Transformers: Rise of the Beasts: (Mostly) More than Meets the Eye

Transformers was always my favourite show as a kid.

On a daily basis, I would come home after school to watch Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and co. wage battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons. I was the right age and Optimus was the best character on television. So, admittedly, I have a soft spot in my heart for this franchise. I want it to succeed… but only if done well.

I remember my initial joy when Michael Bay first brought them to live-action life in 2007… and my subsequent disappointment as the quality of the films began to degrade. But, after Travis Knight’s reboot/prequel/refresh Bumblebee, my hopes rose once again. Finally, someone seemed to bring the franchise that I remembered to life on the big screen. And now, with Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, the franchise seems to another step forward, even if it stumbles a little on the way.

Directed by Steven Caple Jr., Transformers: Rise of the Beasts finds Optimus Prime and his fellow Autobots hiding in plain sight. Trapped on Earth and unable to return to their home planet of Cybertron, they do their best to stay off the grid until they can find a solution to their problem. However, things change when struggling young man Noah Diaz accidently finds himself in Mirage (Pete Davidson), one of Optimus’ key soldiers. As the two begin to form a relationship, they also discover that an ancient evil is drawing nearer to Earth. With all of life hanging in the balance, the Autobots are forced to work with the humans and a new faction of Transformers—the Maximals—to help prevent a global apolcalypse.

Returning to the action and spectacle that have captured moviegoers around the world, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts will take audiences on a ‘90s globetrotting adventure with the Autobots and introduce a whole new faction of Transformer – the Maximals –  to join them as allies in the existing battle for earth. Directed by Steven Caple Jr. and starring Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback, the film arrives in theatres June 9, 2023.

While Rise of the Beasts may not quite be the shining star in the Transformers cinematic franchise, it certainly continues to show a marked improvement over the five Michael Bay films. Stemming as a pseudo-sequel to Travis Knight’s wonderful BumblebeeBeasts continues the series’ trend of creating films that care about the characters as opposed to the mere spectacle. This was always the most glaring mistake of the Bay Era. Bay’s penchant for bombast always played as the primary draw for the films’ success. 

After all, who doesn’t want to see giant robots hammering each other?

But, in doing so, characters that felt real were shelved, leaving only empty stereotypes, juvenile comedy or, at their worst, mere sexual objects. This continued to devolve over the course of Bay’s five films, becoming increasingly unwatchable and irritating. 

But Bay never really understood that, while the robots may be the ones featured on the poster, they have never really been the franchise’s soul. (Although, a strong argument could be made in favour of the brave leadership about Optimus Prime in that regard.) The pure joy of the Transformers wasn’t only in their battle for earth but in their relationship with human characters worth caring about. The nostalgia factor for adults was about the way that Optimus and his crew and their human friends supported one another, working together to learn about life and preserve the world around them. 

However, like Bumblebee before it, Rise of the Beasts continues to move in the right direction. By investing significant runtime into his primary characters, Caple Jr. grounds his story in the people to which the average viewer can relate (for the most part, anyways). As a man who wants to support his family, Ramos brings passion and courage, but not mindless, frenetic energy. Dominique Fishback is portrayed as smart and strong, but never wavers into stereotype. What’s more, the film even dips its gears into the pool of social conscience as their characters experience rejection at the hands of white privilege. (In fact, by leaning on their characters’ stories, they feel more real than anything from the Bay era.) 

Visually, Beasts continue to improve on Bay’s visual mess as well. Although, metal still grinds on metal, brighter colors on the Bots and broader landscapes help to bring more clarity to the battle scenes, helping the viewer understand what’s going on visually. As a result, there’s a lot to like about this thundering action-fest, especially for fans of the franchise. Without giving away any spoilers, this film feels deeply rooted in Transformers lore, including fan-favourite characters and references that keep the dial turned on fun.

Admittedly, the film does have some issues that follow a little too closely in Bay’s digital footprints. Without giving away any spoilers, this leads to some strange choices that feel more like they were the result of conversations that started out by saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if…?’ Character development slows down in the second act, putting greater emphasis on robo-battles. (It’s worth noting that this was also an issue within Caple Jr.’s last film, Creed II, which increasingly abandoned character for franchise ‘staples’ as it progressed.) Even Optimus seems to have an unnecessary chip on his shoulder. 

However, having said this, Beasts has enough in its favour to fight through its short-comings. This is a story that taps into the heart of the franchise: fighting together ‘till all are one’. Beasts places a high value on every voice… but also reminds the viewer that they must be heard as well. Only when characters listen to and begin to trust one another do their relationships truly transform. 

It’s messages like this that always make this toyline-turned-franchise into something that’s ‘more than meets the eye’. In Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, Caple Jr. seems to (mostly) understand this fact and offers us a world that feels more like our own, even if it has apocalypse on the horizon. As such, while it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Bumblebee, these Beasts rise enough to make this one of the franchise’s better entries.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is available on 4K and Blu-Ray on Tuesday, October 10th, 2023.

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