Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the seventh film of the franchise that was started by Michael Bay in 2007 and, over the course of the last 16 years, these movies have, frankly, somewhat knocked me into submission. (Yes, someone who was born when the first Transformers came out is now old enough to drive their own Autobot.) I can’t help but go into these movies with trepidation. Like, I know something bad is going to happen, but what form will it come in this time?
The truth is, I don’t even dislike all these movies. The first Transformers is actually pretty okay. Its biggest problem (as with all the Michael Bay Transformers movies) is Bay has no connection whatsoever with the Transformers themselves. Take, for instance, in the first movie when, without a thought, Jazz is ruthlessly ripped apart and killed with little to no fanfare. Optimus Prime says something to the effect of, “Welp, too bad about Jazz,” and we move on. I honestly believe Bay had no clue Jazz was a fan favorite from the animated series and was voiced by the beloved Scatman Crothers. The second movie is terrible. The third movie is so ludicrous it devolves into something enjoyable. The fourth and fifth movies? Yikes. Then we get to Travis Knight’s Bumblebee, which is actually really great, but it’s kind of its own thing and, as the title, suggests, is mostly about one Transformer and, deep down, has more in common with something like E.T. than a Transformers movie.
Now here we are at Steven Caple Jr.’s Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, who directed the very enjoyable Creed II. Set in 1994, it’s got a very ’90s extreme feel to that title. (Also, maybe adding to my fears, I’m always wary of any movie that has the word “rise” in the title. If you elect me president I will ban “rise” from being used in a movie title ever again.) After an initial exposition dump about a doohickey that lets Transformers travel quickly to other galaxies through space portals, the movie quickly settles into something … pretty good! Tonally, I’d put this somewhere in-between Bumblebee and the first Transformers.
We meet Noah (Anthony Ramos), an ex-military guy who had to leave the service to take care of his younger brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez), who needs medical care because of sickle cell anemia. Unfortunately, Noah can’t get a job because his experience comes from the military and his former commanding officer has labeled him as someone who is not a team player. Desperate, Noah turns to grand theft auto and steals a new Porsche. Unfortunately for Noah, that Porsche is an Autobot named Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson, who genuinely seems to be having a nice time) and Mirage has just gotten a call from Optimus Prime to “roll out” for duty, so Noah will be coming along for the ride.
(I have some things I want to say about Mirage. So, when I was a little kid, I wanted a Transformer. My mom was wary because I already had GoBots and Transformers looked like a whole new thing and she didn’t understand why I couldn’t just stick to GoBots. Anyway, I finally convinced her and she bought me a Transformer called Huffer. These were the very small, little plastic mini Transformers – Bumblebee got his start as one of these – but I wanted a real Transformer. She finally relented and let me pick from any of the mid-size Transformer line and I went with Mirage, because he turned into a Formula One-style race car and looked cool. When the animated series came out, along with the Marvel comics, I couldn’t wait to see what my guy Mirage would be doing. What would his wild adventures be?!?! Turns out, the answer was “nothing.” Sometimes he’d show up in the background, but that was about it. My point here is, it actually blows my mind that Mirage is the main Transformer in a Transformers movie, even though he’s a Porsche now. I might literally be the only big Mirage fan on this planet.)
Noah is recruited by the Autobots because they need his help to steal the space portal device before Omicron’s lackeys get their hands on it? Who is Omicron? Omicron is a Transformer planet that eats other planets. If Omicron gets this device, he can warp himself to Earth and eat it. Yes, this is the same Omicorn that Orson Welles voiced in the 1986 animated film. When Noah is in the museum he meets Elena (Dominique Fishback), an artifacts expert who becomes fascinated with the portal device and believes it’s not from this planet. She is correct. Why not just destroy this device? Noah believes this is a good idea. Optimus Prime does not because the Autobots can use the device to finally get back to Cybertron. The only problem is this is only half the device. The other half is in Peru, guarded by the Maximals. (These are the aforementioned “beasts” in the title; basically, robots that turn into animals.) So, off our team goes to Peru.
Honestly, this is one of the least convoluted Transformers stories that has been made. I honestly don’t think I could tell you the plot of any of the six other movies except for Bumblebee. (I think the fifth one involved King Arthur? Am I making that up? That really happened?) And it’s obvious Caple Jr. actually likes the Transformers and treats them as actual characters. Also, this is kind of remarkable: This is not another Bumblebee movie. In fact, Bumblebee gets, let’s say, benched for most of the movie. In fact, Optimus Prime has more screen time in Rise of the Beasts than in any other movie. We get used to Prime either “dying” or having to do something off-screen where he disappears for whole segments of the movie. Not this time, Prime is in this for the whole ride and I kind of wish the marketing had made that more clear. I was actually surprised by this. And Prime has an actual character arc dealing with his feelings toward humans. (Also, I won’t get into spoilers but Rise of the Beasts has a pretty great twist at the end of the movie.)
But, yes, it’s kind of remarkable what can be done with a Transformers movie with a director who actually likes these characters. (And also very much loves his mid-90s needle-drop jams.) So, yes, I’d be in for some more Steven Caple Jr. Transformers movies.
‘Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts’ opens in theaters on Friday, June 9th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.