TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS Signals the Rebirth of the Franchise

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts hits theaters this friday and if you ever wondered what a Transformers film would be like without military propaganda, racism, hypersexualization and Linkin Park, we now know the answer, and it’s pretty damn good. (The Linkin Park dig was a joke!) Directed by Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II) with a story by Joby Harold, who was responsible for cracking The Flash (2023), the seventh film in the series has a very Reboot-ish mission here. I say “ish” since it takes place in 1994 and while the film doesn’t really overwrite any of the Michael Bay films, it does so while being a bit truer to the source and changing a few things. 

One rather big change right off the bat is if you remember how at the end of The Last Knight it was revealed Earth was in fact Unicron? (UGH!) Given how names were easily transposed in Bay’s universe, it could have been damn near anything. Here the film opens much like 1986’s Transformers: The Movie with Unicron, now restored to the transforming planet eating monster planet about to feast on an unfortunate world. This while Scourge and the Terrorcons who are the new heavies here attempt to recover the MacGuffin of this film, the Transwarp Key, from the Maximals on the planet’s surface. The key allows the holder to open a “space bridge”(Just like in the cartoon!), allowing instantaneous travel of whoever holds it from one destination to another. 

Of course the Maximals escape to the Earth, where many years later the key is discovered again by the humans and thus begins a battle between the Transformers – who hope to use the key to return home to Cybertron, the Terrorcons – who hope to claim it for Unicron and the humans who want to destroy it to save their home. Team Humanity here is represented here by Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos), a down on his luck ex-military tech who can’t seem to catch a break. When the film begins, after losing a job interview he is forced to resort to stealing cars to support his mother and sick little brother. In his attempt to steal a Porsche who happens to be Mirage (Pete Davidson), he is swept up into the continent-jumping trek for the Key along with Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback), an artifact researcher who first discovers the key hiding in a statue. 

The buddy cop-esque relationship between Noah and Mirage is pretty much the core of the story here. While Optimus here at this point in time is very anti-human, the mischievous pop-culture obsessed Mirage sees Noah as an ally, and eventually a friend. To be honest here, I really wasn’t prepared for how damn likable Davidson is in robot form, but he is. It’s something I think the franchise has really struggled with, I mean other than Bumblebee, is making the robots memorable or giving them any real personality whatsoever. But because the film is a bit more traditional in its structure, we get a bit more time to get to know these characters and to invest in their adventures. For Optimus, this film has him learning to trust his new hosts, while he struggles to deal with his failures as a leader. 

Like Bumblebee before it, these Transformers sport a more simplified appearance, that’s more attuned to the cartoon. This makes not only the character less distracting and more recognizable to fans, but the action is easier to follow, because you don’t have so many moving parts in any given frame. The story here for the most part is by the numbers with the globetrotting MacGuffin hunting franchise template, while jettisoning the clutter of too many characters and too many settings that were in the Bay films. We are following one group’s adventure and it took me an entire act to rewire my brain to this new way of doing things. 

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a soft reboot that has the spark to reinvigorate the franchise. Steven Caple Jr. does a rather impressive job at showing us a world closer to the source material in both story and spirit, that feels both new and familiar. I’m not going to lie, seeing Unicron consume a planet on screen in live-action was simply awe inspiring as a long time fan of the property. This is definitely a film much like the Mario film that is imbued with heaping portions of nostalgia, both for the property itself and the late 90s hip-hop that constitutes the requisite franchise needle drops. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts was an action packed surprise to say the least, with a narrative that looks to put Hasbro in the cinematic universe business.  

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