Transformers is a deceptively complicated film franchise. After decades of success as a toy line, animated television show, and even a shockingly good theatrical animated film with The Transformers: The Movie in 1986, the first live-action film based on the property was Michael Bay’s 2007 Transformers. Bay’s film was a massive success (One of the biggest hits of its respective year), titillating general audiences even as it occasionally sneered in the face of long-time fans. Bay’s film spawned four sequels, each received worse than the last by audiences and critics alike, souring the franchise’s reputation in the public consciousness.

But then, in 2018, just one year after Bay’s final sequel with Transformers: The Last Knight, long-time Transformers fans got almost everything they wanted with Bumblebee. Directed by Travis Knight, Bumblebee was a character-rooted, intimate slice of Amblin-esque science-fiction. The film was set in the ‘80s and dabbled in nostalgia for movies of that period and the Transformers franchise itself. It pleased audiences, got the best reviews of the franchise, and felt like it set a clear precedent for where to go next.

Cut to five years later, and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is ostensibly both a sequel to Bumblebee and an attempt to weave in some of the larger lore of the franchise. However, while director Steven Caple Jr.’s film does have some occasional charm to it, it is a largely failed attempt at mashing together what feels like two incongruous and disparate Transformers films: one that is another smaller-scale follow-up to Bumblebee and one that is actively throwing everything-but-the-kitchen-sink at the wall to feel as world-ending in scale as the Michael Bay films.

Top 5 Things About Transformers: Rise of the Beasts


5. The Human Characters

Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback lead Transformers: Rise of the Beasts as the primary human characters, and screenwriter Joby Harold and his veritable laundry list of co-writers have made the excellent choice to root this story in the perspective of down-on-their-luck underdogs who are distinctly easy to root for. That may seem like an obvious thing to do, but after five Bay films whose leads were the aggressive, incompetent, and fundamentally unlikeable leads played by Shia LaBeouf and Mark Wahlberg, it feels almost miraculous. Ramos and Fishback both do solid work with what they are given, even if the characters still feel underdeveloped beyond their broadest strokes.



4. Clarity in Action

Michael Bay’s trademark ‘Bayhem’ made the action in his films ridiculously hard to follow at times. The constantly moving camera, fast-cutting, and even changing aspect ratios could make deciphering who or what was fighting who and how a Herculean task. Rise of the Beasts instead follows Bumblebee’s lead, delivering action that is coherent and much easier to follow. But while Travis Knight was able to do this in Bumblebee in a way that retained impact and presence in the action, Rise of the Beast’s lackluster editing leaves little-to-no room for resonance, and the action often feels flat as a result.

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3. Michelle Yeoh and Ron Pearlman as Maximals

One thing Transformers: Rise of the Beasts does have stacked in its favor is an insane voice cast. The leading Maximals (i.e., the titular ‘beasts’ of the film), Airazor, and Optimus Primal, are voiced by the incomparable Michelle Yeoh and Ron Pearlman. And look, I don’t think either one of them viewed this as life-changing work they were doing, but they bring more than their fair share of gravitas to the roles and, alongside some stunning visual effects work from ILM, breathe life into these characters. If you can’t get down with robot monkey Ron Pearlman delivering a line like, “Maximals, maximize,” what can you get down with?



2. Pete Davidson as Mirage

On the total other end of the spectrum in terms of the voice cast is Pete Davidson as Mirage. Saturday Night Live alum and all-around center of the media’s attention, Pete Davidson, voices the primary Autobot of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, Mirage. While others are doing their best to bring credence to the film through their performances, Davidson feels like he’s just having a blast in the recording booth, riffing the entire time. He’s partially lovingly chiding the franchise, partially thumbing his nose at the film itself, but the anachronistic energy he brings is a very welcome change of pace.



1. Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime

Perhaps what Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is most admirable for is how it actively attempts to transform the Optimus Prime of Bay’s films into something more recognizable as the pillar of righteousness from earlier Transformers media. It’s not really clear why Caple Jr. and Co. felt the need to make this change so gradual (technically, this is set over a decade before Bay’s Transformers and not in the same continuity, even though some of the worst elements of the Bay films do inexplicably carry over), but it’s a welcome change nonetheless. Peter Cullen has been voicing Optimus for over forty years, and you can feel his performance swelling with pride toward the end of this arc.




Transformers: Rise of the Beasts has some brighter spots, but as a whole, it feels hopelessly trapped in the middle of the Transformers film franchise’s legacy. In longing to satisfy fans of every franchise era, it tears itself to bits and fails to deliver a satisfying film, first and foremost. The writing is rote and bizarrely repetitive (if you take a shot every time someone says something along the lines of ‘this tunnel is too small for an Autobot… but perhaps a human could fit’, you will be drunk well before the credits roll), the editing actively deflates every big emotional beat the film tries to hit, and it ends with one of the most eye-roll-inducing post-credits scenes this side of Morbius.

Sadly, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is less than meets the eye.

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