TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS review by Mark Walters – this new prequel is a nice course correction

TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS review by Mark Walters – this new prequel is a nice course correction

When Michael Bay’s live action TRANSFORMERS movie hit theaters in 2007, it properly wowed audiences and seemed to be the start of a franchise for sure. But the follow up entries seemed to get worse and worse, more convoluted and chaotic than satisfying, and unnecessarily long to boot. Paramount Pictures seemed to be on the right track when they released the prequel BUMBLEBEE in 2018, which delivered a more fun and simplified story that seemed more self aware. The new entry, TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS, is yet another prequel, but definitely moves back to the bigger scope of the early films, only in many ways feels like a perfect blend of what BUMBLEBEE and the first TRANSFORMERS got right, avoiding many of the mistakes of the less impressive sequels.

One of the many problems the Bay films seemed to have was the heavy focus on human characters, sometimes several at that, making the giant shape-shifting robots feel like more of an afterthought than title characters. RISE OF THE BEASTS doesn’t fall into that trap, starting right off on another planet by introducing us to a sect of Transformers called the Maximals, animal-like robots on the side of the Autobots, protecting an interplanetary key that would allow Unicron (a giant evil planet-eating Decepticon) to destroy any planet in the universe. Unicron has sent Scourge (voiced by Peter Dinklage) to carry out his wishes, and the ape-like Optimus Primal (voiced by Ron Perlman) manages to just barely escape with the key. Cut to Earth in the year 1994, and we meet two humans, a former military tech named Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos), who is trying to help his sick younger brother stay confident all while looking for work as a means to help support his family, and a science museum intern named Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback), who is clearly smarter and more deserving than her credit-hogging boss. Elena discovers part of the key Unicron is hunting, all while Noah accidentally finds himself trying to steal a Porsche that is actually an Autobot named Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson). The awakening of the key alerts the hidden Autobots led by Optimus Prime (voiced by the great Peter Cullen), as well as Unicron who sends Scourge and his minions to complete their original mission. Now Noah and Elena must work together with the Autobots to protect the key from evil forces, sending them to Peru for an epic battle in which the Maximals come out of hiding to help them.

The story here is pretty simple, the good guys have to protect the key from the bad guys, or else the bad guys will win and everyone on Earth will die. The humans helping the Autobots shows the Autobots they’re worth saving, and the humans realize quickly the Autobots are indeed to good forces in this battle. That’s pretty much it, and it’s a welcome change of simplicity compared to some of the other TRANSFORMERS films. It’s also refreshing to see the action and primary story elements focus strongly on the robots and not the humans, though the human elements are handled well, and the two primary characters are likable and relatable. Anthony Ramos does a particularly good job as Noah, a man who can’t seem to catch a break and only wants to do what’s right to help those he loves, and he plays it very well, quite sympathetic and earnest in a way that makes him easily one of the best human elements in any of these movies. Sadly, Dominique Fishback feels a little more out of place as Elena, it just doesn’t feel like a natural fit and her performance is a little awkward. We never learn why she knows all the very specific things she knows, and her story arc just isn’t quite as interesting as Ramos. I’ve seen Fishback in other things where I rather enjoyed her, but here she always seems like a piece that doesn’t fit.

Director Steven Caple Jr. does a really good job with the pacing and action here, and frames the battles very well so that the audience can easily tell what is happening. The fight scenes in the Michael Bay films were always frustratingly hectic and confusing, usually because the “camera” was too close and the sound was so loud that it was more annoying to watch than it was entertaining. Not here, where the fight scenes between the robotic characters are staged smartly and easy to follow, which makes the many sequences quite effective. The pacing is also handled nicely, the film moves and holds your interest, and isn’t overly long like some of the previous entries. The final battle, which is rather epic, is a bit much, but it’s done so beautifully that most folks were too busy cheering to count the minutes. And it’s quite funny at times too, again never taking itself too seriously like some of the Bay films attempted to. Even the voice casting is rather inspired, with Pete Davidson a standout as Mirage – this surprised me, as I’m not the biggest fan of Davidson, but he’s really solid voicing Mirage, and makes for a fan-favorite character. I also loved hearing strong voices like Ron Perlman and Michelle Yeoh as some of the newer robot heroes.

TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS is easily the best entry in the franchise since the original 2007 film, and corrects a lot of the mistakes of the sequels. It also has easily one of the best and most exciting endings of any of the movies, which really sets up some ambitious things for future entries. As much as I enjoyed the 2007 film, I was not very happy with how things progressed in the sequels that followed. This feels like a much-needed course correction, and definitely has me enthusiastic to see where they take things from here. Stick around during the credits for a stinger, though I get the feeling the scene right before the credits may have originally been a post-credit tag that got moved up, and once you see it you’ll understand why.


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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.