REVIEW — “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts”
After a series of wildly successful yet messy films, the cinematic Transformers universe course corrected with 2018’s fun and freewheeling, 80s-set Bumblebee. The franchise’s latest installment, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts takes the action into the 90s and relies on slick action and fast jokes to keep this ferociously wild ride from being another clunker.
The film opens long ago on a distant planet inhabited by the Maximals, a race of robotic, transforming beasts that include Airazor (Michelle Yeoh) and Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman). The MacGuffin in ROTB is the transwarp key, a prehistoric, otherworldly device that is sought after by the destructive Unicron (Colman Domingo) to take over the galaxy. To keep it safe, the Maximals flee their home world and escape with the key to Earth.
The film then jumps to Brooklyn 1994, seven years after the events of Bumblebee, where we meet Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos), a technologically gifted-but-unemployed young man desperate for work to help pay for his little brother’s (Dean Scott Vazquez) medical bills. After another rejection, he is talked into stealing a Porsche, which just happens to be Autobot Mirage (Pete Davidson). Trapped inside, he is forced on a high-speed police chase through New York City. Ramos is a fine actor. He’s believably panicked as an unwilling driver during the funny and highly entertaining scene.
Mirage leads Noah to the rest of the Autobots: Bumblebee, Arcee (Liza Koshy), and Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). The Optimus Prime we meet is uncharacteristically battle-weary and sullen from carrying the beast of burden of protecting his fellow Autobots. He strongly distrusts humans and is desperate to return to Cybertron. The transwarp key is their only ticket home, and he wants it no matter the costs. However, by working with Noah, he learns that there’s more to humanity than meets the eye.
Nearby, ancient artifacts are being delivered to a museum where young Elena (Dominique Fishback) interns. The book-smart historian is wise beyond her years, but underappreciated by her superior. Elena also helps to periodically remind viewers that the film is set in the 90s by quietly singing R&B chart toppers when she is nervous. In case you forgot we’re in 1994, here’s Elena with “Groove Thang” by Zhané. Her curiosity unlocks the transwarp key long hidden inside a statue of Airazor that sends out a signal alerting both the Autobots and Unicron’s henchmen led by the evil Scourge (Peter Dinklage).
With the help of Noah and Elena, the Transformers must race against Scourge to capture the key and save Earth. Their globetrotting mission takes them to the depths of Peru where they encounter the Maximals and other friendly Autobots, Stratosphere (John DiMaggio) and Wheeljack (Ted Lasso’s Cristo Fernández).
Directed by Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II), the film features wild CGI robot fighting action and epic 90s needle drops that will rev audiences’ engines, especially during the Peruvian final battle. But make no mistake, this film is made for teenage boys. As Mirage, Davidson definitely has the juvenile jokes covered and strikes up a likable Hasbro-mance with Ramos’ character that includes a series first Transformer-human mech suit collaboration.
Thankfully, because the film is mercifully free of Michael Bay’s overblown excess, confusing plot threads, and corny jokes, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts can be enjoyed by audiences outside of its immature target demo and manages to pull off a few memorable moments and synergetic surprises in the process. 3/5
Rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours and 16 minutes, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opens in theaters on June 9, 2023.