Transformers: Rise of the Beasts – Less than Meets the Eye

With the Bayhem behind us, there was a chance for these films to be good. Bumblebee (2018) took this chance and ran with it but Rise of the Beasts is left foundering in its wake. It may lack a lot of the overtly objectionably moments of the Bay films, but it is also prey to their wider critiques. This is nonsense stuff, with attention-span testing action and no respect for the audience.

The opening is actually okay (well, the moments after a stinger sequence that only becomes relevant much later). Anthony Ramos puts in a decent turn as Noah Diaz. Diaz is better when framed as your everyday guy but the film also has him as an ex-military electronics expert in a way that brings nothing to the plot — and actually dilutes any resonance it could have. His initial plight is simple: get a job so that his kid brother can get healthcare. It is a dystopian framework that comes back at the end with an utterly bizarre reveal but the stakes are clear and work well. This opening segment has filmic style, also. It is not amazing looking stuff but the usage of a Wu-Tang and then a Digable Planets needle drop works very well. This is a different voice and it seems to have an authenticity to it. We then have another character, Dominique Fishback as Elena Wallace. Once again, she is best presented as more everyday: an overworked museum intern trying to get by, one whose passion for cultural history leads her open to exploitation by what can be a very cruel industry. But then she is also just an expert on everything who can work out what nobody else can (at all) in seconds. Every time the film pushes down to earth, an element of the plot flings it out of orbit.

Here is the persistent problem. The film just can’t create a unique or authentic voice without going completely stupid, and without moving beyond the audience’s sphere of engagement. You will also note that in my plot setup there is no real mention of… Transforming robots. That is because this is a collection of narrative parts shoved together that don’t hang. A transformer is introduced, one that looks just like Jazz from the Generation 1 cartoon but is actually Mirage. And one that is deeply deeply irritating (voiced by Pete Davidson). The introduction of a robot in disguise pushes the film into a brand new direction and leaves character concerns behind. Now worlds are in danger, robots most unite and the galaxy must be saved. The Autobots team up and roll out, but only a few of them. Optimus Prime, as he does, sends out the call to unite his team. His team seemingly unite but then a few other characters are introduced later at the point they become plot convenient. One is living in Peru, has adopted an attempt at a local accent and is disgusted when somebody presumes he speaks Spanish, labelling them as a racist. An odd claim when this robot is living in Peru and just insists on speaking English for no reason. Alongside this, we have Optimus Prime’s bizarre characterisation in which his arc is becoming Optimus Prime. He is an exclusionary jerk in a way that feels like a betrayal of character, and exists for no reason other than to make him not be that at the end. It is manufactured stuff and is just the wrong thing to do with the character.

Additionally, it is a Unicron movie. This villain was once the final filmic role for Orson Welles in Transformers the Movie (1986). Now, he is one of many threats in this film. Unicron’s last filmic outing wasn’t outstanding but he was better presented in it. In this film he sends out lackeys who are unstoppable in act one and then conveniently defeatable in the final act. At one point, we learn one of them can decay and kind of mind control his opponents, but he only does this once like it is some kind of limited consumable item in a video game. Oh, and this is also a Beast Wars movie. The Maximals are here in bewildering fashion (giant animal robots). We watch their world burn as they are powerless to defeat Unicron and his goons. Then, in act three, they remember they can transform and become more powerful — something that would have been useful when saving their civilisation. They also randomly fight the Autobots at first meeting and then decree how Optimus Prime is a hero and namesake. Stuff just happens, I guess.

Very late in the film, before a kid wears the corpse of his dead friend like this is a Monster Hunter movie, we get another hip-hop needle drop that briefly revitalises. The flick remembers that it had a differentiating style and an energy, but is still aimlessly deploying this. It is a good moment in a bad scene but a potent reminder of how nothing the rest of the movie is. Truly, it is a real shame that this film is bad. Transformers can be good and the post-Bay opportunities are rife. Instead, we have this mess of five or six unappealing films thrown together.


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