'Transformers: Rise of the Beasts' review: AutoBots please close up shop
Courtesy of Paramount
A flailing series that peaked in the mid-to-late 2000s is now seemingly on life support in “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” the seventh entry in the elongated franchise that has zero cultural relevance. 2007’s “Transformers,” helmed with a steady but frantic hand by Michael Bay, and even the recent “Bumblebee,” had endearing human qualities and elements that kept up with the action. In “Rise of the Beast” any indication of real characters with real attributes are lost after about the 30 minute mark when a Pete Davidson-voiced AutoBot starts making nauseating innuendos.
Such is the nature of the game and studios are dusting off any stranded IP in the hopes of restarting fan interest. Save for a bonkers, last minute inclusion that sets up a half-assed Hasbro cinematic universe, there’s not many surprises nor grounded elements in “Rise of the Beasts” despite filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. trying to inject a slew of ‘90s nostalgia in the hopes of capturing fans who grew up with the Saturday morning cartoons. In essence, that’s the tone Caple and screenwriters Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer. Josh Peters, Erich and Jon Hoeber, are trying to find, though this overlong CGI slugfest begins with promise before detouring into an overlong journey to capture a macguffin that ends up unintentionally parodying “Iron Man.” Even by the low standards already set forth by the “Transformers” brand, “Rise of the Beasts” still can’t keep its head on straight.
The movie desperately wants audiences to check out and enjoy the ride for the nonsensical fun it’s trying to be, but the movie also hits them over the head with mindless exposition. The film begins centuries prior when a planet-devouring entity named Unicron is trying to, well, devour a planet. We meet a group of robotic animals called Maximals, who are led by Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), fleeing the planet by utilizing a convenient device called the Transwarp key, which basically allows them to open wormholes and travel through portals seamlessly.
Cut to Brooklyn, NY, 1994 where Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos - “In The Heights”) is trying to help pay for his brother's costly medical bills, but due to his complicated background as a soldier in the Army, nobody is taking a chance. Of course, this temporarily reverts him to a life of crime, which, of course, lands him the driver's seat of a blue Porsche that also happens to be an AutoBot voiced with painful glee by Davidson.
Turns out, the AutoBots, including Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen - who sounds great as always), are trying to fend of Scrouge (voiced by Peter Dinklage) who was sent to earth by Unicron to retrieve that pesky Transwarp key and, naturally, to destroy human civilization because what else does a “Transformers” villain do anyway? And for a movie that’s called “Rise of the Beasts,” we don’t see much of them. The first half of the movie is dedicated to seeing Prime and his crew chatting it up in NYC alongside Noah and fellow human Elena (Dominique Fishback), an intern at a local art museum who knows a thing or two about the Transwarp key and its known heritage and whereabouts, who becomes entangled in the AutoBot war that eventually lands them in Peru. Got all that?
This all leads to a skimpy final battle with cheesy needle drops and groan inducing dialogue, not to mention “Rise of the Beast” is a prequel, so the stakes are considerably low. When a major Transformer is on the brink of collapse, it’s a foregone conclusion they’ll find a way to get out of it. Hard to believe it took five (!) screenwriters to drum up this material, especially as, in one of several head scratching sequences, Scrouge is inches away from destroying earth, and then another character reveals he can’t end the world because, alas, there are TWO macguffins! What’s worse is the aforementioned tease that showcases Hasbro and the filmmakers' bigger ambitions for the future. It’s a last minute reveal so barbaric, all you can do is laugh. At least it doesn’t hide what a cash grab, soulless piece of IP dreck it is.
TRANSFORMERS RISE OF THE BEAST opens in theaters everywhere Friday, June 9th.