As it stands, the Transformers movie franchise has undergone some tumultuous ups and downs. Despite my guilty pleasures of the Michael Bay iteration of the franchise, even I can admit the fourth and fifth movies in his coterie nearly torpedoed the explosive legacy he established. Since then, Bay has been relegated to an executive producer and other creative voices have helmed the robot-action saga into new cinematic ventures, as we've seen with Travis Knight's 'Bumblebee', and now its long-awaited sequel, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. Does the 2023 addition to Optimus Prime and Megatron's long-standing rivalry bring an entertaining new lens to the series? Or does Rise of the Beasts threaten to sink this beloved franchise back into the stony depths of Hasbro's basement? Let's find out!
As per usual, the Autobot characters remain the mechanical stars of this film's narrative. Bumblebee, returning from the 2018 movie, Optimus Prime; the timeless Autobot leader and poster-boy of the wider franchise, and two new additions to the Transformers film universe: Arcee and Mirage. Well, they're not exactly new, both briefly appeared during stints in Bay's films, but with cameos so unimportant and sidelined you could easily replace them with another character and not notice. Here, Arcee is a major supporting character, and Mirage takes the role of the chief human 'relatable' Transformer rather than Bumblebee- a decision I highly enjoyed as the film progressed. To be honest, after a while, I find Bumblebee's primary gimmick of his lack of voice and being able to communicate through radio and film clips rather grating, and he rarely has a genuine personality outside of being the cutesy son figure for Optimus and the lead human's partner in crime. Mirage isn't exactly detracting from this tried and true formula, he at least holds a personality amicable enough to interact with throughout the movie. He's rambunctious, funny, and engages with the protagonist verbally, which is pretty refreshing from Bumblebee's constant beeping and booping like a 90s computer all the damn time. There's also Wheeljack, who I could swear had a different (and much better) design in the previous film's prologue, and Stratosphere, the Autobot's plane. Frankly, they don't really do anything outside their assigned stereotypes as characters, Wheeljack being a clumsy nerd and Stratosphere being some bombastic Irish stereotype, I think. Optimus is actually the most interesting Autobot in this movie's pantheon I found, as unlike numerous other iterations, he doesn't start out instantly trusting humans. Instead, it takes an arc over the movie's course for him to recognize the importance of trusting mankind and joining them as true allies against their enemies.
The movie's selling point is supposedly the introduction of the 'Maximals', noble Transformer warriors that instead morph into animalistic forms rather than vehicles. Having seen the Beast Wars series they debuted in, I was expecting... much more. Aside from the Eagle Maximal Airazor and Optimus Primal, their team leader, the Maximals are basically background character duds that exist to display the mediocre CGI accomplishments of the film. Airazor is relatively likable, and Primal is quite funny and acting as a positive foil to Optimus at times, but the film still focuses squarely on the Autobots and the Maximals are left to fend for cinematic scraps of importance, mainly through Primal advising and discussing exposition to Optimus.
A saving grace here would be the human characters. Sam Witwicky will always hold a special place in my heart for his awkward mania and my sense of nostalgia, Cade Yeager was just boring, and Bumblebee's Charlie was... alright, I guess. However, new protagonist Noah Diaz actually has a character that melds well with the Autobots and gives his interactions more purpose beyond just a confused human navigating the strange world of these Transforming robots. Noah's arc of learning to trust the Autobots mirrors Optimus's own, the two grow to become close friends by the movie's end as they realize the best way to protect their family and achieve their goals is through mutual partnership. There's also a female protagonist, Elena Wallace, who's an archaeologist and explorer type of person that joins Noah on his adventure to save the world. She's alright, and her interactions with Noah are really funny, if you're a New Yorker I guess. Then you'd understand the references.
How about the villains? Well- we're not dealing with Decepticons or bounty hunters or evil humans this time, but rather; Terrorcons, a new breed of Transformer whom serve the Dark God Unicron, basically Satan for Transformers lore for those uninitiated. I was expecting the inclusion of Predacons, who are essentially the Maximals' version of Decepticons who also transform into animal forms, though we sadly didn't get an appearance from them. The Terrorcons suffice well enough as villains, led by Scourge, voiced by the wonderful Peter Dinklage. They're an evil death cult aiming to sacrifice all life in the universe for Unicron's consumption. That is... about it. They play their roles well as baddies, and all perish during the final battle.
I honestly don't have much to say about this movie. It's quite a fun blockbuster watch with some plotholes here and there, if you turn off your brain and enjoy the experience for what it is: big robots beating the hell out of each other, you'll have fun. The Transformers franchise could truly excel if they dropped the human and Earth-bound elements altogether and simply portrayed the robots through visual effects and animation, essentially trimming the fat that's been keeping it weighed down for so long. I do hear that Transformers: One, an animated film exploring the origins of Optimus and Megatron's feud and the beginnings of their deathly civil war is in production, a fully animated venture taking place on Cybertron, and that's got me quite hyped. Aside from that, Rise of the Beasts is a painfully average tale that, while eclipsing Bay's fourth and fifth installments into the franchise and certainly providing a more epic tale than Bumblebee, doesn't manage to reach the glory of the original three Bay movies or the grand 1986 G1 epic, despite that latter film having the same premise of Unicron as the primary antagonistic force. It's quite unfortunate, I wanted to say more nice things about this movie. Least it wasn't a trainwreck. Anyways, God bless you all, and keep checking this blog for more upcoming content!