Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the franchise’s most middle-of-the-road entry. Considering how off-road this series has gone, though, it’s a masterpiece compared to Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon, Age of Extinction, or… the fifth one. It lacks the fresh factor of Michael Bay’s first film, which remains visually innovative for a 2007 release. 2018’s Bumblebee is probably the best Transformers movie in terms of character and story. Rise of the Beasts tries to find a happy medium between the spectacle of a Bay movie and the emotion of a Travis Knight picture. It may not revolutionize the franchise, but the film’s heart/spark is in the right place.
While Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena were welcome additions in Bumblebee, the series’ overemphasis on humans has been a common criticism. Thankfully, Rise of the Beasts stays more focused on the Transformers. There are still humans, but the film wisely limits itself to only two major players. Anthony Ramos of In the Heights creates a relatable protagonist in Noah Diaz, a former soldier struggling to support his family. He’s a massive upgrade from Shia LaBeouf and Mark Wahlberg. Speaking of the latter, Marky Mark is referenced at one point. How does that work? In any case, Dominique Fishback of Judas and the Black Messiah is also wonderful as Elena Wallace, a museum worker who stumbles upon this movie’s MacGuffin.
Noah and Elena soon find themselves caught in a conflict between the Autobots and the Terrorcons. What’s the difference between the Terrorcons and the Decepticons? The Terrorcons have a leader voiced by Peter Dinklage! The voice acting is strong across the board with Peter Cullen once again portraying Optimus Prime. Newcomers include Liza Koshy as Arcee and Cristo Fernández as Wheeljack, although the one sure to sell the most toys is Pete Davidson as Mirage. Between this and Fast X, Davidson will invade every movie this summer! Ron Perlman and Michelle Yeoh lend their voices to the Maximals, Transformers that resemble the kind of titans you’d find on Skull Island.
Admittedly, for a film called Rise of the Beasts, there aren’t as many robotic animals as one might hope. Outside of a brief opening, the Maximals aren’t given much to do until the second half. It’s not the Beast Wars movie some have been waiting for, but all of the Transformers are well-utilized in a stimulating climax. On an action level, Rise of the Beasts is far more cohesive than Bay’s sequels. Director Steven Caple Jr. keeps the adrenalin pumping without going overboard in the editing booth. What the action lacks are genuine stakes. Being a prequel that takes place in 1994, we know which Transformers are going to survive. So, when it appears one has bitten the dust, we’re just left waiting for a deus ex machina.
Rise of the Beasts isn’t more than meets the eye per se, but it is the fun escapism that most audiences will be seeking. Behind the action and cheesy one-liners, the film finds room for a theme about community and embracing other cultures. It’s not thought-provoking commentary, but it essentially feels like an apology for Mudflap and Skids. Rise of the Beasts may be a stepping stone to better things with the ending teasing a promising follow-up. Although Rise of the Beasts doesn’t completely refurbish the franchise, the film does refuel our faith in it.