|Synopsis||The Autobots team up with another species of Transformers in order to save the Earth.|
|Length||2 hours, 7 minutes|
|Release Date||June 9, 2023|
|Directing||Steven Caple Jr.|
|Writing||Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber|
|Starring||Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Luna Lauren Velez, Peter Cullen, Ron Perlman, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Yeoh, Pete Davidson|
I can’t say that I’m a fan of Transformers. It was slightly before my time when I was growing up, though my older siblings enjoyed watching the cartoons throughout their childhood. Between their formative childhood years and mine, the Transformers franchise began to languish, as the show naturally ran out of steam and the toy sales began to decline. Deciding to venture into an adjacent concept, the Beast Wars series saved them. It shifted away from cars and other vehicles, and started to focus on animals, which was perfect for a young kid like me that loved the natural world.
My favourite character was Cheetor. That was because my favourite animal was the cheetah. It was that simple. I would casually tune in to watch the series from time to time, and that was my only interaction with the franchise until the Michael Bay films. Even so, Beast Wars tapped into a new market. The people looking forward to this latest movie, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, aren’t necessarily your typical Transformers fans. It was the beginning of a new era for the franchise, both figuratively and literally (Transformers is generally associated with the 80s, whilst Beast Wars was the 90s), and therefore attracted a slightly different fanbase. So it’s curious to see how this new film will bridge the gap in terms of fandoms and basic plot.
Violence/Scary Images: Lots of explosive, big battle sequences involving giant robots. Some robot character deaths. A car chase sequence involves police crashing hard into objects (accidents are not confirmed whether they are lethal). The whole film revolves around a robotic alien species that wishes to devour the earth. Some robots will be too scary for little children as they frequently stalk humans and terrorise them.
Language/Crude Humor: No f-bombs but the s-word is said a few times, along with other swears referencing a donkey, and mentions of certain masculine balls.
Drug/Alcohol References: None!
Sexual Content: Refreshingly, none! Although there is one sly joke about how a human was inside a Transformer.
Spiritual Content: None.
Other Negative Content: One of the human protagonists is a thief—they are encouraged to continue although there is some moral pushback. Law enforcement officers are harmed. Multiple instances of trespassing. An unhealthy workplace dynamic is displayed.
Positive Content: Different groups learnt to trust and come together in order to fight against a common goal.
Let’s make one thing clear—no one is expecting mind-blowing, Oscar-contending material here. It’s about robots that morph and fight other robots. There’s not going to be a whole lot of depth to these movies, and that is fine. Yet there is a basic contract with the audience that the production will deliver an entertaining time with characters people know and love. That promise isn’t entirely delivered in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.
Fans of Beasts Wars aren’t necessarily the same people that loved the original Transformers. So it’s a little tricky when it comes to adapting the material for the film franchise. There are a lot of different fandoms in play, including those that may only follow the films themselves. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts cannot fully embrace its Beast Wars roots because it is still trying to cling to an audience that enjoys narratives surrounding the protagonists of previous productions, even if those stories are now existing in different timelines.
Fan favourites from the other live action movies, Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, make a return. For the first time there are no Decepticons in this movie, although the majority of the story is spent with the Autobots and their new human companions, despite its Beast Wars focus. The script tries its hardest to get viewers to connect with other Transformers, desperately moving away from yet again being all about Bumblebee, yet the robot they chose was Mirage, another smooth-talking Autobot. For the umpteenth in this film franchise, we see a human mistakenly hop into a car only for them to find out it’s an Autobot. It’s the same story we’ve seen numerous times before.
The screenwriting feels safe and timid. Beast Wars fans would no doubt expect to see more of the Maximals in their own movie. Some characters, such as Cheetor, only manage to scrape together seemingly four lines of dialogue. The film clutches onto its past popular characters and slowly introduces audiences to the new figures, when it may have worked better if things were flipped; the story started off with a human getting to know the Maximals, and it’s the Autobots that have the cameos. As it currently stands, the Maximals feel like secondary characters, and once again it’s all about the Autobots.
It’s a bland story. A MacGuffin is introduced in the first act, the different warring parties chase after it where it changes hands a few times, there’s a bit of globetrotting, a sky beam, and a planet-destroying creature. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is every mainstream franchised action film you’ve watched in the past decade and a half. There’s not a whole lot of originality on display here. There are a few scenes where the film dips a little bit into the horror genre, as our human protagonists are stalked by some Predacon scorpions. Those moments feel fresh as tension is properly built, but unfortunately the rest of the film is a blur of non-descript action pieces that are woefully standard for a Transformers movie. There are no standout moments or set pieces that are particularly memorable.
In a wise move, the plot is stripped down to its bare basics, mercifully straight-forward and not horribly convoluted unlike previous films. This means a shorter runtime, though the film still could have scrapped a few minutes here and there. Yet at times things are too simplistic. Once again, we’re not expecting a great deal of depth here, but the rules of this world are starting to unravel with no explanation for how things work. As someone that only casually tuned in to Beast Wars as a child and is mostly only familiar with the movie franchise, some things don’t make sense. For instance, in the past (and in both the main and rebooted timelines), Transformers only took on the shape of Earth-based creations once they had arrived on the planet and done a scan. Yet here we see the Maximals already taking the identities of Earth-based lifeforms before they’ve even left their alien home. Some Transformers lament they can’t fly, and there’s a whole character added just to get around this fact. But why can’t they shapeshift into something that possesses flight? The most baffling element is that there are two humans that aren’t asking these basic questions, particularly when their main function in the plot is to act as a conduit for expository dialogue.
Speaking of human characters, in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts they are properly fleshed out. They aren’t gratingly annoying or only exist as eye-candy. Instead, they are grounded and reasonably likeable with their own motivations. It would have been nice to have seen their story arcs completed and come full circle a little more, but for the humans to be tolerable is a giant step forward for this film franchise. However, it does feel like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here for compliments for this movie; a character that is properly developed shouldn’t be praise-worthy but rather expected.
Getting to the dregs of that barrel, the scenery is nice. It’s a great advertisement for Peru—a country I would love to visit. It’s impressive they managed to secure Machu Pichu for filming, and it was great to have a few shots where it showed the surrounding view of the famous landmark—something which you don’t often see in the travel brochures as usually the angle is of the ruins themselves. That was fun.
The rest was a blur of mediocre, uninspired action that never really had the guts to eject the Autobots and focus in on telling a story about the Maximals. At the end of the film, the decision made seemed like one that could have been reached earlier, and the whole narrative journey felt pointless. Did I connect with the new characters? Not really. It seems like they need another film to properly flesh them out, but really that should have been done here. I don’t want to be too hard on this movie, because it is serviceable. It’s average. It’s not fantastic, but it’s watchable, unlike some of the others in this franchise. If I were to rank them, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts would fall somewhere in the middle, between the ones that are actually competent and entertaining, and above the ones that are abysmal pieces of storytelling. This film may satisfy some hardcore fans, and excite those who are weirdly wanting a Hasbro cinematic universe, but most viewers will find this to be a ho-hum experience.
+ Human characters aren't annoying.
+ Simple plot, shorter runtime.
+ No sexual references.
+ Nice scenery.
+ Bumblebee takes a backseat in the story for once.
- It's very bland–you've seen everything before.
- Not enough focus on Maximals.
- Not enough world-building.
The Bottom Line
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a better outing than others within this film franchise, mainly because it’s a more contained, competent narrative. However, it’s a bland and forgettable action movie that features a lot of tropes, which sadly does no favours for Beast Wars fans.