Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (aka E-77) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Rise of the Beasts feels like it’s trying so hard not to be as bad as the Michael Bay era of Transformers. The film has similar designs, characters, and plotlines as Bay’s movies but very little of the Bay-isms. It’s not as awkwardly shot or acted that I never wanted to bury my head in my hands at what was transpiring on screen. For Transformers fans, that news alone might make Rise of the Beasts a homerun, especially since it doesn’t come loaded with military propaganda, low-key racism, or abnormal human behavior of sputtering about like clowns.
In place of all that, however, is a rather generic action movie. All the ingredients are there for a better film, but they don’t quite mix as well as expected. The human characters are easy to root for as they’re not bound by stereotypes in 1994 New York. Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is an electronics expert trying to get a job to pay for his sick brother’s illness. Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) has a thankless role as a museum intern who is starting to specialize in Cybertron artifacts.
The heroic Autobot transforming robots have a grander goal than just stopping the planet-eating robot known as Unicron. They also want to find a dangerous relic that could bring them home or allow Unicron to consume more worlds. The decision of what to do with the relic leads to a conflict between Autobots and humans and the animal-themed Maximals who have been guarding the relic for centuries.
The one Transformer with the most personality is Mirage (Pete Davidson), an Autobot with hologram capabilities that loves chatting up Noah. They have some decent chemistry that it’s enough to make one long for the simpler goals of the previous Transformers prequel, Bumblebee. Instead, most of that robust back and forth gets sidelined for standard Transformers day-saving theatrics. We get more tired and lengthy explanations of Unicron’s intentions, his small but effective army of Terrorcons led by Scourge (Peter Dinklage), the history of hiding more Cybertron junk on Earth, globetrotting for treasure, and the obligatory world-ending structure that needs to be blown up in a big explosive battle. This is all par for the course, but it’s why couldn’t this aspect of the Bay films be shed as well?
The film darts between having better moments of connection man/machine relations and going through the motions of what the audience has come to expect from a Transformers film. Some aspects feel like they should hit harder, such as when Autobot leader Optimus Prime loses a friend in battle and when Maximal leader Optimus Primal makes the tough call to put down an infected comrade. And yet I felt little for any of this. Perhaps it’s because the screen is too crowded with Autobots, Maximals, and Terrorcons that it gets hard to identify with most of them. Did Cheetor or Rhinox even do anything in this movie? They don’t have personalities, that’s for sure.
The action scenes are at least decent, far from the clunky assembly of Bay’s movies. I also love the simplified designs of the varied robots. The Maximals are easier to discern with their animal forms, but having brighter Autobots like Arcee (Liza Koshy) and a more straightforward design for Optimus Prime make these characters expressive and read better in laser-blasting action sequences. There’s never a moment where it becomes confusing to follow what’s happening, even in the big final battle when there are so many mechanical parts smashing into each other.
Rise of the Beasts may be one of the best live-action Transformers movies, but that isn’t saying much. It still has a lot of kinks to work out, but they’re far less concerning than past movies. At least this entry doesn’t contradict itself by having Optimus deliver some bland speech about fighting with honor only to gut his enemies brutally. In this movie, Optimus states early on that he will rip the head off Scourge and does just that. The film is consistent if nothing else.