'Transformers: Rise of the Beasts' Sinks into Incoherence

Directed by Steven Caple Jr.

Starring Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Ron Perlman, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Yeoh, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Pete Davidson, Colman Domingo, Cristo Fernández, Tongayi Chirisa, Peter Cullen

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

BY Matthew Simpson Published Jun 26, 2023

There's a moment in the third act of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts where the bad guys have taken possession of the transwarp key (the central MacGuffin of the plot) and started their evil plan, and the good guys appear on the horizon to let everyone know that the big final battle is about to happen. Scourge (Peter Dinklage), the lead bad guy, looks at his two henchmen and says, "Protect the key," indicating that they should stay and protect the key while he turns to face the good guys. At this point, the two henchmen take off to fight the good guys, and Scourge stays in place. 

It's a small moment, but it's emblematic of the writing of Rise of the Beasts. The film introduces a whole new set of Transformers and complicates the already complicated franchise lore even further. While the big-picture stuff makes as much sense as a story about giant talking robots in disguise as cars and animals can make, it's as if no one was around to make sure the movie made sense from scene to scene. 

Rise of the Beasts takes place in the mid-1990s and follows Noah (Anthony Ramos), a down-on-his-luck veteran and Elena (Dominique Fishback), a plucky museum intern, as they get caught up in the story of Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and his Autobots. They spring into action when Elena discovers the transwarp key, setting off a beacon undetectable to humans. 

Of course, the beacon attracts the Terrorcons, who need the key to bring their planet-sized boss Unicron (Colman Domingo) to Earth so he can eat the Earth. (Yes, you read that right.) The Maximals, who brought the key to Earth in the prehistoric past to keep it safe from the Terrorcons in the first place, are also alerted. After an initial confrontation between the two factions, the falcon-shaped Maximal Airazor (Michelle Yeoh) reveals that the key is actually two pieces, prompting the teams to head to Peru to find the second half. 

Aside from a few hero shots, the action is entirely made up of frenetic close-up shots. It's hard to follow what is happening on screen, and despite Optimus Prime being bright red, the colours are so muted it's often be hard to tell the giant robots apart. Even once all of the Maximals — who are all shaped like giant animals — join the team, this remains difficult, because they transform into similar-looking robots right before the big final battle.

There are a few redeemable qualities to the film, and they are mostly the cast. Anthony Ramos remains charismatic and fun, and Dominique Fishback is one of the most interesting new performers working today. Both bring thoughtfulness and nuance to dialogue that contains very little of either. Similarly, it's always great to hear Peter Cullen voice Optimus Prime, and Colman Domingo is an inspired choice for the ultimate bad guy, Unicron; his distinct and powerful voice is perfect for the role. There's one decent fight scene that takes place in broad daylight as the Maximals chase the Terrorcons through the mountains of Peru. And those in the audience who grew up watching Beast Wars will surely get a thrill from seeing Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) on screen as well. 

Whatever there is to like falls apart by the third act, when it becomes yet another film where a small cadre of good guys face off against an army of nameless, faceless canon fodder while the bad guys use a blue laser to open a portal in the sky to bring more bad guys to Earth. This is where the writing becomes its most incoherent: a big final confrontation with an unearned resolution and questionable character decisions that muddle things further.
It's easy to reconcile that this is a Transformers movie, and so expectations shouldn't be too high. After all, this is the seventh film in a franchise with only two good entries (2007's Transformers and Bumblebee), but at what point does that stop being an excuse? Rise of the Beasts is overstuffed, overlong, and ultimately a little boring as it lacks the visual flair that made Michael Bay's films at least dynamic to look at.
(Paramount Pictures)

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