Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the year’s most generic blockbuster, filled to the brim with flat characters, rough CGI, and plenty of boring action.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the capabilities of AI, and the possible idea that one day, AI could write the script for a major motion picture. Well, if we were to ever get to that point, where artificial intelligence is in charge of our entertainment, I imagine a lot of the films releasing would look a lot like Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. It’s a shame, because it does feel like there’s some good intentions behind this film, like the creators initially wanted to make a Transformers adventure that felt ripped straight out of the classic 80s cartoon, but what we ended up getting was one of the most generic blockbusters to ever hit cinemas, where every beat feels like it was spat out by an algorithm.
Serving as a sequel to the surprisingly well-received spin-off Bumblebee (2018), Transformers: Rise of the Beasts sees the titular alien robots, having been stranded on Earth for 7 years, searching for the Transwarp key, which could be their ticket back to their original planet. Unfortunately for them, the planet-eating god Unicron also desires the key, as he can use its ability to travel anywhere in the galaxy to find more planets to eat. In order to get his hands on the key, he sends an army of Terrorcons to Earth, where the animal-themed Cybertronian race, the Maximals, are hiding and protecting the key. It’s the kind of plot that’s incredibly difficult to explain to someone, mostly due to all of the ridiculous names everyone has, but the movie is surprisingly comprehensible despite that, though that is in part due to almost every line serving as some form of exposition.
As well as the high stakes Transformers versus Terrocons action, the movie also devotes a lot of time to its two major human characters. Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is an ex-military man, now living with his family in Brooklyn. His brother (Dean Scott Vazquez) suffers from a vague chronic illness, prompting Noah to dip toes into the crime world in order to pay his medical bills, a decision that ultimately results in him encountering the Autobots. The other human character is Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback), an intern at the museum who has just gotten their hands on part of the Transwarp key. The two end up teaming up with the Autobots, although due to the fact that they are humans in a movie about robots fighting, they spend a lot of time standing on the sidelines, awkwardly watching from afar.
Both actors are charming in their roles, but their characters are both so generic and dull that any time the movie gives their stories some screen time, it just ends up dragging. The first act especially is a slog to get through, as the film has to spend plenty of time setting up these characters and their stories before letting us get to spend some time with the Transformers. It’s even more irritating once you realise that the film completely pauses the human characters’ storylines the second they’re whisked away to take part in the main conflict, because obviously their small-scale storylines are nowhere near as important as the potential world-ending threat of Unicron. It makes the first act feel like a waste of time, trying to get us to care about characters who could easily be replaced by cardboard cutouts.
As for the actual Transformers themselves, they’re only slightly more interesting due to the fact that they’re robots who can turn into cars. Outside of that, there’s incredibly little to them. Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) obviously serves as the film’s main protagonist, but his dialogue is written so awkwardly that it’s hard to think about him as anything other than an action figure dropped into the middle of a movie. One Autobot who gets a lot to do is Mirage (Pete Davidson), who I assume is meant to be the film’s comic relief character, but his dialogue is devoid of any actual jokes. Instead, it feels like they just gave Pete Davidson a script and told him to try and make it funny, resulting in an incredibly annoying vocal performance, which is not at all what you want out of a character who is the centrepiece of some of the film’s most emotional moments.
There are various other Autobots that appear throughout the film, like Arcee (Liza Koshy) and Bumblebee, but they’re given so little to do that I honestly forgot they were there half of the time. The main attraction of this entry in particular though, is the Maximals, Cybertronians who, instead of turning into cars, turn into beasts. Their animal designs are great, but they’re strangely barely used considering just how prominently they feature in the movie’s marketing. By the time the movie enters its climax, the Maximals feel like after-thoughts, relegated to the background and unfortunately mostly blending in with the grey locale.
It’s a shame that the climax of the film looks as bad as it does, with every new CGI addition looking worse than the last, because for the most part, spare a few notable exceptions, the film’s visual effects actually look a lot better than most of the other blockbusters that have hit cinemas this year. The Transformers themselves look great, and the story sees the characters go to some genuinely pretty locales that, at the very least, means this film can serve as an advertisement to go on holiday to Peru. The second the film enters its third act though, and starts throwing horrific green-screen lava at us, it all falls apart, resulting in an incredibly ugly and underwhelming final battle.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts will struggle to convert any non-believers into die-hard Transformers fans, but if you’re looking for a mindless action-fest featuring your favourite Autobots, then this does supply that. For the rest of us though, this is about as generic a blockbuster as they come, lacking any kind of unique selling point to help separate it from the crowd. It’s a film that seems doomed to be the flop of the summer, even attempting to shove a mind-blowing reveal in at the very end that winds up just being baffling. Maybe one day, we’ll get a truly great Transformers film, but today is unfortunately not that day.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is now showing globally in theaters. Read our review of Bumblebee!