Director – Steven Caple Jr. – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 127m
A giant, planet-eating entity comes to earth in search of a mysterious key which the Transformers must prevent him from obtaining – out in UK cinemas on Thursday, June 8th
The posters for this latest Transformers instalment promised something a little different: a group of animal robots made up, like the original Transformers, of disparate parts. What was their purpose? Would they transform into vehicles? Well, the answer is, no, they just run around like big robotic animals and never transform into cars or anything else. Why bother?, you might ask. According to the press handouts, they convert from less conspicuous animals, but if that occurred in the film, I must have missed it.
These robotic animals, who include the gorilla Optimal Prime (voice: Ron Perlman), whose name echoes that of series regular Transformer Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, who has voiced this character through all the movies and the original TV series), the eagle Airazor (voice: Michelle Yeoh) and the cheetah Cheetor (voice: Tongayi Chirisa)…
…belong to a race whose planet is threatened by the villain of the piece, a larger than planet-sized Transformer villain named Unicron (voice: Colman Domingo) – does he transform into anything? Again, no idea – who consumes planets when they refuse to do his will (or perhaps he consumes them regardless).
Unicron’s forces include not only the more usual-sized, evil transformer minions led by Scourge (voice: Peter Dinklage), but also agile, rapid moving, robotic drones, who get quite a lot of onscreen action and provide one of the few highlights.
The robot animals of the planet Unicron invades possess a key which holds the secret to wielding ultimate power (or some such risible nonsense).
Meanwhile, in 1994 on planet Earth and, specifically, Brooklyn, having failed to land a promised, sure-fire job because his prospective employer checked this applicant’s military references and discovered he wasn’t a team player, Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) falls into a sure fire auto-theft scheme for which the man who gets him into it provides a mixtape (!) to help him with the job. The premises from which he’s supposed to boost cars is also where gifted archaeology researcher Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) is performing tests on an ancient artefact that doesn’t appear to fit any familiar ancient civilisations. If only she had seen a Transformers movie, she would recognise the Transformers symbol on it as an indication that it’s not of our world and related instead to the giant robot franchise.
Noah makes a similar mistake when the flashy car he attempts to steal sports the same symbol on its bonnet. Soon he’s a prisoner inside said car and involuntarily involved in a pursuit by police in which the car drives of its own volition, at one point transforming around him into a car facing the opposite direction, which provides the opportunity for clever if somewhat pointless special effects. Overall, this may be the strongest sequence here.
Elena’s artefact contains the key, or more accurately half of the key, as it turns out that the robot beasts have cut it into two halves to keep it from being found and used by Unicron. Alas, Elena’s tests unexpectedly release one half of the key from the figure of a bird in which it has been hidden, and it immediately sends out a signal which is promptly intercepted by Unicron who comes to Earth, so his hordes of accompanying minions can retrieve it. For the rest of the movie, much of which takes place in the jungles of Peru (and very impressive they look on a big screen too),
Noah and Elena are thrown into each other’s and the good Transformers’ company as the latter seek to prevent Unicron from getting hold of the key which, incidentally, would allow the Transformers themselves to find their way back to their home planet. (Howe this would work, I’ve no idea – the idea is put out there and, like so much else in this film, left unexplained).
Transformers change into cars or the other way around, but here that quickly becomes tiresome, as do the innumerable fight scenes, to the extent that you wish producer Michael Bay was directing, since, in those movies he helmed, he at least seems to enjoy extending the range of the effects technology, even if the results are largely gratuitous. On the plus side here, at least you know which are the good and which the bad robots. The ongoing buddy relationship between Noah and the Transformer called Mirage – the car he tried to steal – is quite nicely handled, with Pete Davidson (from Bodies Bodies Bodies, Halina Reijn, 2022) giving one of the film’s more memorable voice performances.
Noah has a kid brother named Kris (Dean Scott Vasquez) who has a rare medical condition that under the payment-driven US healthcare system racks up hefty hospital bills. Kris plays a significant role in the opening reel, but then is sidelined for most of the rest of the film. Both Ramos and Vasquez previously appeared in the Latino musical In The Heights (Jon M. Chu, 2021). Neither of them are particularly memorable, and nor is the criminally under-directed Fishback whose terrific work in Judas And The Black Messiah (Shaka King, 2021) proves her to be an extremely capable actress.
This film – the first of a two-parter, heaven help us, although at least it mentions the fact upfront – is a sequel to Bumblebee which was a surprisingly effective and above average Transformers movie that tried successfully to do something a little bit different with the franchise. Rise Of The Beasts isn’t a patch on it; indeed, it represents a low point in the series.
Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts is out in cinemas in the UK on Thursday, June 8th.