Review by Cole Groth
As far as franchises go, the Transformers series of films may be one of the worst. With the exception of a solid first installment and an excellent spinoff in 2018’s Bumblebee, Michael Bay’s billion-dollar series of films about robots that transform into cars is a bunch of junk. Too often, Bay gets wrapped up in the visual noise of these massive fight sequences, losing the emotional grounding that keeps audiences with something to care about. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts looks to steer the series in a new direction, and while it’s mighty effective for a Transformers film, there’s still a lot of messiness to get through for this to be a good film.
Rise of the Beasts is a standalone sequel to Bumblebee, a prequel to 2007’s Transformers and the rest of the series. In 1994 Brooklyn, we follow Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos), a hard-working adult supporting his struggling mother and sick younger brother. One day, he tries stealing a car only to find out that it’s an Autobot named Mirage (Pete Davidson), who recruits him to retrieve a key that holds the fate of the world. Elene Wallace (Dominique Fishback) is an intern at a local museum who uncovers part of the key that the Autobots and the dangerous Terrorcons are trying to find. The hunt for the other half sends them on an adventure across the world.
The Transformers series has always focused on large action set pieces that’ll keep general audiences entertained. While they mostly fail, Rise of the Beasts does a decent job. There are huge fight scenes that feel like visual noise, but they’re at least interesting enough to be entertaining. It helps that we’re presented with good character moments between the human characters (who have always been a struggle for the franchise) and the Autobots. This world feels much more lived in this time, and while most characters could use more depth, it’s a step in the right direction.
Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback were great casting choices to lead what appears to be the future of this series. They both bring a fun energy to the role that elevates them beyond the incredibly generic leading men previously seen in Shia LaBeouf and Mark Wahlberg’s characters. Noah and Elena have stronger character motivations but still struggle with somewhat boring stories that could definitely use some edge going forward. The voice acting for most of the Transformers is good, but Pete Davidson stands out as a particularly great new addition. He brings a lot of charm and personality to Mirage, adding some much-needed levity to the mostly uninteresting robots.
Still, while the action will appeal to many die-hard Transformers fans or people looking for generic action sequences, it’s simply not good enough on its own. Each beat feels ripped out of a template, and the story is painfully predictable. It’s almost impossible not to know where the story is moving next, making this viewing experience all too familiar. Most of the jokes fall somewhat flat, and this ultimately feels like a studio-driven installment rather than something interesting. Bumblebee took a bold new approach to these films, and Rise of the Beasts seems to fall back into the basic story that made the previous entries lame.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts breathes new life into a tired franchise of studio-driven slop. It’s undoubtedly one of the best in the now seven-film-long series, which isn’t saying very much. Paramount would be much better off if they gave more creative control to actual creatives. Unfortunately, this feels like it’s more of the same, and while it works pretty well in comparison to its peers, it feels like the continuation of a weak series. Should this receive sequels, there’s plenty of room to improve. If this is all, it’s still a decent enough journey to be worth the watch.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts releases in theaters starting June 9.