'Transformers: Rise of the Beasts' movie review: It helps to remember that forgettable fun is still fun
There are many such balls of pointlessly rational thoughts that rise to the surface of your attention and then submerge out of view at various points during the film.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts kicks off with the energy of a typical 90s sci-fi action film, an era that the film itself is set in. A brief action set piece establishes the larger threat and then we are immediately grounded in reality and introduced to a quaint, loveable family and their everyday struggles. The energy and the tone feel right, it has all the effervescent charm of a generic commercial entertainer. Initially, all these positive thoughts about the film flood your brain but floating above these thoughts like a rubber ball stubbornly refusing to submerge, are your other thoughts, like the ones that go: “It makes sense for a transformer to camouflage itself as a car but why would a robot made of metal transform itself into an animal?” or “Why does it feel like I’ve seen this same movie before?” or “Did the ‘Beasts’ really rise?”
There are many such balls of pointlessly rational thoughts that rise to the surface of your attention and then submerge out of view at various points during the film. Needless to say, you have a good time when these thoughts stay submerged. The charm and energy present, in the beginning, are largely due to characters that seem fairly likable. Anthony Ramos’ Noah Diaz and Dominique Fishback’s Elena are characters we are familiar with in such large-scale tent-pole films. The fatigue of watching such familiar characters is supplanted by the sincerity with which the actors try to portray their roles.
However, the performances are quickly derailed by low-resolution dialogues. The dialogues are primed to be functional, and expository, and have the brazen stench of focus-group meddling. Save for some neatly written lines, most of the character interactions are laced with a formula that goes something like, “Here’s the problem. Here’s what happens if the problem isn’t solved. Here’s what we have to do, and Here’s how we do it.” The template is unmissable as it is often immediately followed by the characters reiterating a simplified, watered-down version of the same dialogue, presumably to give a run-down for the audience so they can quickly jump to the next action sequence. But the film isn’t totally devoid of enjoyable moments. Rise of the Beasts does give us some slick Transformers action.
The Autobots return with their signature charm, team dynamics, and boisterousness. Optimus Prime and his gang have to work with a new group of Transformers known as Maximals to stop an evil transformer named Scourge and his master, a planet-sized metallic god who eats other planets. Even though the film has a promising start, it falters as soon as figures out what the story has to do to get to the climactic battle, and it ends up happening with the mundane formality of an assembly line. As it seems, a competent direction still cannot make up for a weak story. No matter how hard they try to personalise the (yet another) world-ending stake by connecting it to Diaz’s struggle to save his family, the stakes don’t translate into thrills and excitement. Despite an earnest voice performance by Peter Dinklage, his Scourge hardly manages to terrify us, as he comes off like a generic mustache-twirling villain.
Peter Cullen once again asserts his position as one of the greatest voice actors of our generation. A sonorous personification of power and gallantry, when the inexorably magnificent voice of Cullen breathes life into Optimus Prime, it is hard not to ruminate on the legacy of his vocal performance and how it became that one reliable thing about the Transformers films, single-handedly propping up their legacy for close to two decades. Optimus Prime, a character known for his leadership skills and compassion, is captured at an early time when he is still struggling to trust humans. While that is an interesting knot to build his evolution, the payoff comes too swiftly and unearned. Optimus Prime deserved a better character arc than to receive a lesson on trust from Optimus Primal.
Surprisingly, for a Transformers film, the special effects felt janky. The movement of the Transformers lacked the heft and grace found in earlier incarnations. However, the design of the Transformers was much less clunky than the later Michael Bay films, which rendered clarity to the action sequences. Let it be known that the recent best Transformer design might still be from the underrated 2018 film Bumblebee.
When all is said and done, anyone who sits down to watch it with clear expectations compiled from memories of joy watching previous Transformers films, will not be disappointed. The film knows what it is and what is needed of it. By unapologetically embracing its fan favourite traits, Rise of the Beasts provides ample amounts of hero-elevation, Transformers action, car chases, epic Optimus Prime speech, ignorable yet highly functional human leads, and a perfect soundtrack.
Film: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
Director: Steven Caple Jr
Cast: Peter Cullen, Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Pete Davidson, Peter Dinklage