Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023)

Having faith in a Transformers based film has been equivalent to trusting the person who cries wolf over and over and over again, thinking the result will be any different. Einstein’s definition of insanity perfectly sums up what this franchise has amounted to since first releasing in 2007 and continuing to 2017. The last 5 years paints an entirely different picture however, with Bumblebee, the franchise hit the reset button and delivered on the potential a film about disguised alien robots could do. The follow up, Rise of the Beasts continues to see the trend pointing upward – though not quite the same quality as Bumblebee but a significant step in the right direction for the franchise to continue on post the Michael Bay era of directed entries.

When there aren’t 17 explosions in the span of a 10-minute period, the other elements that make up a film of this scope are finally allowed to have their time to shine. Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid Dark of the Moon apologist, and the original 2007 film is still up there as far as the franchise is concerned. Everything else is just visual noise.

That said, Rise of the Beasts isn’t completely let off the hook either – the plot is razor thin likely due to too many cooks in the kitchen. 5 writers to be exact with a blending of various tones that can’t decide what the film ultimately wants to be. Does it want to be a full-on comedy? There’s plenty of comedic dialogue which for the most part sticks the landing and then there’s some lines that become tone deaf. Or does it want to be an action film with the same clanging metal on metal, fire and stylized weaponry to go along with yet another world consuming bigger alien robot. 

At least where the action set pieces are concerned, director Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II) handles each with the best intentions. During the final battle to save the earth, while simultaneously stopping the bad guy from destroying the universe, Caple and cinematographer Enrique Chediak utilize the single shot technique that follows the action going from Autobot to Maximal to human character flawlessly. Among the destruction and frenzy of shrapnel and metal set ablaze, it’s a sequence that stands out the most. Comparatively, the action throughout is an upgrade, the camera is steady and rarely misses any momentum swings for either side. There will never be anything more awesome than robot limbs being torn from their bodies.

Where there isn’t action commanding the attention, the human narrative takes over. Set 7 years after Bumblebee in 1994 New York City, mostly Brooklyn, Rise of the Beasts introduces us to Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos), a former military electronics expert and Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) an artifact intern who has her knowledge and contribution to the museum she works at being credited by someone else. Somewhere subtly, the writing team hint at a social commentary on minority groups. Elena’s boss never once says good job, only notices her tardiness whereas Noah must resort to working with his friend Reek (Tobe Nwigwe) because no one will give him a chance to provide for his family and chronically ill brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez).

Both Noah and Elena are given narrative heft to the plot of the film. These aren’t high schoolers in way over their heads. They have skills that compliment the Autobots and Maximals purpose for saving the planet.

On the mechanized alien robot front, the familial Autobots are once again led by the legendary semi-truck Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) leading a small group consisting of Bumblebee, Arcee (Liza Koshy), Wheeljack (Cristo Fernández), and Mirage (Pete Davidson). And It’s Davidson who is the standout among the talented voice cast. This being a Beast Wars inspired film, the Maximals are also led by a Prime, Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) and consisting of Airazor (Michelle Yeoh), Cheetor (Tongayi Chirisa), and Rhinox (David Sobolov). Both Autobots and Maximals joining forces to stop Unicron (Colman Domingo) and his underling Terrorcon Scourge (Peter Dinklage).

What Scourge and Unicron are after is but another Macguffin-like device that can give the ability to destroy a world. In the end, like all Transformers, the 3rd act becomes predictable, and we can almost guarantee the good guys will win. There are rarely any stakes to these films and to be honest, actual stakes aren’t required to enjoy the story being told. Check the expectations at the door and you won’t be disappointed. Where Rise of the Beasts sticks the landing can be found in the spectacular action, talented voice and human cast and a blockbuster event like spectacle.

Setting the 90’s atmosphere is an impressive soundtrack that thrusts you right into that street lifestyle old-school hip hop era. Hip-Hop acts from Wu-Tang Clan to The Notorious B.I.G. to LL Cool J and A Tribe Called Quest all deliver on a powerful punch that rivals the force of a blow from Optimus Prime. The best use is reserved for Bumblebee out of all the searing New York gritty acts that are included.

The overall triumph of Rise of the Beasts aside from the character design, complex yet dazzling transformations, Peter Cullen’s voice and Pete Davidson’s comedy comes from its human characters. The writing team creates a genuine connection to both Elena and Noah while Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback capitalize on their characters journeys through effortless chemistry. To add to it is the brother dynamic between Noah and Kris – but don’t use real names on the airways, its Sonic and Tails to the rest of us. Toward the tail end of the third act, the suspended disbelief loses its grip but overall, Rise of the Beasts is a solid entry into a franchise that needs more wins than loses at this point.

Screenplay By: Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber & Jon Hoeber

Story By: Joby Harold

Directed By: Steven Caple Jr.

Music By: Jongnic Bontemps

Cinematography: Enrique Chediak

Starring: Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Luna Lauren Vélez, Tobe  Nwigwe, Peter Cullen, Michelle Yeoh, Pete Davidson, Ron Perlman, Peter Dinklage, Liza Koshy, Cristo Fernández, Colman Domingo

Edited By: Joel Negron & William Goldenberg

Release Date: June 9, 2023

Running Time: 2 Hours 7 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 55%

Based On: Transformers created by Takara & Hasbro

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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