Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023) Review: The success and the critical discourse around the Transformers films have always been intriguing. With each of the past seven films making at least over $450,000,000 worldwide, it soon became clear that the films were a part of the most obvious merchandising-based entertainment franchise ever. These are tentpole films primarily centered on shape-shifting creatures who play the role of both heroes as well as villains.

The Autobots serve as mankind’s allies, while the Decepticons are our species’ enemies. After five years of not getting a new film in the franchise, “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” is the latest film that serves as an ambitious (or ambiguous) prequel (or a reboot?) that also introduces us to a new threat: the Maximals, a group of giant robot-animal-creatures having fur and feathers poking out between their metal bodies.

We follow the story of Ramos (Noah Diaz), an ex-soldier struggling to find work based in Brooklyn. The year is 1994, and Ramos is in need of money to take care of his mother (Velez) as well as his younger brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez), who suffers from sickle cell anemia. After seeing a monetary opportunity of stealing an expensive car with one of his neighborhood buddies, Ramos sneaks through the parking lot of a museum.

In the same building, Elena (Fishback) works as an archaeologist. She’s there researching an ancient stone she recently discovered, and she learns of how it might be an alien artifact. Of course, the car Ramos ends up driving turns out to be one of the Autobots, Mirage (brilliantly voiced by Pete Davidson, cast in a cheeky role).

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Through him, we learn why Optimus Prime has asked all the Autobots to regroup in their new safe haven. Learning of what stakes lie ahead for planet Earth itself, the two Brooklynites self-recruit themselves into the effort to fight against the Maximals. With that choice, they must fight to protect their home while making a moral decision.

The previous outing in the franchise, 2018’s coming-of-age epic “Bumblebee,” came across as a charming surprise to most critics. While primarily focusing on the one-to-one dynamics between its leaders and the titular Autobot, the film, for the most part, remained low stakes while fairly establishing its 1980s vibe.

Rise of Beasts is set about 13 years before the events of the first ever Transformers film and features a few of its main vehicular characters, which itself robs it of any critical jeopardy; you know that any death channeling a crucial narrative thread isn’t going to be irreversible. Hence, as the audience, you don’t feel gravity as the characters remain protected by the franchise’s velvet shield.

Transformers Rise of the Beasts (2023) Movie
A still from Transformers Rise of the Beasts (2023)

Moreover, unlike the 2018 outing, this one doesn’t fully commit to expanding the zeitgeist of the 90s beyond its first act. Progressively, there’s not just a watering down of character dynamics but also of traditional story beats that the film starts establishing.

This marks the second time director Steven Caple Jr. stepped in to direct an already-established franchise (his previous credits include “Creed II”). For a film claiming to act as a soft reboot, it’s important for the filmmaking approach to ground the story in a way that it finds its own footing in the cultural frameshift.

Think what you may about Michael Bay’s directorial style, but he always oversaw the special effects-laced action set-pieces of the earlier films with a discerning eye. His skill of seamlessly integrating these vehicular robots with live action exuded a remarkable fluidity. The earlier films were true to the cultural model of their times, embracing the gleeful vigor that came with it, as a result of which they struck a chord with the global audience.

Rise of Beasts steers away from the overt reliance on mind-numbing unimaginable action set pieces that Bay’s latter films had eventually turned out to be, keeping the film away from turning inert. But in doing so, it also loses up on a lot of the style that those earlier films had while actively mimicking their story beats. Although the robotics feel much more vibrant and mechanically better established, the endless chase of a convenient McGuffin takes our characters from one place to the other and then another.

It soon starts milking in déjà vu rather than gleeful nostalgia, as the images keep getting further away from the 90s era. What we do get, eventually, is a toned-down version of the ending taken straight from films such as Infinity War, something that gets clumsier with the attempt to setting up a potential Hasbro Cinematic Universe.

“There’s more to them. They’re worth saving”, one of the Autobots advises Optimus at one point in the film. The film emphasizes his emotional place often, showing how this is a version of him that’s not fully in his prime yet – one that’s still learning to be more accepting of the inhabitants of the planet he just considers a pitstop.

There’s an earnest effort to explore how the primitive instincts of each of us, coming from different places, inform our decisions and why breaking away from them sometimes can be the only way to attain harmony. But this sub-theme never reaches its full fruition within the subtext of the film.

“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” provides enough entertainment in its crisp runtime to make you give this franchise another shot, but without any of the amazement that the first and the previous entry in the franchise provided. After all, how many reboots would one require to realize that these films might as well be written by an auto-generated program coming from a reverse-engineered astonishment of professionalism?

Read More: 10 Must-See Movies in June 2023 (Theatres)

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023) Cast: Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Luna Lauren Velez
Where to watch Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

High On Films in collaboration with Avanté

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