Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (United States, 2023)

June 11, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Poster

In all fairness, I think I might have enjoyed this film if I was nine years old. As a much older man, however, “enjoyment” is far from what I experienced while enduring the two-hour slog of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. “Boredom” and “depression” are more apt, with a side order of “disgust.” This is cheap-looking, ugly filmmaking. It goes without saying that the story is nonsensical. The characters have the depth of crepe paper. But perhaps what’s most surprising is that the endless CGI hasn’t gotten a noticeable upgrade since 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight. Modern video games look better.

With 2018’s Bumblebee, a Transformers spin-off, it appeared that the franchise had taken a turn for the better. With Travis Knight replacing Michael Bay in the driver’s seat, a script that featured more than endless machine-on-machine carnage, and a genuinely good actor (Hailee Steinfeld) on board, things were looking up for this series – just not at the box office. The aforementioned The Last Knight had underperformed and Bumblebee did even worse. It seemed that audiences were no longer interested in The Transformers.

But the improvements captured by Bumblebee have all been given back and then some. Rise of the Beasts feels like producer Michael Bay is back in the director’s chair. He’s not – it’s Steven Caple Jr., whose resume includes the disappointing Creed II – and, although it might not seem possible, he has made something on par with the five original Transformers movies. When I say the screenplay (credited to the quintet of Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, and Jon Hoeber) could have been written by a sixth-grader, that’s not an exaggeration. The dialogue, plot development, and overall silliness are on that level. There’s nothing remotely adult to be found here, even for those deep in the grip of nostalgia. After the relative triumph of Bumblebee, this is a gut-punch. And, although I’m not willing to put lead actors Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback in the same category as Shia LaBoeuf and Megan Fox, the gulf in performance quality isn’t as wide as one might hope.

Rise of the Beasts follows Bumblebee and serves as a prequel to the first Transformers. (The absence of the Hailee Steinfeld character is not explained.) It’s now 1994 and the world is about to end. A planet-devouring god-creature called Unicron (Colman Domingo), who’s kind of like Galactus without the cool costume, is hanging out waiting for his seemingly indestructible minion, Scourge (Peter Dinklage, probably hoping no one recognizes him so he can cash his check anonymously), to retrieve the “Transwarp key,” a device that will allow him to visit Earth. Bad news: He’s hungry.

The only ones standing in the way of Scourge and Unicron are a group of Transformers, led by the redoubtable Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, who has voiced this character all the way back to 1984) and the hip Mirage (Pete Davidson), and a pack of beast-like Maximals, led by the gorilla-like Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) and the falcon Airazor (Michelle Yeoh). Caught up in the mix are two humans, Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) and Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback), who had the misfortune of discovering and activating the key. It all ends with an overload of bad CGI depicting robot battles, energy beams, and a lot of other nonsense.

Okay, I realize this movie was not made for me but, as Bumblebee proved, it’s possible to craft a Transformers film that doesn’t devolve into inanity capable only of being appreciated by a pre-teenager. Some six years ago, when I reviewed The Last Knight, I had the following to say, calling it “an orgy of incoherence, a sensory assault that suffocates the viewer in a cavalcade of special effects incontinence. The production exists at the nexus of video games, movies, and amusement park rides and really doesn’t deserve to be considered a ‘film.’” A lot of things have changed in the world since 2017 but the experience of sitting through a Transformers movie isn’t among them.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (United States, 2023)

Run Time: 2:07
U.S. Release Date: 2023-06-09
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Genre: Action/Science Fiction
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1