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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Transformers Rise of the Beasts: Review

Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and the Autobots join forces with an ancient transformer team from a bygone era in Transformers: Rise of the Beast.

I don’t blame anyone who has lost track of the shlock perpetrated by the Transformers franchise. After the series made a promising live-action debut in 2007, Transformers have featured in four sequels ranging from bad to downright abysmal, along with a somewhat decent prequel, 2018’s Bumblebee. There really is no narrative thread to follow between these features; the brand’s sole purpose on the big screen is to deliver bombastic setpieces that lean into the colorful carnage stemming from robots who transform into vehicles.

Rise of the Beasts marks a holistic reset for Transformers following a five-year dormancy period. Former franchise stalwarts Mark Wahlberg, Shia LaBeouf and director Michael Bay are long gone. Instead, Beasts highlights a fresh blend of emerging industry talents. This change of pace helps deliver a competent crowd-pleaser that eventually loses itself in the beige modern blockbusters formula.

When the transformers are front and center, Rise of the Beasts showcases a surprisingly faithful rendition of the 1980s television series. Sure, the story is utter nonsense - it’s your typical chase for some undefinable plot MacGuffin with a fancy sci-fi name. That said, the inherent dopiness is part of the brand’s charm. The Transformers act like they are taking the stage in a world-class play, spewing plot jargon dialogue with an infectious blend of gravitas and sincerity. In addition, new characters, such as the animal robot hybrids, the Maximals, inject a fresh pulse to the series as contentious companions to the Transformers.

It helps that the voice-over roles showcase dynamic talents. Peter Cullen remains ubiquitous as Optimus Prime; his trademark cadence and weighty delivery capture the presence of a matter-of-fact team leader. New stars Michelle Yeoh, Ron Pearlman and Pete Davidson also leave their mark throughout. Davidson is especially a scene-stealer, imbuing his slacker comedic charm in the role of Mirage.

When it’s time for the human characters to take center stage, Rise of the Beasts transforms into a dull retread. New stars Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback are extraordinary talents in the right roles, but the duo is given little to work with here. Ramos is stuck playing the generic plucky protagonist as Noah Diaz, an ex-marine trying to provide for his ill brother in a world that ignores his existence. The character encompasses every leading man cliche under the sun, with Ramos rarely receiving an opportunity to imprint his magnetism into the role. Fishback is even more underserved by the wayward material. The screenwriting team of Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer and Josh Peters abandon the actress in a lifeless role. She is awarded no personality to highlight onscreen as ancient history expert Elena Wallace, instead only existing to regurgitate meaningless exposition. I understand that a Transformers film is not the place to go for textured characters, but the humans here will leave fans dozing off until the Transformers return to the screen.

As a piece of summer escapism, Rise of the Beasts delivers a mixed bag. I appreciate the steadiness director Steven Caple Jr. displays in his direction; the action scenes are smooth and legible, unlike the bombastic mayhem indicative of former series director Michael Bay. The grand setpieces here feature sparks of skilled choreography and inventive camera work. Still, the action largely leaves something to be desired. While Bay’s chaotic sensibilities were often maddening, they at least defined an arresting stylistic personality for the franchise. Caple Jr.’s competence behind the camera can often render vanilla results. Several of his setpieces highlight loud explosions and clashing combat without the tension or creative pulse to bring these sequences to life.

Capped off with an obligatory attempt at generating interest for a sequel, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a remarkably unremarkable summer offering. The film unfortunately fumbles its glimmers of light-hearted fun with a heaping of cliched contrivances and bland studio-mandated directives.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is now playing in theaters.


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