Transformers Rise of the Beasts

Don’t waste your time on Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

1.5 out of 5 stars

It’s been nearly 15 years since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Michael Bay’s bloated, 149-minute sequel, hit the big screens. Much of the discussion that swirled around the film was over that inflated runtime. Who really wants to sit in a theatre for that long? In 2023, those discussions seem quaint as more blockbusters than not hit the 2.5-hour mark. Even movies specifically geared at kids test the audience’s patience and bladder. Michael Bay, not unlike the makers of Biblical epics in the 1950s competing with television, seemed to understand that in competing for audience attention, you had to go big, bolder and louder. Quality is less important than sheer volume. 

Michael Bay has since taken a step back on the Transformers franchise. The latest film, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, is the seventh in the franchise — it is set in the mid-’90s and is a sequel to a prequel. The movie squeaks in at just under two hours in a cinematic landscape that increasingly favours enormous running times. It’s at once a mercy that it’s over so quickly and the film’s most troubling attribute, as the already thin storyline feels slashed to ribbons, the pacing and rhythm an indecipherable, illogical mess. 

The ever-charming Anthony Ramos plays Noah Diaz, an unemployed, recently discharged from the army tech whiz who helps care for his sick younger brother. Only dialogue sets up the character’s arc: he’s not a team player. We see no evidence of this at any point in the narrative, though. He’s a caring brother, a supportive son and any reluctance to help the Transformers only feels natural, as being suddenly introduced to cars that transform into alien robots doesn’t immediately scream, “Let’s jump right in and help.” 

Only an off-handed comment from a prospective employer suggests that Diaz might play poorly with others. Showing up for a job interview, young brother in tow, he’s told by his prospective employer that after a call with his commanding officer, he can no longer extend him the position. We’re never told exactly what went down in the war, but Diaz puts the “I in team” and must, over the course of the film, learn to change his selfish ways. 

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

His nonsensical character arc parallels a similarly unfounded arc for Optimus Prime, who has never been more of a stick in the mud. Optimus has a singular focus: get off planet Earth at any cost. As the Transformers search for a mystical key that will help open up interdimensional portals across the universe and potentially help them return home, they’re forced to enlist the help of Diaz and another human being, Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback), a museum intern with almost supernatural knowledge of archeology and history.

Despite “refusing the call” to help the Transformers initially, Diaz is unnaturally game to go on a globe-trotting adventure, all the while fighting an evil, world-destroying pack of another robot alien race. Please forgive me for being unable to keep track of the exact names or species (?) of creatures. The movie overflows with so many characters, many of whom have one line (if that) that you need to be really inside-baseball with Transformers lore to follow exactly who is who. 

That isn’t to say the film itself is too complicated. It’s painfully simple. Good Transformers and Bad Transformers are in a race to get this key. The good guys want to use it to go home. The bad guys want to use it to feed this giant interdimensional being who will swallow the Planet to feed its insatiable hunger. They start in New York City and end up in Peru. There are hijinks, and it’s not long before Diaz realizes he needs to destroy the key and save the Planet. 

Aside from the illogical character arcs, much of the film feels weightless. The fight sequences are endless and lack internal logic. Story beats unfold without any natural development or emotional grounding. There’s no dynamic tension, no “wow” moments. If the film has some charm, it’s primarily thanks to Ramos and Pete Davidson, who voices Mirage. But they can only do so much to keep this movie afloat. 

While it’s a cliché at this point to do a critical takedown of a Transformers movie, this one feels remarkably void of any substance, ambition or heart. It doesn’t even buy into its own bullshit. It feels overworked and underthought; it’s clear that this movie was much longer at some point, and they decided to cut it down to be at least somewhat digestible. It was a great choice, saving the audience precious minutes as the world burns down — but it also felt careless. ■

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (Dir. Steven Caple Jr.)

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opened in Montreal theatres on June 9th and is streaming now in Canada on Paramount+.

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