Bumblebee was a much needed breath of fresh air for the Transformers franchise, stripping out the extreme explosions and everything else that was a staple in Michael Bay’s Transformers films. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts doesn’t quite know how to handle itself after this, and feels torn in its desire to go smaller but still have large moments that don’t quite fit.
As is the case with these films, the audience is tasked with following thankless humans before getting to the cool robots. Thankfully, Anthony Ramos’ character Noah Diaz is more than tolerable, with Ramos’ humour making him someone that’s worth watching and is given a reason by the plot to exist. Dominique Fishback’s character Elena Wallace doesn’t feel as necessary, but she’s an anchor point for Ramos to react to.
The action is much more stable than in the Bay films, a much needed improvement as now it’s possible to see what’s going on, with the screen not obscured by shaky cam or explosions. It also strips a lot of it out, with only four sequences, something which wouldn’t have felt like an issue if they were inventive and cool, but only two of them manage to achieve this. The third act was a let down, with only one moment that stood out.
What Rise of Beasts lacks in action, it decides to make up for in horror and jump scares, an odd choice for an action franchise. Nameless Terrorcons stalk the characters in museums, underground caves, and a reveal later in the film is treated as though the audience walked into a showing of The Boogeyman instead. It’s something that is OK to do once but felt noticeable and out of place by the end of the film.
Designs of the Autobots, Maximals, and most of the Terrorcons are stunning to look at, with Arcee’s colour standing out against all of the backgrounds she’s in, Optimus Prime is impeccable with an older look, and Optimus Primal’s bashing is a highlight. Nightbird and Battletrap are visually compelling as antagonists, but Scourge falls into the generic Decepticon grey.
Speaking of the Terrorcons, the film only uses three named ones, and otherwise has the rest of their army be nameless fodder, that aren’t nearly as complex in their design as the rest of Terrorcons (though the Scorpions had some visual appeal). It makes what’s happening feel bland and doesn’t convince the audience to stay invested.
Rise of the Beasts avoids many of the icky parts of the Bay films, and even lampshades the racism. There is no female objectification, and the military propaganda is non-existent, something that was exorcised with the Bumblebee. But it’s still got Bay DNA in it, with the mass of explosions in the final action sequence the hunt for yet another artefact with historical importance, and the sheer violent nature of Optimus Prime.
Hasbro and Paramount clearly have a desire for a shared universe of their own, and how it’s revealed is clumsy and confusing. It’s the latest attempt to revive one of Hasbro and Paramount’s other franchises, one that can’t escape from poor films, both critically and from a box office perspective. It’s too early for the Transformers to be thinking about crossovers, it needs to rebuild its goodwill after the Bay era films.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a much more watchable film than the Bay films but it still feels pulled back in that direction and by its complicated past. It’s very much a work in progress to get rid of Bay’s mark, but the stable action and at least likeable human characters give hope that it can be done. But it seems like Paramount won’t give Transformers the chance before wrecking it all with an ill advised crossover.