Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, 2023.
Directed by Stephen Caple Jr.
Starring Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Luna Lauren Velez, Dean Scott Vazquez, Tobe Nwigwe, Peter Cullen, Ron Perlman, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Yeoh, Liza Koshy, John DiMaggio, David Sobolov, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Pete Davidson, Cristo Fernández, Tongayi Chirisa, Colman Domingo, and Michael Kelly.
During the ’90s, a new faction of Transformers – the Maximals – join the Autobots as allies in the battle for Earth.
After a few years away, the Transformers have rolled back into theaters with the latest installment Transformers: Rise of the Beasts that offers a fresher reboot to the long-running (and often maligned) franchise than its predecessor Bumblebee. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel for the series, Rise of the Beasts does build upon the positive elements from Bumblebee to deliver a movie that centres on its title characters with a good enough balance of the Autobots, Maximals and their new human allies along with plenty of entertaining action scenes.
The film follows Noah Diaz, a former soldier who left the army to look after his sick younger brother. A chance encounter puts him in the path of the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, as they discover a hidden artifact that servants of the evil planet-eating Unicron are hunting for. Their quest around the world introduces them to the Maximals, an old race of transformers hiding on earth who have taken the forms of various animals, and they must work together to stop Unicron and his minions before Earth is destroyed.
As said, the film doesn’t deviate too much from the Transformers formula as the cast are on another global hunt for a powerful MacGuffin that has the potential to bring about the end of the world. However, unlike previous entries in the series, the plot is straightforward and isn’t bogged down by rambling exposition or attempts at humour that go on for way longer than necessary. There’s a clear objective and sense of purpose, both with the characters and how the film advances the story, that director Steven Caple Jr. balances well with the character moments and action.
Hamilton and In The Heights star Anthony Ramos does a great job as the film’s lead Noah. He comes off as likeable and relatable, delivering a level of seriousness to the role while also being light-hearted and comedic. Noah’s devotion to his family and tech-knowledge is emphasized much more than his military background, giving him more of an everyman feel as he learns to work within the team of Autobots and prepare to fight for the world. Joining him is Dominique Fishback’s Elena, a museum intern with a deep knowledge of history and archeology and uncovers the secret to the film’s MacGuffin. Fishback does well with the role in how she captures Elena’s intelligence, charisma and own comedic timing. She and Ramos have good chemistry together that, again unlike previous films, does not rely on sexual tension (cringey or earned) and feels like a working partnership.
When it comes to the bots, they are largely the focus of the film and have plenty of screentime and development, especially when it comes to Optimus Prime and Mirage. The Optimus of this film is less certain of his leadership after so many years spent on Earth and is much less willing to ally with humans. Peter Cullen does, as always, a fantastic job conveying Optimus’ leadership and gravitas as he delivers a nuance to Optimus’ arc throughout the film and how he becomes a more recognizable Prime by its conclusion. Pete Davidson is the standout as Mirage, Noah’s Autobot companion, with his boundless energy and enthusiasm in the role. Peter Dinklage provides a menacing portrayal to Scourge, Unicron’s main enforcer, though aside from keeping a collection of transformer insignias from the bots he’s killed Scourge lacks much personality and is rather one-note since everything he does is in service to Unicron as he says many times. Dinklage’s performance is still good, but could have been better had Scourge been a more well-rounded villain.
As for the Maximals, they are a very cool addition to the franchise and longtime Transformers fans will be happy to see Beast Wars characters interact with G1. Ron Perlman gives Optimus Primal a large sense of wisdom and respect, both to the Autobots and from his fellow Maximals, that compliments Optimus Prime’s arc. After Perlman Michelle Yeoh is the most memorable Maximal as Airazor. Her performance capture’s Airazor’s own wisdom and unique experiences that help Prime come to the right decisions. The Maximals provide something new to the franchise, especially when it comes to the action sequences with how the film combines the Autobot’s traditional vehicle modes with the fighting styles of animals or how nimble a bot like Cheetor is on the battlefield. The graphics are extremely well done as their machinery smoothly blends into their animal-like fur or hides and how their different forms are adapted to the big battles.
However, Caple Jr. and the Rise of the Beasts team try to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to the Maximals. They’re not fully assembled until fairly late into the story and, despite how great they look in their beast modes, Beast Wars fans might be a little upset at how little time the Maximals spend in their robot modes. When they are in their robot modes, the action moves so quickly the audience never really gets a clear visual at what they look like and the detail that went into their bot modes. Given the film boasts a cast that includes humans, Autobots and Maximals, it would be a rather tall order to give them all balanced screentime, especially with the time, effort and expenses creating the visuals demand, but the Maximals were still underutilized to a degree. A key element of Beast Wars mythology is also handwaved away that fans will still understand, but might confuse any mainstream audience member with how quickly it is mentioned and never followed up on.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a fun, enjoyable film that builds off the right direction Bumblebee began heading in with its soft-reboot approach. Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback are likeable leads while the focus remains squarely on the Autobots and, to a lesser degree, their Maximal counterparts. The action is exciting and coherent with excellent visual effects. Steven Caple Jr. directs an entertaining film that may be formulaic, but gets enough right with its characters to make regular movie-goers and Transformers/Beast Wars fans happy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.