Transformers: Rise of the Beasts continues the better narrative footing established by Bumblebee. The sequel of sorts again reshapes the franchise with an action-packed, throwback adventure loaded with exciting new characters. The 1994 New York City setting brilliantly recreates a vibrant period often shunned by Hollywood due to the 9/11 attacks. The Twin Towers stand tall and majestic over a robotic battle royale. An unmasked Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) meets his match in the badass Scourge (Peter Dinklage), a merciless villain who wears the emblems of his dead adversaries. The climax gets predictably melodramatic, but a whopper reveal will send audiences into a tizzy.
Thousands of years ago on a distant world, Apelinq (Kőrösi András) looks at the sky in utter disbelief. An apocalyptic evil long thought to be a myth makes its presence known. Unicron (Colman Domingo), the planet eater, dispatches his fierce minions to search for an important artifact. Scourge and the Terrorcons crush every impediment with ease. Apelinq summons the Maximals with a desperate plan.
Pete Davidson Voices Mirage
In 1994 Brooklyn, Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) hacks cable boxes to help his struggling family. Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez) suffers from sickle cell anemia. Noah comforts his little brother with positive reinforcement. They’re in this fight together. But Noah needs a real job to help pay mounting medical bills.
Meanwhile, on Ellis Island, Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) watches in disgust as the museum’s manager takes credit for her work. The lab tech has a gift for identifying mysterious relics. Elena’s presented an African figurine with strange markings. Her tinkering triggers a beacon that humanity cannot see or detect. Optimus Prime radios the Autobots to immediately assemble — they may have discovered a way back to Cyberton. The signal also crosses the depths of space. Scourge’s hunt is over.
Director Steven Caple Jr. (The Land, Creed II) takes Transformers in a different direction with urban themes and a racially diverse cast. Noah is a Hispanic protagonist fighting to get his brother affordable healthcare. He needs treatment not an emergency room. These humanistic scenes would never be in a vapid Michael Bay film. You also don’t get cheesy shots of beautiful women running in slow motion. There’s an effort to make the characters compassionate and relatable in times of distress. Elena’s reaction to Scourge’s nasty mechanized critters had me laughing out loud.
Not to worry folks. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts has more heart than expected but isn’t a social commentary. The Maximals and Terrorcons deliver the robot carnage. Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) — golf clap to whoever coined that name — is a chest-thumping, tree-swinging behemoth. He and the Peregrine falcon Airazor (Michelle Yeoh) will have Hasbro stock skyrocketing from toy sales. Their CGI beatdowns look great in conjunction with practical effects. Noah shredding cop cars in Mirage (Pete Davidson), the chatty Porsche Autobot, tops the cartoonish racing of Fast X.
The opening takes a page from the classic 1986 animated film. We finally get to see Unicron unleashed. A previous iteration had flirted with Earth as Unicron, but that idiocy is conveniently forgotten. There aren’t many surprises, and it admittedly gets a bit sappy, but has a high entertainment value. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts smartly cherry-picks the best elements of franchise lore and repurposes them with better defined characters. Stick around during the credits.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a production of Skydance, Hasbro, New Republic Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures, and Bay Films. It will have a June 9th theatrical release from Paramount Pictures.