There have been a lot of jokes and a great deal of ire aimed at Michael Bay and his five Transformers movies throughout the years, plenty of which is undoubtedly warranted. Increasingly violent, mean, jingoistic, ridiculous, often offensive or at least questionable, loud, and dizzying as can be, the Bay films are like an explosive fever dream of massive special effects and endless shouting. Even if you find them awesome, there are a lot of strange choices in them for a franchise based on an 80s childrens’ toy line / cartoon,
Yet billions of dollars in box office cash has ensured that these movies usually have the last laugh, and to Bay’s credit, his eye for spectacular action set pieces and revolutionary effects has always carried an international appeal. Eventually however, audiences seemed to grow a bit tired of all the endless destruction, and the franchise’s lead director made his exit after 2017’s exceptionally terrible Transformers: The Last Knight.
Rise of the Beasts, the seventh live-action adventure for the Robots in Disguise, will have you longing for the days of unbridled big screen Bayhem. The plot is indistinguishable from one of his movies, the visuals have hardly changed much, and as the first Transformers movie in five years, it’s basically a reboot of the franchise that borrows familiar beats from the 2007 original. It’s a film suffering from an identity crisis, ditching the whimsical tone of the more family-friendly Bumblebee (a great movie, for the record) in favor of something that just ends up coming across as Michael Bay with the edges sanded off.
We once again see Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), Bumblebee, and a new group of Autobot friends team up with a pair of unwitting-but-good-hearted humans (Anthony Ramos & Dominique Fishback) to save the world. Instead of Decepticons, the threat this time around are the Terrorcons (sick name), led by the deadly Scourge (Peter Dinklage). With the help of the Maximals (terrible name), the good guys have to stop the bad guys from getting their hands on the Transwarp Key, something totally different than the AllSpark from the first movie, the Matrix of Leadership from Revenge of the Fallen, the Pillars from Dark of the Moon, the Seed from Age of Extinction, and whatever magical device is in The Last Knight. I’m not watching that one again. No one should ever watch that movie.
See, the biggest problem with Rise of the Beasts is that it just feels like we’ve been here before, only now we’ve lost the style and attitude of one of America’s most insane filmmakers. Steven Caple Jr. (The Land, Creed II) is a very capable director, but he appears lost on how to make anything fresh for this increasingly convoluted action series. What’s the purpose of this being set in the 90s? The soundtrack, sure, but the actual setting doesn’t factor in much at all. And the entire third act moves everything to Peru anyways, so there goes that. Not like that change of location really matters though, since the final battle takes place in a big gray desolate canyon.
Maybe making 90s references just makes for easy jokes, but half of the ones the movie goes for aren’t specifically related to the era at all. Sonic the Hedgehog? Mario? We still have both of those! Sonic had two movies come out just recently! The Mario movie made a billion dollars literally only one month ago! And they’re both still regularly coming out with new games! This feels like it was made for geriatric millennials whose minds have already begun to exit the building. It’s a movie that ends with a single U.S. citizen receiving free healthcare and then sets up what is quite possibly the most unintentionally hilarious franchise crossover tease to ever be put onscreen.
Here’s what's good: Pete Davidson. No, seriously. As the voice of Mirage, the film’s central Autobot companion, Davidson sounds like the only one who (excuse the term) understood the assignment, or at the very least is the only one who was given the chance to. Silly and energetic to a cartoonish degree, Mirage actually feels like a character from a fun kids’ show come to life. You know, like the cartoons these movies are supposed to be based on. Travis Knight proved with Bumblebee that you can make a genuinely excellent Transformers film if you try to aim them at a younger audience (without dumbing things down), which is who these things should be for anyway.
The soundtrack admittedly goes quite hard, featuring heat from A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang Clan and others. The action is well choreographed but lifeless, and it suffers from looking no different than some fan creation on YouTube or a modern video game. You’re better off just playing the War for Cybertron games and blasting the music yourself to get your Transformers fix that way.
‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ is now playing in theaters.