Bumblebee may have won over Rotten Tomatoes, but it still made the least amount of money at the box office in the entire franchise. I’m not surprised they went back to following the standard Transformers formula with Rise of the Beasts — except they don’t really do that, either.
Yes, there are loud noises, big explosions, and long action sequences that really needed trimming, all Transformers staples we’ve become very familiar with. But I also found a surprising amount of heart in this movie, and while the innocent wonder and quieter moments of Bumblebee are gone, I also found myself having a lot of fun.
Set in 1994, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts follows Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos), an ex-military electronics expert living in Brooklyn who decides to steal a car in order to help pay for his younger brother Kris’s (Dean Scott Vazquez) medical bills. To his surprise, however, the car he intends to steal starts driving by itself, moving its own parts, and soon fully transforms into a talking robot, an Autobot named Mirage (Pete Davidson). Noah finds that there are even more Autobots, like Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), Bumblebee, and Arcee (Liza Koshy).
Because this is a prequel, the stakes never feel very high. You know it’s impossible for certain characters to die or disappear because there are five full films with them that take place after it. Still, if Marvel movies can still be fun despite an entire planned phase ahead of each one, so can this movie.
It’s not just that the stakes aren’t high either, but also that some scenes feel a lot like commercials for the toys themselves, showing you what this cool robot can do and how cool this other robot looks like when he’s fighting in this pose. However, if you’re okay with that, the robots actually do look really awesome.
I especially love the designs of the Maximals, a set of Transformers that look like animals. The character designs look terrific, especially for Airazor (Michelle Yeoh), the falcon. The way her wings flap and the way all the Maximals move in an animal-like fashion is impressive animation. The designs for the Terrorcons (the antagonists) leave a lot to be desired, though — I frequently found it hard to make sense of their designs and even occasionally confused them for the Autobots.
The action sequences are a lot to take in, often being too long and having too much going on on-screen, and it certainly doesn’t help that they’re not very visually pleasing, either. The Transformers look great, but the cinematography is stale, generic, and occasionally bloated. There are some tracking shots here and while I usually adore tracking shots, I mostly found the ones in this film pretty flat and colorless.
All that said, it’s still a bunch of terrific-looking giant robots fighting each other, and when the scenes are just following one or two characters, it can be really exciting. I like that many of the exciting scenes aren’t just the big giant robots fighting each other, but things like Mirage trying to outdrive a bunch of police cars and the human characters trying to escape a museum.
I also mention that Rise of the Beasts has a surprising amount of heart. Again, it’s no Bumblebee, but I found myself surprisingly affected by Noah Diaz and his relationship with his brother, as well as his eventual friendship with Mirage. You can see a genuine good guy in Noah, as he’s just someone trying to help the brother he so dearly loves. They even call each other Sonic and Tails, a pretty adorable 90s reference.
Another thing of note with Noah is that he’s not even given a romantic subplot. He and a female character named Elena (Dominique Fishback) spend a lot of time together and develop a friendship, but there’s never any implied romance between them. A male-female friendship is the happy ending here. It’s a welcome surprise for any big-name franchise to do this, but for the Transformers franchise especially, one that often objectifies its female characters.
If you were pleasantly surprised by Bumblebee, this film is less like that and more like the first five films. However, my best guess is that story creator Joby Harold must’ve been somewhat inspired by Bumblebee, because somehow, some heart and soul managed to be injected into this film. If this is the direction the Transformers movies have to go through in order to go back to making hefty money at the box office, you could do a whole lot worse.
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It's no Bumblebee, but Transformers: Rise of the Beasts still manages to have some sentimental elements packed into it, all while providing fun and exciting (if occasionally bloated) action sequences.
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