A film review by Craig J. Koban August 17, 2023



2023, PG-13, 127 mins

Anthony Ramos as Noah Diaz  /  Dominique Fishback as Elena Wallace  /  Luna Lauren Velez as Mrs. Diaz  /  Tobe Nwigwe as Reek  /  Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime (voice)  /  Ron Perlman as Optimus Primal (voice)  /  Peter Dinklage as Scourge (voice)  /  Michelle Yeoh as Airazor (voice)  /  Liza Koshy as Arcee (voice)  /  John DiMaggio as Stratosphere / Transit (voice)  /  David Sobolov as Rhinox / Battletrap (voice)  /  Michaela Jaé Rodriguez as Nightbird (voice)  /  Pete Davidson as Mirage (voice)  /  Cristo Fernández as Wheeljack (voice)  /  Tongayi Chirisa as Cheetor (voice)  /  Colman Domingo as Unicron (voice)

Directed by Steven Caple Jr.  /  Written by Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber

I found myself asking way, way too many questions during my patience testing screening of TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS.   

Let me give you some examples.   

There's an Autobot named Stratosphere that comes in the form of a hopelessly broken down World War II cargo plane.  Based on the world building provided by the last TRANSFORMERS outing (2018's not great, but step in the right direction BUMBLEBEE), this extraterrestrial and shape-shifting machine intelligence has been on Earth for less than a decade (remember, BUMBLEBEE was set in the 80s, whereas this seventh franchise installment occurs in the early 90s).  

If the Autobots have only been on the planet from the 80s onward, then why would one of them come disguised as a plane relic from forty-plus years ago?  How would they know what a WWII cargo plane looks like to emulate?  Also, why does Stratosphere - in robotic-humanoid form - have a metal moustache?  What purpose does this serve?  

It reminds me of two robots in BUMBLEBEE that had male and female voices respectively.  Why?  Why would alien robots follow earth-based gender norms?  Aren't they asexual?  Hey, remember that one Transformer from a previous sequel that had what looked an awful lot like metal testicles?  Why do alien robots have human genitalia?   

Here's another thing: Why does humanity not know of the existence of the Transformers in the first Michael Bay-directed series introductory chapter (which chronologically takes place well after BUMBLEBEE and RISE OF THE BEASTS)? This mechanized race doesn't exactly fly incognito, not to mention that they leave massive amounts of damage and destruction after their battles with the Decipticons. It makes no literal sense that characters that populate this cinematic universe would not have heard of these robots in disguise beforehand.  And don't even get me started on the "Beasts" of this film's title.  I did a little research for this review.  BEAST WARS was a mid-90s animated reboot of the Transformers series of toys that featured warring alien robots disguised as - you got it - various animals. Why would alien robots assume the form of animals from our planet?  They clearly don't blend in based on their forms.  It's enough to make one go crossed-eyed.  

I know...I know...logic is not this franchise's strong suit...and perhaps I'm a dummy for thinking too much about these specific issues.  I have not been kind to the TRANSFORMERS films as a whole.  Every Bay-helmed entry figured high on my lists of the Ten Worst Films of their respective years.  I didn't come around to showing any support whatsoever to this toyline turned movie series until BUMBLEBEE, which I very fairly labeled as the best possible movie featuring Transformers that I've ever seen (that, and it benefited greatly by having a better director than Bay at the helm on top of featuring the rock solid casting of Oscar nominated actress Hailee Steinfeld in a lead role).  I honestly had some modicum of hope when TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS was announced, which serves as a continuation of BUMBLEBEE and a second prequel to Bay's films.  What's so ultimately disappointing about this new film is that it also boasts a solid director in CREED III's Steven Cable Jr. and features a refreshingly diverse cast, but the screenplay - laughably attributed to five writers - is so empty minded and lacking in ambition that the talented people in front of and behind the cameras are giving nothing to work with.  And when it boils right down to it, RISE OF THE BEASTS is as headache-inducingly awful as anything in the Bay canon; it adheres to many of the mindless and most nonsensical troupes that have come before.  

Worse yet...this is a painfully dull and tension-free sequel. 



The prologue introduces us to an unfathomably large Transformer known as Unicron (Colman Domingo), a being that's so big that it can consume planets.  We observe it attempting to gorge on the home world of the Maximals, those aforementioned race of Transformers that assume beast forms.  Unicron's minion in Scourge (a cashing his paycheck Peter Dinklage) is hoping to secure the "Transwarp Key" (not to be confused with STAR TREK's Transwarp Drives), which will allow Unicron to travel to Earth to make the planet its next supper.  Some of the Maximals manage to flee their home world before its destruction, led by Optimus Primal (Ron "HELLBOY" Pearlman), and escape to the safety of Earth.  By the way - these Maximals have secured the Transwarp Key and have taken it with them.  They decide to hide in Peru for reasons never fully explained, with my only guess being that the writers (I don't know which of the five) decided to throw a dart at a world map to pick a new geographical location.   

We're then whisked to New York in 1994.  Speaking of for reasons never fully explained, Steinfeld's character from BUMBLEBEE makes no appearance in this sequel, nor is her AWOL status embellished in the slightest.  Instead, we meet series newcomer Noah Diaz (IN THE HEIGHT's splendid Anthony Ramos, really slumming it here) who's not only ex-military, but is also an electronics dynamo that has to take many petty (and some criminal) jobs in order to pay for (I kid you not) his brother's cancer treatments.  During one fateful car theft gone wrong, Noah soon realizes (to his shock) that the vehicle he was trying to nab is actually an Autobot named Mirage (Pete Davidson), who works in secret with Optimus Prime (not Primal...the original Coke version...voiced by Peter Cullen) in attempting to locate the Transwarp Key that has just arrived with the Maximals.  This key proves to be instrumental in allowing the Autobots to return to their world.  Noah and Mirage cross paths with an artifact researcher (how convenient!) named Elena (Dominique Fishback), who unearths the key and finds herself caught between the Autobots, the Maximals, and Unicron.  Everything builds to an epic battle royale in Peru between all parties in an area that's hilariously non-specific and void of any other human eye-witnesses. 

Let's talk about this film's action-packed and would-be thrilling climax for a bit.  It's as riddled with as much murky, hard to follow, and chaotic CG visual effects as any other previous entry.  It's not that the effects are not competent, but rather that everything has just that been-there, done-that aura of overt familiarity (outside, of course, of the animal-esque Maximals).  I can perhaps forgive a Transformers sequel for offering up more of the same in terms of pure visual noise and spectacle, but the epic donnybrook set in Puru is so topographically bland and uninspired that it completely took me out of the movie.  We get nondescript terrain...nondescript skies...I mean...there's nothing here that even hints that this is Peru.  It's like a terrible video game cut scene that appears as if the chief animators forgot to work on the background details.  Plus, why set yet another TRANSFORMERS prequel on Earth?  We know from the previous Bayhem-injected sequels that Earth is a-okay, which renders any level of suspense here null and void.  I never once felt like there were any tangible stakes here.  All we get is big giant and shiny robots punching, kicking and slamming up against other big shiny robots in messy action setpieces.  That's essentially it.  If I could have used the Transwarp Key to teleport out of the cinema at that point...I would have.   

I'd like to say that the human characters (and the human voice talent playing the alien robots) fare better, but...hey...who am I kidding?  Outside of the distinct sounding Peter Cullen and Pete Davidson as their respective Autobots, just about every other voice actor here is borderline unrecognizable.  Wait...that was recent Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh as the Maximal Airazor?  Did I hear that right...Pearlman as the gorilla-like Optimus Primal?  I literally needed the end credit cast list to tell me that Dinklage was even an active participant.  Sarcasm aside, I will give RISE OF THE BEASTS some props for at least having a racially diverse cast here with Ramos and Fishback, and both of them are finely attuned and likeable performers when given the right material.  It's such a rarity to see TRANSFORMERS films give people of color a place of prominence as the main human characters that occupy space with their robot companions.  These actors are appealing and charming, but the script makes them disposable puppets at the mercy of the monotonous mayhem that erupts around them.  Coming off of the solid performance goodwill of Steinfeld and her fairly well-rounded and grounded character in BUMBLEBEE, these new heroes inserted into the Transformers lore are too one-dimensional and lacking in genuine interest.  

I cannot emphasize what a sizeable qualitative step down RISE OF THE BEASTS was from the modest creative gains of BUMBLEBEE.  It's just a regressive step backwards that doesn't make me all too keen to see any new TRANSFORMERS sequels (not that any of the sequels pre-BUMBLEBEE made me want to either).  Laziness and desperation play out hand in hand in RISE OF THE BEASTS, which perhaps hits a peak of silliness in the film's final moments that tries really, really hard to pull of a mind-blowing sequel baiting twist and overtly name drops another massive toy franchise that the makers here sure hope will become the next big shared universe thingy in sequels and spin-offs to come.  I found it positively shoulder shrugging.  Actually, I did so much aggressive shoulder shrugging throughout RISE OF THE BEASTS that I required a deep tissue massage afterwards.  This is one big pile of meh, especially coming a few weeks after screening BARBIE.  That movie - also based on an iconic toy property - was an endlessly smart, sophisticated, and subversive delight.  RISE OF THE BEASTS has less creative ambition than elementary-school-aged children methodically clanging together their action figures in sand boxes.  It's as far removed from being a maximal effort as they come.    

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