“If you keep your eyes and ears open, the world will show you everything you need to know.”

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a 2023 release from Paramount Pictures. Based on the popular, long-running toy line from Hasbro, Rise of the Beasts is the seventh live-action Transformers film. Directed by Steven Caple, Jr. from a screenplay-by-committee written by Joby Harold, Erich and Jon Hoeber, Josh Peters and Darnell Metayer, Rise of the Beasts is the direct sequel to 2018’s Bumblebee and a retconned prequel of 2007’s Transformers. Rise of the Beasts contains elements lifted from 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie as well as characters from Beast Wars: Transformers, an animated show created by CG pioneers Mainframe Entertainment, which first aired in 1996. Rise of the Beasts stars Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Michael Kelly, Tobe Nwigwe, and Dean Scott Vasquez. They are joined by the vocal talents of Pete Davidson, John DiMaggio, Ron Perlman, Michelle Yeoh, Peter Dinklage, Christo Fernández, Peter Cullen, Tongayi Chirisa, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Liza Koshy, David Sobolov and Colman Domingo.

“We’re work-friends.”
“Work-friends? You’ve been INSIDE me!”

The dreaded, planet-devouring entity known as Unicron (Domingo) has found the verdant and lush homeworld of the Maximals, massive robots with the ability to transform into giant, animal-like simulacra. The Maximals have created a device called a Transwarp Key which allows them to create portals across time and space, allowing them to bridge any distance. Unicron hungers, but it has also come to the Maximals’ world because it desires this technology. With the Key, Unicron won’t be bound by travel time or have to burn its precious energy reserves in transit. The Maximals, led by Optimus Primal (Perlman) use the Key and escape to Earth. Unicron tasks its agent, Scourge (Dinklage), and his Terrorcon hunters, Battletrap (Sobolov) and Nightbird (Rodriguez) with tracking down the Maximals and recovery of the Transwarp Key, lest Unicron remove its patronage and treat Scourge and his goons like Unicron treats everything else; as lunch.

It is 1994. In Brooklyn, Noah Diaz (Ramos), an ex-Army electronics specialist, is having a hard time finding work due to the nature of his discharge. His younger brother Kris is anemic and due to Noah’s lack of gainful employment, neither he nor their mother can afford to pay Kris’ medical bills. Growing increasingly anxious owing to Kris’ (Vasquez) failing health, he turns to his streetwise friend, Reek (Nwigwe), who insists he has a foolproof plan to steal high-end cars parked at charity auctions and is excited when Noah wants to be a part of it. He even has a car picked out, a Porsche.

Diaz gets in stealthily. Following instructions, he pops the lock. The plan is going swimmingly. The car suddenly receives a signal over the radio and Noah is made by security. The plan goes sideways. With the cops chasing, the fancy, silver-blue Carrera begins to drive itself, ignoring its pedals, ignoring the steering wheel and Diaz panics. In a flash, the Porsche creates a half-dozen holographic duplicates and easily evades the police pursuit.

Archaeology intern Elena Wallace (Fishback) is cataloging artifacts when she realizes that a category error is about to be made with one of the finds, a strange statue of a falcon which has been classified as Egyptian. She’s sure that’s wrong and is burning the midnight oil to see if she can discover the statue’s origins. There is a symbol on the breast of the bird that doesn’t match any source near the Nile. When she places it on an analysis tray, something inside the statue reacts to the scan itself and before a baffled and disbelieving Wallace can shut down the device, the artifact crumbles into dust, leaving the glowing haft of the Transwarp Key.

Absorbing the energy of the scan, the Key pulses a beam out into the heavens that Elena can’t see, but others can. Optimus Prime (Cullen), who has arrived on Earth at the end of Bumblebee, reacts to the signal and summons his squad of Autobots. He is not the only one who notices the flare. Alerted by the Key’s signature, Scourge and his hunters make their way to Earth and then the museum.

Screeching to a halt in a decrepit and deserted warehouse, the Porsche kicks Noah out and transforms into a thirty-foot tall robot. He introduces himself as the Autobot, Mirage (Davidson). Mirage explains that Diaz was stealing him when Mirage’s boss, Optimus summoned his troops, leaving the Autobot no choice but to roll out. After Noah finishes freaking out over the fact that he’s talking to a sentient robot from outer space, the two take a liking to each other. By the time the other Autobots arrive, the pair has developed a tentative friendship.

Despite the intense animus Optimus bears towards Humans, Bumblebee and Mirage are able to convince him to trust Noah and integrate him into their museum infiltration scheme which involves Mirage entering the museum complex disguised as a garbage truck. Along with his new robot friend, Noah makes his way inside.

Oblivious to the machinations of machines from another planet, Wallace continues her investigation.  Working off her notes, she’s determined that some of the symbols can be traced to Peru. Diaz finds her in the lab. She assumes he’s a thief (which he is). He tries to explain, knowing that the story as to WHY he’s a thief is pretty far-fetched, but before he can finish or she can call for security, the window and wall explodes. Whether she likes it or not (and she doesn’t), Elena is now caught up in the Autobots’ adventures along with Noah.
The Terrorcons attack, catching the Autobots off-guard. Mirage is blasted; Bumblebee is killed (again). Augmented by Unicron’s power, Scourge humbles Prime.  The Autobots are only saved by the timely arrival of the Maximal Airazor (Yeoh), who drives off Unicron’s thugs with a combination of blade-feathers, beam weapons, and fire-breath. The Terrorcons are forced to flee forthwith, but Scourge is able to abscond with the Transwarp Key. If Unicron gains possession of the Key, Earth is doomed to be consumed, with Cybertron sure to follow.

Airazor tells the dejected group of defeated Autobots that what Scourge has is only half of the key, and that Elena is right; the statue came from Peru, and that’s where the other piece can be found. Gathering up Bumblebee’s remains, the Autobots summon their friend, Stratosphere (DiMaggio), who transforms into a dilapidated, prop-driven, Fairchild C-119 cargo plane and the heroes begin their journey to Peru.

Can Mirage fulfill the promise he made to Kris and keep Noah alive and well? Can Optimus get past the disdain and disgust he feels for Humans and work with the small, organic beings now under his command? Can Airazor rejoin her fellow Maximals and put a stop to Scourge and his marauders? Will Bumblebee return from the dead (again)? Will Elena ever get the recognition she deserves for her incredible intellect and vast knowledge of her field? Will Noah remember that he has family depending on him and learn to straighten up and fly right? Will Primal get his revenge on Scourge and Unicron for despoiling his world, or will Unicron gain the key, achieve its fondest desire and become the master of all of time and space? The answers to those questions can be found by viewing Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.

“I choose NOT to purchase cable. It’s my individual protest against the vampire that is modern capitalism.”

For a movie entitled, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, there certainly seems like there’s a dearth of Maximals in this movie and nary a Predacon in the picture. The Maximals are mainly involved for mere minutes in the opening and then are mostly mainstays for the last quarter of the film.

Rise of the Beasts is an odd duck. Like its immediate predecessor, the shots are far more coherent and composed than any of the earlier films in the series directed by Michael Bay. The robot designs are simpler and sharp. Though a little overlong, the transformation sequences have been made considerably cleaner and smoother. With one exception, the action scenes are very easy to follow and the robots themselves aren’t the overcomplicated, writhing piles of parts depicted in previous pictures

There are many Easter eggs and references to the earlier animated work. The robots themselves hew much closer to their cartoon roots than did previous versions. However, it’s largely jumbled together.  Mirage’s vehicle mode is that of another G1 Autobot, Jazz. Not only do the filmmakers know this and know that many in the audience will know this, but they reference Mirage’s original Formula-1 racer in an image montage. Unicron’s appearance is nearly identical to how the killer planet was depicted in the 1986 film but sadly, Scourge does not share that fate. His design seems original to this setting. Noah’s powered armor is quite similar to a transformable, human-scale suit that also debuted in The Transformers: The Movie. A small nod is made towards the 2009 Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen with the retread of a joke, having an ancient, addled rattletrap aircraft of an Autobot be the heroes means of transportation. In this case, Stratosphere is performing the same role that Jetfire did in the ’09 movie.

With one exception, the movie looks magnificent. Real-world locations go a long way towards grounding these robots from outer space with a semblance of verisimilitude. However, a final action beat on a grey and lifeless ash-strewn plain is just blech. That moment also has a very familiar, very tired visual motif; the plucky band of heroes battling against a horde of nameless, faceless foes. It’s trite, it’s hard to follow the movements of so many and plot them spatially. That problem comes up several times in the final sequence leading to a sense of optical befuddlement. At the climax, a certain character can’t be where he most certainly is, because the camera’s already shown him someplace else.

There are a few other small issues with Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. The movie feels jam-packed in certain plot points with excessive exposition spilling out, but not a single moment is spent explaining what’s the deal with the Maximals. Why are there giant machines that turn into giant, kaiju-sized animals? How did they come from a green and growing world? The Transformers are robots in disguise; their vehicle modes are things built by humans on Earth. There’s no way at all a hundred-foot-tall mechanical gorilla is going to blend in. Dude will be noticed.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts feels like it’s caught in the midst of opposing forces and dealing with elements outside of its control.  There was a concerted effort by the creators of the earlier live-action features to eschew many design and character elements of the animated series with the exception of a few names that have now become problematic. So you get a character like Galvatron who appears in the 2014 film, Transformers: Age of Extinction with a unique origin, but who is originally created by Unicron in 1986 as an upgrade to Megatron to specifically lead Scourge and his hunters. Now there seems to be an effort to put the toothpaste back in the tube with the current line of films.

The characters in Bumblebee and to a lesser extent, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, are very close to their animated appearances. The battle for Cybertron depicted in Bumblebee has many elements borrowed from the original television trilogy and Unicron’s appearance really is spot-on. The problem arises when efforts are made to line up these two prequel movies with the cartoons and the Bay set of films. Both films feel like they’re contorting themselves to align with the previous films and work to set up those movies.

This reviewer feels that a full reboot is in order. It is this reviewer’s opinion that creators and directors of any subsequent Transformers films need to cut the cord and completely ditch the problematic elements of the Bay entries to this series. If a production team wants to recreate the tone and optics of the animated fare, great. If they want to boldly go their own way, great. If they want to work out new plotlines and seek out new characters and new avenues of conflict, even better.

With good performances, good robot designs, good CG, well-composed shots, good action sequences (for the most part) and a GREAT soundtrack, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a fun summer film rife with callbacks and commentary on earlier entries. At the very end of the picture, there is a very clever shout-out to a certain other Hasbro property. It would help to watch Bumblebee first, but it’s really not necessary as Transformers: Rise of the Beasts can stand on its own and be enjoyed without doing any homework. 

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
is in theatres now.

By Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.