By Bob Garver
Few blockbuster franchises are as reviled by critics as “Transformers.” The 2007 original and its 2009 sequel “Revenge of the Fallen” both have special places among the worst movies of all time. Later sequels weren’t exactly improvements (though 2018 spinoff “Bumblebee” was surprisingly-well-reviewed), but they didn’t inspire the same vitriol, if only because everyone knew to lower their expectations. Still, the “Transformers” brand is associated with eyesore special effects, nauseating mechanical whooshing noises, and unfunny comedy. Director Michael Bay is out, as apparently even he’s sick of these movies, but Steven Caple Jr. steps in seamlessly to ensure that the new movie is still a blemish on the summer movie calendar.
Having said that, I’ll start off with a compliment: at least I like the main human this time. Original lead Shia LaBeouf was almost as insufferable onscreen as he was off, and all-American bohunk Mark Wahlberg was bland. But Anthony Ramos manages to inject enough charm into underwritten, down-on-his-luck ex-soldier Noah Diaz that he sails right over that low bar to be the most affable human yet. Danielle Fishback as artifacts expert Elena Wallace isn’t quite the best second banana in the series (that would be Isabel Moner from “The Last Knight”), but at least she’s better than the sleazily objectified love interests from the LaBeouf era.
Noah and Elena soon find themselves in the middle of a war between the good Autobots, this time aligned with a new race called Maximals, and the evil Terrorcons. The Autobots, as always, are led by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), and feature load-carrying member Bumblebee, though this time the human’s entry point isn’t Bee, but Mirage (Pete Davidson), a trickster that likes undercover work. The Maximals are led by gorilla-like Maximus Primal (Ron Perlman), though the show is stolen by recent Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh as the falcon-esque Airazor. They’re all banding together to stop world-devourer Unicron (Colman Domingo) and his army, led by Scourge (Peter Dinklage). The inter-planetary war comes down to a battle over an artifact, and the various heroes aren’t on the same page about whether to protect it or destroy it, so they all need to learn a lesson about teamwork and sacrifice. Once they do, it’s just a matter of the usual clanging and whooshing.
The movie makes the odd decision to set itself in 1994, which gives the filmmakers an excuse to throw some mid-90’s hip-hop on the soundtrack (Bumblebee gets the best music cue, big surprise), but there’s little reason other than that. Not that Earth is likely to get eaten by Unicron anyway, but the stakes seem lower knowing that we made it to 1995. Similarly, we know that Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are going to make it to 2007, so there’s no need to worry about their fates here, even when Bumblebee is apparently killed for the umpteenth time before whatever resurrection they have planned for this installment.
“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” gives people exactly what they expect from a “Transformers” movie, but much less than what they should expect from a blockbuster. It had the bad fortune to come out the week following the best blockbuster of the year in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” a film that will probably overtake it at the box office next weekend because this movie is so disposable. The film ends with a promise to soon cross over with another franchise, one whose last installment was “Transformers”-level bad without the admitted commercial success. It might not be so bad if they bring Ramos along for the ride, but I know better than to hold these movies to a high standard.
“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language. Its running time is 127 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at email@example.com.