In 1994, a new faction of Transformers - the Maximals - join the Autobots as allies in the battle for Earth. (from IMDb)
Transformers may have made their cinematic debut in 1986 with its first animated feature, but Michael Bay blew audiences' minds in 2007 when he first realized the Robots-in-Disguise in live action form. Four live action sequels and a solo spin-off/soft reboot later, and we're back with a seventh live action Transformers movie, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.
The biggest problems with Michael Bay's five Transformers movies have been his frequent use of profanity, crude jokes, childish dialog and behavior, and objectification of women. Each movie just felt like it was made by a lecherous young teenage boy with the maturity level of a pre-tween, and the quality of each sequel diminished with each subsequent movie. Bay never seemed to learn from his mistakes, and really, each movie could have just been named Transformers: The Next Cashgrab if he were to be completely honest with his audiences. But the box office proved that moviegoers just ate these movies up. Sure, the CGI live-action effects were incredible, and Bay loved using practical explosive effects to bring the action to life (although they often look more like fireworks than realistic explosions), but story and heart just disappeared in each movie following the 2007 kick-off. Revisiting these movies as an adult with my own twelve-year-old son at home (who loves the original cartoons), just helped me to see how purely awful Bay's movies really were... and it's sad.
Thankfully, 2018's Bumblebee began to right the proverbial ship for the franchise. Bay stepped back into more of a producer role, and director Travis Knight took the helm to tell a story about the beloved Transformer Bumblebee and his relationship with a teenage girl. The story was set in the 1980's, which allowed this movie to serve as a prequel and kind of a soft reboot. If you try to pay attention to all of the origin lore in Bay's movies, each film seemingly tries to rewrite the origin of Transformers on planet Earth. The 2007 movie made it seem like Sam's (Shia LaBeouf) introduction to the giant robots was their first interaction with humans on Earth. Heck, we actually see the Autobots - except for Bumblebee who was a scout already on Earth - arrive on Earth for the first time. The only Transformer who supposedly had been on Earth longer than the Autobots was Megatron who had been frozen in ice and kept hidden in a secret government base. But then subsequent movies placed Transformers on the moon, during the time of prehistoric natives, and sometime around the dawn of the dinosaurs. Consistency was moot.
To get to the point, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is basically a sequel to 2018's Bumblebee, taking place 7 years or so later in 1994. No human characters reprise their role from that movie, and instead we're introduced to new human characters who reluctantly get pulled into the story. From the start, director Steven Caple Jr. focuses the story on the Transformers, opening the movie with a pretty impressive flashback to how the Maximals came to Earth. This story combines the 90's animated series Beast Wars with the "Big Bad" planet-eating Unicron from Transformers: The Movie (1986) with the G1 cartoon series characters. It's a fun mash-up with lots for fans to get excited about, but although this is kind of a reboot at the same time, it seems as though the film is being careful not to involve too many characters we will see in the Michael Bay sequels. For example, if we are to connect this movie to his hot-messes, then we know that Megatron is frozen at this time and out of commission. However, this movie proposes the question: Where are the Maximals in Bay's movies? And how does the little mind-blowing teaser that caps-off this movie come into play with Bay's movies? Hopefully Bumblebee and Rise of the Beasts will prove to be official "do-over's" at some point, but if not, fans will have a lot of questions needing to be answered.
Friends, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the Transformers movie many of us fans have been waiting for since 2007. Michael Bay's inaugural Transformers effort was just good enough to drop the jaws of any 80's kid watching the movie as an adult. Despite its immature missteps, it was still pretty impressive visually. Now, over 15 years later, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the first time since seeing the 2007 movie that I felt what I felt in the theater seats watching that movie. Rise of the Beasts may be far from perfect, but it's everything the Transformers sequels could have been. The first major win for this movie is, while Bay kept deviating from the robot storyline to focus on thinly-written human characters -- and quite a few of them at that -- Steven Caple Jr. seems game to try to deliver what we're buying tickets for. Yes, there are human characters, and yes, the movie takes us away from the robots to develop a couple of them at times, but this movie really has only TWO human characters that get the spotlight. There's no silly human villain. There's no side story involving the military. This movie is about two humans who have their own personal stories and who get wrapped up in the drama and action of the Autobots and the Decepticons / Terrorcons. It's probably the closest these movies have ever gotten to the spirit of the cartoon series.
This isn't to say that Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is some grand piece of cinematic art; heaven knows you're not going to see a Best Picture nominee when tuning into anything with the word Transformers in its title. The movie definitely has some corny humor and a couple goofy characters (like the human character Reek and the unnecessarily - and poorly - redesigned Wheeljack. Like seriously, what in the world?!), but overall, it feels like a more grounded version of what the 2007 film was, minus Bay's seldom-still camera and music-video visuals. There is still some profanity spoken by characters, unfortunately, with several uses of the "S" word - mostly from Anthony Ramos' human character, Noah - and what looked like a mouthed "F" word from Dominique Fishback's Elena and, surprisingly, the Autobot Arcee (in slow motion when a missile zooms past her face). Bumblebee still spouts movie and TV quotes, and some contain some language, and even a couple songs in the movie's soundtrack contain some cuss words (especially the "S" word). But where Bay sexualized the women in his movies - like, in all five of them - this doesn't happen even once here. It's a beautiful thing. It actually makes the human characters feel much more believable and relatable. Where LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky was a teenager who kind of fell into the world of the Transformers when his first car turned out to be Bumblebee, Ramos' Noah is a young man with military background who's struggling to find a job and provide for his mother and sick younger brother. Already, Noah is a bit of an "American hero" when he's inevitably called upon by the Autobots to help them out. The Transformers' story that unfolds isn't too different from their missions in previous films - there's even a very specific MacGuffin that the robots are fighting over to either save or destroy Earth, which has some serious callbacks to the other entries. But somehow it works here. And if we ignore all of the movies from 2007 to 2017, then Bumblebee and Rise of the Beasts make an interesting - and relatively strong - new beginning for this beloved franchise. And after what they tease for future possible installments in the movie's final scene, it's hard not to get excited about the many possibilities here.
Aside from the iffy language at times, the only crude moments in the movie come by way of jokes from the Autobot Mirage, who is voiced by comedian Pete Davidson, who makes some inappropriate (albeit funny) jokes about his robotic capabilities. One such joke is actually an ad-lib from Davidson where Noah tries to dismiss Mirage as a "work friend," to which the Autobot retorts "Work friends?! You were inside me!" which is a double entendre based on how Noah had been inside Mirage's car form. There is a wealth of action violence in the movie, but nothing is graphic beyond some scrapes and cuts on Noah's and Elena's faces and arms. Some robot violence involves a robot being blasted to pieces, another's head and spinal column being ripped out, impalings, and other kinds of intense violence involving the Transformers. There are also some intentionally creepy moments involving smaller, insect-like robots that hunt the humans (making for a couple predictable jump scares). And while Bay's movies lacked heart considerably, Caple does a pretty good job infusing his story with some heart - both involving the humans and some of the robots.
I'm thrilled to have finally found a decent Transformers film that is definitely worth revisiting. I could have done without some of the profanity still - especially since it otherwise works well as a family film - but it's the closest we've gotten to a family-friendly Transformers movie yet (not including Bumblebee). Sure, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts may be kind of silly, but it's what fans of the original franchise have been waiting for, and it's a nice step in the right direction. I'm actually excited to see where things go next.
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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