The latest entry in the Transformers franchise, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, serves as a loose sequel to Bumblebee and an even looser prequel to the original Michael Bay-directed films that starred Shia LaBeouf. With only two returning Transformer characters, the film feels like a soft reboot of the series. This works in the film’s favor. A new director also brings more emphasis on the characters over the action. This is not something there has been much focus on previously, and it was refreshing.
The film opens with a frantic fight by the Maximals to stop planet-devouring Unicron from destroying their home world. Failing their mission, the Maximals escape and take the Transwarp Key to Earth. On Earth in 1994, events transpire that bring ex-military Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) and aspiring archeologist (Elena Wallace) into contact with part of the Transwarp Key. From there, the Autobots and Maximals join to keep Scourge (Peter Dinklage) from locating the second piece and calling Unicron to Earth.
Unlike previous entries, the human characters have personal motivations for joining the Transformers. This change gives the film more heart and higher stakes. It also wisely forgoes a romantic subplot that has felt like the pipedream of a teenage boy in other installments. Noah and Elena reluctantly work together, but their motivations remain entirely separate. The more exciting relationship that develops is that between Noah and Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson). Davidson brings an unexpected nuance to the character, making him more engaging than other Transformers. Traditionally the Autobots have been portrayed as little more than broad stereotypes, so this is a nice change. On top of that, this film is funny! Several characters get solid one-liners that earn big laughs.
It is a Transformers movie, so expect a lot of action. However, director Steven Caple Jr. keeps the shots wider and the edits longer, which gives the action less of a frantic, whizz-bang feel. This makes the fights clearer and more exciting. The visuals are not groundbreaking, but the actual transformations are crisper and more defined than before.
The major detractor here is Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). After so many films, the leader of the Autobots continues to have the same flaws. While character growth occurs throughout individual films, across the franchise, that growth is reset each time. His repeated trust in humans has to be earned in each movie. He also is the first to admit failure after the first setback, resigning himself and his team to ensure destruction until the human counterpart shows why he should fight for humanity. As a leader, this is not a good look. As a character, this grows tiresome.
With a new cast and director, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts stands out as one of the best in the franchise. While certain characters have overstayed their welcome, new characters breathe life into a series many thought ran out of steam a few movies ago. Aided by Caple Jr’s direction, clearer visuals and editing make the action exciting. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the new film is how it has transformed the franchise into something entertaining again.