Creed II director Steven Caple Jr brings more humanity to Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts – but it’s still just robots smashing things.
It’s what we ultimately expect from a modern Transformers film. A group of big robots from another planet, led by the incredibly severe Optimus Prime, smashing up other, evil robots in huge, messy CGI set pieces. For better or worse Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts is also that. But it does something else, too. It introduces some central characters who feel very human, well rounded and likeable, and it provides set pieces that aren’t robot-centric.
We have the screenwriters to thank for that, and there are lots of them. Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, and Erich and Jon Hoeber are all credited as writers. You could almost suggest this was a film written by committee, but they’ve got a lot of things right here, and in many ways Rise Of The Beasts is a really enjoyable summer blockbuster. Helmed by Creed II's Steven Caple Jr, it’s also clear that he’s brought the humanity of those films to this franchise with him.
You’ve got to get past the prologue to get to those parts, though. Enter the big bad, a giant, world-eating robot-ship-in-the-sky called Unicron. He sends his evil minion Scourge down to the planet on which the Maximals reside in order to take the space travel-enabling MacGuffin – called a transwarp key. A select few Maximals, which are like Autobots except they take on the appearance of animals, escape their planet with the key before it’s devoured, and land on Earth.
Being a huge entity in the sky, Unicron doesn’t exactly have much personality. Instead, Scourge (voiced by Peter Dinklage) is given some very cliched behaviours to enhance his villainy. Namely, he collects trophies from his kills. He’s fairly menacing, and Dinklage does a good job with the voice.
Cut to Earth in 1994, and we’re introduced to those aforementioned protagonists. Anthony Ramos’s Noah is ex-military, struggling to find a job, and lives with adorable little brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez), who’s sick, and the family can’t afford the hospital bills. Dominique Fishback provides the smarts as museum intern Elena. While trying to ignore the fact that her boss keeps passing off her knowledge as her own, Elena stumbles into an ancient artifact that might just be linked to the Autobots and Maximals.
The opening stretch is pretty breezy, and yet these central human characters still feel very grounded in reality and relatable. Of course, they don’t remain in their usual reality for long.
An exciting car chase later (in which I’m sure a few police officers die off-screen, which is a little bit morally grey) and Noah and Elena are thrown together, along with the Autobots and Maximal Airazor (Michelle Yeoh). They must find the transwarp key before Scourge does, otherwise Unicron will be able to travel through space and consume every planet.
That’s big stakes, and yet for most of the film the set pieces are kept relatively small. That’s to its credit, as it goes out of its way to do something a little bit different.
It allows time for its characters to bond, especially Noah and Pete Davidson’s Mirage. We’re used to Optimus Prime’s self-seriousness, and Mirage is a fun-loving breath of fresh air. He also provides some fairly immature jokes that appeal to the inner child in all of us.
It also allows for Noah and Elena to take the lead and do some adventuring. There’s a particularly good sequence in some caves that’s reminiscent of Indiana Jones. It’s just a shame that the script had to be heavy-handed enough to point out that it was like Indiana Jones.
A good chunk of the movie, perhaps two thirds, is made up of interesting set pieces interspersed with some good one liners. Bumblebee’s picked up a love of drive-in cinemas, and talks almost entirely in movie quotes – quotes I’m sure the latest toy line will also parrot. Ron Perlman is a joy to listen to whenever his character, Optimus Primal, is on-screen. It’s just good mindless fun.
When it reaches its final act, Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts begins to deflate. It’s set up as a big battle to distract from a sort-of heist, but it abandons the latter in favour of a big CGI mess. It draws attention to the CGI, too. The final act takes place in rural Peru, and there’s a weird lack of anything in the background of shots. It’s like a green, relatively empty location was chosen as an easy backdrop to animate over, and it’s distracting.
What’s more, it goes on for far too long. With both good and bad guys entering as reinforcements, it ends up feeling like a boss battle with multiple stages. As it progresses, the action gets increasingly blurry and harder to make out, and it also starts to take inspiration from superhero movies. It might feel different for the Transformers franchise, but it’s definitely something we’ve seen before.
It’s clear towards the end that this film is looking to build the franchise and take it in an ambitious direction. There’s some promise there, especially with Ramos and Fishback being so likeable. They’ve added some humanity to a franchise about big, bulky robots smashing each other up, and that’s a good thing. But it’s still, ultimately, big, bulky robots smashing each other up, again.
Tranformers: Rise Of The Beasts is in cinemas on 8th June.
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