Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Is a Higher-Grade Summer Blockbuster

Photo: John Wenk, courtesy Paramount Pictures.

While the fandom is massive, Transformers almost feels like a niche, particularly in cinemagoing. It isn’t like Marvel or whatever have you where everyone and their dog knows and accepts its films as an inherently “big deal,” and my coworkers at my smalltown cinema were surprised to find Rise of the Beasts even existed; “I thought we were done with those,” one of them said. Even so, it almost made back its $200 million dollar budget in its first weekend, so that giant “niche” knows how to show up. But is it even any good, worth the increasing likelihood of those two planned sequels coming to fruition? I think so!

As a massive fan of Transformers, I was beyond pumped to get some content back on the big screen after the franchise seemed to go quiet post-Bumblebee. That film brought back what a lot of fans were missing in the preceding five Transformers movies. The character design may be the most obvious, but what has always been at the center of Transformers as a franchise is friendship, and most of the Bay films didn’t have the softness that made Transformers feel as warm as it was awesome. Bumblebee brought that back to the forefront, and I’m glad to report that Rise of the Beasts keeps the ball rolling.

Noah (Anthony Ramos) on the left, wearing a gray blazer, looking down at Reek (Tobe Nwigwe) from behind some railing outside of a restaurant's outside seating.
Noah (Anthony Ramos) talking with his friend Reek (Tobe Nwigwe). Photo: John Wenk, courtesy Paramount Pictures.

We have two strong robot-human connections in Rise of the Beasts. Number one is Noah (Anthony Ramos) and Mirage (Pete Davidson), with Noah as the unwilling accomplice to Mirage’s thrill-seeking ventures. Elena (Dominique Fishback), meanwhile, forges a small but notable connection with Airazor (Michelle Yeoh [might I add that this cast is insane?]). While it doesn’t have Bumblebee’s hyperfocus on relationship building, Rise of the Beasts makes room for that ingredient that has always strengthened Transformers and its stories.

Even on their own, the humans are entrancing. As the film inched toward the thirty-minute mark, I had actually become so invested in the human characters that I forgot giant robots were going to appear eventually. Noah Diaz is wonderful, a former army man turned full-time big brother to his chronically ill little brother, Chris. He is accompanied by Elena, a spry historian who becomes infatuated with a Maximal artifact (Maximals are the animal transformers in case you’re confused). The two of them are some of the most interesting and lovable human leads the Transformers films have ever seen, and I hope they stick around for a while.

From left to right; Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Wheeljack, and Arcee looking off to the left at something.
Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Wheeljack (I guess), and Arcee. Photo: John Wenk, courtesy Paramount Pictures.

But enough about the humans! How about those giant robots? Following a trend I first noticed on my rewatch of Age of Extinction (I’ve yet to revisit The Last Knight, be patient with me), Optimus Prime is a much more emotional version of himself. He’s angry and vengeful, which aren’t traits typically associated with him, but it’s a welcome change from the oft dry characterization of him in the last decade of Transformers content. Rise of the Beasts digs into the meat of his character, someone who cares about his family so much he is willing to kill and die for them.

The other key player is Mirage, a new version of a character who hasn’t been properly seen since the original run of cartoons pre-2000s. There was a version of him in Dark of the Moon back in the “Bayverse” heyday, but he was, for all intents and purposes, an entirely new character with only the name and invisibility (similar to what they’ve done in Rise with Wheeljack for some reason. If you’re a fan expecting to see the Wheeljack you know… don’t). This most recent Mirage is the archetype of “egotistical wild child who makes the funny quips”, which works for me because I love those. As often is the case, the casting of Davidson influences a lot of what Mirage is depiction-wise, which is going to work for some and not for others, but I think he’s pretty good here. Mirage is cute and I love him dearly.

Unfortunately, the moment we begin to talk about the ‘bots in Rise is when we encounter the largest issue, which is that there are simply too many of them. The film could not allot enough time to both introduce our new humans and balance them with a grand total of nine protagonist Autobots and Maximals. Some of them get their time in the spotlight, which does them well, but those remaining are left with little to do or say (Rhinox doesn’t get so much as a single line of a dialog, though he is apparently “voiced” by David Sobolov, a voice actor with a long history in the franchise). It is because of this that I am most thankful it’s done well at the box office, because the characters that got the short end of the stick this round will have another chance to shine.

Optimus Prime aiming his gun to the center-right with some mountains in the background.
I won’t hesitate, b*tch. Photo: John Wenk, courtesy Paramount Pictures.

Looks-wise, everyone is great, though. Gone are the days of the Bay-era gray metal flurries with flashes of color, replaced by designs truer to the 1980s cartoon. You can actually see their faces and expressions! Even the ones that are literal animals display palpable emotion. This does indeed harken back to the franchise’s origins as a cartoon, which I’m hearing over and over again as praise for Rise of the Beasts. Our robot pals are radiantly colored, allowing for some ease in following the action, which wasn’t as bogged as it could’ve been/has historically been.

It’s nothing earth-shattering, but Rise of the Beasts is a promising start in this new chapter of Transformers films. It works with a standard story as a sort of sandbox in which to introduce new characters and concepts that keep the film as a singular entity interesting while building up the world around it to house further elaboration and exploration in future installments. I think it’s a nice treat for established fans of the franchise while also being friendly towards people unfamiliar with it; it doesn’t even require Bumblebee as a pre-req. Given its financial success, it’s a safe bet that we can expect more, hopefully better, from this fresh batch of Transformers.

Written by Emma Gilbert

Emma Gilbert is a 22-year-old from North Carolina who has had a special interest in horror films since she was 14. She's been writing since she was 10 years old, encouraged by her family and friends all the way. Here, she hopes to entertain and enthrall you with trainwreck analyses and lame humor!

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