Transformers: Rise of Beasts continues the best narrative foundation laid by Bumblebee. The sequel of sorts reshapes the franchise with an action-packed flashback adventure packed with exciting new characters. The 1994 New York City setting brilliantly recreates a vibrant period often shunned by Hollywood due to the 9/11 attacks. The Twin Towers stand tall and majestic above a robotic battle royale. A maskless Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) meets his rival in the tough Scourge (Peter Dinklage), a ruthless villain who wears the emblems of his dead opponents. The climax turns predictably melodramatic, but a big reveal will send audiences into a tizzy.
Thousands of years ago, in a distant world, Apelinq (Kőrösi András) gazes at the sky in utter disbelief. An apocalyptic evil long thought to be a myth makes his presence known. Unicron (Colman Domingo), the planet eater, sends his fierce minions to search for an important artifact. Scourge and the Terrorcons crush all impediments with ease. Apelinq summons the Maximals with a desperate plan.
Pete Davidson voices Mirage
In 1994 Brooklyn, Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) hacks into cable boxes to help his struggling family. Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez) suffers from sickle cell anemia. Noah comforts his little brother with positive reinforcement. They are in this fight together. But Noah needs a real job to help pay the mounting medical bills.
Meanwhile, on Ellis Island, Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) watches in disgust as the museum manager takes credit for her work. The Lab Technician has a gift for identifying mysterious relics. Elena presented an African figure with strange markings. Tinkering with her activates a beacon that humanity cannot see or detect. Optimus Prime radios the Autobots to assemble immediately; they may have discovered a way back to Cybertron. The signal also traverses the depths of space. The Scourge hunt is over.
DirectorSteven Caple Jr. (The Earth, Creed II) accepts transformers in a different direction with urban themes and a racially diverse cast. Noah is a Hispanic protagonist who fights for his brother to have affordable health care. He needs treatment, not an ER. These humanistic scenes would never be in a bland Michael Bay movie. You also don’t get cheesy shots of gorgeous women running around in slow motion. There is an effort to make the characters compassionate and empathetic in moments of distress. Elena’s reaction to Scourge’s nasty mechanized critters made me laugh out loud.
Don’t worry friends. Transformers: Rise of Beasts it has more heart than expected but it is not a social commentary. The Maximals and Terrorcons deliver the robot carnage. Golf clap to whoever coined that name, Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) is a chest-thumping, tree-swinging giant. He and the peregrine falcon Airazor (Michelle Yeoh) will have Hasbro shares soar on toy sales. His CGI beatings look great along with practical effects. Noah vandalizing police cars in Mirage (Pete Davidson), the talkative Porsche Autobot, leads the cartoonish races of x fast.
The opening takes a page from the classic 1986 animated film. We finally get to see Unicron unleashed. A previous iteration had flirted with Earth as Unicron, but that idiocy is conveniently forgotten. There aren’t many surprises, and admittedly it gets a bit cheesy, but it’s high in entertainment value. Transformers: Rise of Beasts It smartly chooses the best elements of franchise lore and repurposes them with better-defined characters. Stay through the credits.
Transformers: Rise of Beasts is a Skydance, Hasbro, New Republic Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures, and Bay Films production. It will have a theatrical release on June 9 from Paramount Pictures.