Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Review — Better than meets the eye

I don't know why it took this long to get a good Transformers movie when Transformers: Rise of the Beasts shows they were capable of it this entire time.

Set vaguely after the events of the 2018 sleeper hit Bumblebee, Optimus Prime (voiced by the legendary Peter Cullen) has joined Bee on Earth along with Autobots Arcee and Mirage (played by a surprisingly good Pete Davidson). Prime blames himself for stranding his crew on this backwater planet, and hopes to locate the Transwarp Key, an artifact that could help them return to their home planet Cybertron. But the evil Terrorcons, led by the vicious Scourge, are also seeking out the key in hopes of bringing their master to earth. The master, in this case, is the planet-eating Unicron.

But not all hope is lost. Aiding them in this fight are the mysterious Maximals, who have been hiding on Earth for thousands of years. Their leader, the noble Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), has some unfinished business with Scourge and his master, and it's going to take the combined might of the Maximals and the Autobots to stop Unicron from turning their new home into the next main course!

This was the Transformers movie we deserved from the get-go. No indecipherable piles of metal shards flying all over the screen. No appealing to the libido of boys about to hit puberty. No appealing to any lesser instinct other than going "unga bunga" at the sight of 30-foot-tall robots from an 80s toyline beating each other up in the name of something honorable and pure.

Rise of the Beasts is a big-budget Saturday morning cartoon, and I mean it with much affection. Just like how Michael Bay took the Transformers from extended 80's toy commercials to flashy and loud love letters to the American military industrial complex, Steven Caple Jr. (with screenplay by Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, and Jon Hoeber) wisely flipped the script and brought these robots in disguise back to their roots as all-ages entertainment. It's funny, loud, and action-packed in all the ways previous Transformers movies weren't. Talk about understanding the assignment!

But while the old Transformers cartoons were entertaining in their own way, they aren't exactly Hamlet, and Rise of the Beasts inherited both its good and bad aspects. Its story, characters, and motivations are paper thin, and the writers couldn't even be arsed to give a logical explanation for why Optimus Primal and the Maximals needed to be in this movie at all. Which is a shame, considering the most interesting parts of the movie involved the Maximals. These guys deserved a separate movie of their own, dammit!

One of my biggest complaints about the Michael Bay movies was that Optimus Prime didn't get the chance to be in the spotlight in a positive way. Thankfully, Peter Cullen gets to shine this time, playing the character most associated with his voice with more substance and thought. Prime here is war-weary, still at the point where he distrusts the humans that inhabit this planet, and Cullen does his best to imbue his performance with a lot more dignity.

Speaking of humans, the non-CGI characters are a nice change of pace this time around. Smart and savvy Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) is a refreshing addition to the homo sapiens cast, and Anthony Ramos expectedly kills it as Noah Diaz, an ex-military man with a heart of gold. Ramos wears his heart on his sleeve in every scene, and you'd have to be cold-hearted to not tear up at his efforts to take care of his kid brother and his family in between trying to save the world.

Hollywood has been overthinking these kinds of movies for far too long. The Transformers are robots that transform convert into other things, and vice versa. A movie about these guys didn't need to be anything else other than a nostalgic feeling of turning on the TV on weekends to watch a robot gorilla the size of a house tear through bad guys together with Optimus Prime. Transformers: Rise of the Beast is so goshdarn honest, and that's what makes it so fun. Highly recommended!

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