is a remarkable accomplishment when you consider that the film also features Pete Davidson voicing a sassy Porsche named Mirage. But even that choice feels lazy, just like opening your 1994-set film on a line of dialogue from a movie that wasn’t released until 1996. If you can’t even take care to get your Jerry Maguire facts straight, then what the hell are we even doing here?
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 23.
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