Transformers was a huge pop culture phenomenon, with a toy franchise and cartoon legacy that is unrivaled in both of those spaces. However, the transition to the big screen has not been so great for these transforming robots. From the 1986 cartoon movie, (The first to feature the world-eater Unicron and a version of Scourge) which took decades to become a cult classic, to the modern live-action versions by Michael “Explosions” Bay, and the actually decent reboot Bumblebee movie by Travis Knight. Transformers have been hit-and-miss. With Transformers: Rise of the Beasts hitting the screen, keeping the success of Bumblebee with it, can this live-action meeting between Optimus Prime Autobots and Optimus Primal Maximals be a success or another bit of Transformers cringe? Is Mirage going to take over the lead from Bumblebee? I have some ideas.
Title: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Production Company: Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Hasbro, New Republic Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures, & Bay Films Distributed by: Paramount Pictures Directed by: Steven Caple Jr. Produced by: Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Michael Bay, Mark Vahradian, & Duncan Henderson Written by: Joby Harold Starring: Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Peter Cullin, Pete Davidson, Liza Koshy, Cristo Fernandez, Ron Perlman, Michelle Yeoh, David Sobolov, Tongayi Chrisa, Peter Dinklage, Colman Domingo, & Michaela Jaé Rodriguez Based on: Transformers by Hasbro Release dates: June 9, 2023 (United States) / June 8, 2023 (Worldwide) Running time: 127 minutes Rating: PG13 (United States) / M15+ (Australia)
The homeworld of the Maximals, an advanced race of Cybertronians with beast modes, comes under attack from the planet-eating dark god Unicron. His heralds, the Terrorcons, and an army of Predacon scorpions, led by Scourge, seek to obtain for their master the Maximals’ greatest piece of technology, the Transwarp Key, which can open portals through space and time. The Maximal leader Apelinq sacrifices himself to allow the other Maximals to escape the planet before Unicron devours it. Now under the command of Optimus Primal, the Maximals use the key to flee to Earth.
In 1994 Brooklyn, ex-military electronics expert Noah Diaz struggles to find a job to support his family and is convinced by his friend Reek to steal a Porsche 911 to sell, only to discover that the car is the Autobot Mirage in disguise. Concurrently, museum intern Elena Wallace studies an ancient statue of a falcon bearing the Maximal symbol and accidentally breaks it open to reveal half of the Transwarp Key hidden inside. The key releases an energy pulse that is detected by Optimus Prime, who summons the other Autobots; Mirage is contacted in the middle of Noah’s attempted theft, and Noah is roped into the robots’ mission to recover the key so they can use it to return to their homeworld, Cybertron.
Drawn by the key’s signature, the Terrorcons arrive on Earth, and Elena is caught up in the conflict when the villains attack the Autobots outside the museum. Scourge deactivates Bumblebee and steals the key half before the Maximal Airazor arrives and drives him off. Airazor explains to the Autobots that the Maximals have been hiding on Earth for thousands of years, and split the Transwarp Key in two to keep it out of Unicron’s hands. Despite the danger, Optimus Prime is insistent that the key be reassembled so the Autobots can use it to return home, while Noah secretly plots to destroy the key in order to keep his world safe.
Elena’s studies allow her to deduce that the other half of the key must be located in a hidden temple in Peru, and the group heads out aboard the rattletrap cargo plane Autobot, Stratosphere. In Peru, they meet up with locally-stationed Autobot Wheeljack, who leads them to the temple, but it is soon discovered that the other half of the key is no longer there. The Terrorcons attack once again, and the battle ends with Scourge corrupting Airazor with Unicron’s dark energy. Subsequently, the Autobots meet Optimus Primal and the other Maximals, who explain that they moved the second half of the key, entrusting it to a human tribe they have worked with over the millennia. Scourge’s corruption overtakes Airazor, driving her mad, and Primal is forced to kill her to save Elena. In the chaos, Noah attempts to destroy the second half of the key but is convinced not to by Optimus. It is instead stolen by Scourge, who then reassembles the two halves atop a volcano, erecting a tower and opening a portal above Earth through which Unicron will soon arrive.
Seeing where their self-serving motives have led them, Optimus Prime and Noah agree to work together to defeat the forces of evil. While the Autobots and Maximals battle the Terrorcons and Predacons, Noah and Elena sneak in close to the Transwarp Key, planning to deactivate it with an access code Elena has uncovered. In the battle, Mirage is gravely wounded by Scourge but transforms his damaged body into a powered exo-suit for Noah so they can fight together. The energy pulse released by the key activates a dormant Energon deposit beneath the valley where Bumblebee was kept, which infuses his deactivated body with Energon and restores him to life, his revival turning the tide of the battle. Optimus Prime kills Scourge, but not before the latter damages the control console to prevent it from being shut down. Willing to sacrifice himself, Prime destroys the key and collapses the portal, but Noah and Primal are able to save him from being sucked into the imploding vortex.
In the aftermath of the conflict, the Autobots, now without means to return to Cybertron, proclaim Earth as their new home and vow to continue protecting it along with the Maximals. Elena receives recognition for discovering the temple in Peru while Noah attends an interview for a security job but finds he is actually being invited to join the secret government organization, G.I. Joe.
In a mid-credits scene, Noah manages to repair Mirage using junk Porsche parts from Reek, who learns that the car is a Transformer.
Story Review – Some Vague Spoilers
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts pulls from a few different sources: A lot of nostalgia for those of us who have seen the 1986 animated movie, with the big threat of the story being Unicron, the world eater (Sorry Bray Wyatt fans, Transformers did it first) and his minion Scourge. Both of which are formidable in their own ways. Unicron comes off more as an impending threat, through the use of the story’s McGuffin: The trans-warp key. If Scourge gets his hands on the key, then he can bring Unicron to Earth. Scourge on the other hand, as a minion of Unicron (Sorry Galvatron fans), is imbued with some of the power of Unicron, making him somewhat unbeatable. If you think you’ve heard of this type of relationship before, then congratulations, you’ve either seen or read Silver Surfer or The Fantastic Four at some point.
For most of us, the more “human side” of the story comes from the viewpoint of two characters: Noah and Elena. Noah is an ex-military trainee (?) who left the military in order to help his Mom take care of his younger brother, Kris, who has the unfortunate sickle cell disease causing him issues (the hint is that Kris is slowly dying from the disease). Elena, on the other hand, is an intern at a museum where her boss keeps taking credit for her work. Both are stuck in hard places and their meeting, along with the trans-wrap key, brings them in line with the Autobots. Elena is more of the cool-headed one who wants to see the other discoveries that she can uncover by working with the Autobots, but Noah goes into military mode and wants to destroy the trans-warp key in order to save humanity from Unicron. This brings them to heads with each other and the Autobots, who are looking to head home. It’s an interesting way to see things from three different viewpoints without getting the story too muddled.
When the Autobot meet the Maximals, you get some hints about who the Maximals are, with nice hints to them being from both the Autobots past and future at the same time, much like the original Beast Wars TV series canon did with the Generation 1 canon. There is no “accidental enemies” bits to Transformers: Rise of the Beasts because the story doesn’t really have time for it, as Scourge, and Unicron, both act as ticking clocks for the two teams to defeat. I love this idea because it keeps the story moving at a good pace and allows for more moments of both character development and action pieces.
I don’t want to go into too much with the story of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts because I really want people to experience it for themselves as this movie does its best with two groups of good guy robots and a small human involvement. There is no over-the-top military intervention this time around to distract from what we all came to a Transformers movie to see… BIG ROBOTS SLAPPING STEEL!!
Rise of the Beasts, Robots, and Humans
Anthony Ramos as Noah Diaz: Ramos does a great job of both being the loving brother and former military man. While not being a hardened ex-serviceman, Noah is a character who tries to do the best for himself and his family but also knows when it is time to be serious and look at the bigger picture. There is no ‘Murica’ here at all when it comes to Noah, he is truly someone who you can feel is just a good guy making the best of a bad situation.
Dominique Fishback as Elena Wallace: Elena is a bit of a pushover, and Fishback plays this perfectly. There is a bit of naivety to the character that comes across from the first moment Fishback is on screen, and there is zero attempts to push her into the typical “badass for no reason with a lot of sass” once we learn about her roots. Elena is curious and that’s all she needs in order to go along with whatever someone asks her to do.
Dean Scott Vazquez as Kris Diaz: Playing a kid with a particular disease is hard enough to do, but Vazquez does that and is the real badass of this film at the same time. A lot of praise for the kid with as little screen time as he got. Though I do have to deduct points because the writers had him playing a GameBoy with the NES Super Mario sounds coming out of it and having Vazquez utter the line “I can’t beat Bowser” when those of us who know… There was no Bowser in Super Mario Land on the GameBoy.
Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime:
Probably one of the worst versions of Optimus Prime I have ever seen. Through most of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Prime comes off as emo and depressing. I know his character is upset and blames himself for the others being stuck on Earth, but no other version of Prime has ever been this opposed to being on Earth and hating humans. A complete turn around on his character is used to create a bond with Noah near the end of the film so they can use the “Till all are one!” thing from the 1986 film. Cullen is always great as Prime, but the writers let him down on this one.
Ron Perlman as Optimus Primal:
Wow, Perlman does a great job as Optimus Primal here. Instead of the rookie leader who has to learn how to lead, we get a more time-worn and wiser version of the character that comes off as the complete opposite of the emo Prime that we got in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. I could have sat through the whole film with Primal in the lead role and wouldn’t have a single complaint with it, Perlman was that good.
Peter Dinklage as Scourge:
Little Man is a big robot… And he’s not as annoying as he was in Destiny! Dinklage is an amazing bad guy in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, as he is in almost all of the villain roles he has had over his career. On the screen, you believe that Scourge is going to rip everything to bits in order to get what he wants, and will take great pride in doing it along the way. It’s a shame that like most great villains, he’ll be a once-off, but maybe some Unicron reformatting will bring Scourge and Dinklage back to use in another form.
Michelle Yeoh as Airazor:
Add another good credit to Yeoh’s career as she pulls off the wise and noble Airazor. Yeoh’s performance here is a really commanding one from the moment she flies into the frame to the moment she breathes her last. Extra credit for the later part of her performance as she has to voice act a horrible mental attack from Scourge, which makes Airazor go from friend to enemy in a heartbreaking way that you’ll have to see in order to feel for yourself.
Pete Davidson as Mirage:
Oh my god, I don’t know if it was the writers or Davidson wanting to be a “Jim Carrey in robot form” that made this role of Mirage so annoying. If it wasn’t for the rapid-fire pop culture references coming from him at almost every moment, it was weird “lost in the world” the way the character moved around for someone who has been on the planet for the last several years that really threw me off… Or the forced move to try and make him the new Bumblebee by having him be the one to build a relationship with Noah, the main human. I really didn’t like this one from a performance and writing perspective.
Liza Koshy as Arcee:
A really small role for Koshy here. While she does get a single moment to really shine as Arcee during Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, she doesn’t really get anything to work with at any point. Her character just flips around, showing she is nimble, she does some techy search thing to show that she is smart… and that’s it. Once the crew moves into Peru for the climax of the film, at about the halfway point, she just chills with Wheeljack and does nothing. What a waste of a great female Autobot.
John DiMaggio as Stratosphere:
A Scottish airplane that coughs up parts and shuttles everyone from the Autobot’s side around… Nothing much to talk about here, but I’m happy to hear that I’m not the only being on the planet who coughs up stuff for no reason at all.
David Sobolov as Rhinox/Battletrap/Apelinq:
Props to Sobolov for taking on 3 roles in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, but outside of Apelinq, who gets a good exposition dump moment in the beginning of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, there is nothing else of note here. I think I heard Rhinox speak one line at some point, but it was so autotuned over I don’t know if it was words or grunts. As for Battletrap, there is one line uttered, and nothing worth talking about at that.
Michaela Jaé Rodriguez as Nightbird:
Oh, so this is the other Scourge crew member’s name… You wouldn’t know it because Transformers: Rise of the Beasts doesn’t actually name her at any point. I think she gets one line before getting blown to bits… I can’t remember. I liked the design of the robot mode though, looking like something from Go-Bots mixed with the Generation 1 model. The vehicle mode though isn’t all that appealing… I’m guessing marketing got involved.
Colman Domingo as Unicron:
As much as I love Orson Wells as the world-eating Transformer known as Unicron, Domingo does a good job as a number two choice for the role. While the character itself didn’t do anything of note other than spin bits of itself around and eat a planet, Unicron comes off as a threat for the way Domingo brings the character to life through a deep commanding tone of voice, something that is hard to do when your character model does nothing more than float in space. While there was no amazing Transformation from a planet to a robot as in the 1986 film, Unicron still comes off as the world-ending threat he should be. Well done to the CGI artists on this one.
Cristo Fernández as Wheeljack:
He’s a Volkswagen Type 2 panel bus, who speaks in a Mexican accent… That’s it. A Waste.
Tongayi Chirisa as Cheetor:
Chirisa gets one line… ONE LINE! Sorry Cheetor fans, but you got fucked over here.
A 90s Meme Generator as Bumblebee:
You’ve seen enough Bumblebee in all the live-action films to know that he does not “talk”, but instead repeats lines from movies that were popular in the 1980/1990 era. This has been done to death, but the writers found enough good lines from movies to make Bumblebee funny at times. Added points for using Roddy Piper’s “bubblegum” line from They Live, even if it wasn’t the whole quote.
Roll Out for Action!
As I alluded to above, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts keeps things simple enough that it doesn’t get in the way of what we want to see. The story isn’t complex that it needs a whole novel of background dialogue to explain what is going on. Scourge wants the trans-warp key, the Maximals brought the key from their home planet to Earth to hide it, humans uncover the key, Autobots notice the key is on Earth, everyone meets up to either take or protect the key, big battle: The End.
The human presence in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is there, but it is just used as a device to uncover the main McGuffin and to show that some people will take action when the planet is under attack. Yes, we do spend a little time with backstory and development with Noah and Elena, but it doesn’t take up 90% of the movie… Plus Noah’s Mother is not as involved as any of the Witwicky family was in the Bay-era films, and with a LOT less jokes. Elena gets her background moment too, but that all goes away and is easily forgotten.
The Maximals get some screen time, but not as much as you might expect from the trailers. Out of all the Maximals, AirRazor gets the most screen time and connection with Elena. This isn’t a bad thing though, unless you are a fan of Rhinox or Cheetor, as they get buried completely to the point that they get maybe 1-2 lines in the whole film… And no, Rhinox doesn’t get “that” moment from Beast Wars recreated. However, Optimus Primal is shown as a wise and respectful Maximal, who becomes the theoretical opposite of what Optimus Prime is in the movie. A good decision because I don’t want to see a repeat of Monkey Jesus from Beast Machines…
As for the Autobots, this was a weird one… I’ll save it for later.
Finally, what are a bunch of good guys without some bad guys to fight? Scourge is a very good character to lead the very small group that Unicron is using as his minions. Scourge comes off as someone who is under the control of another, but he loves what he is doing along the way. By this, I mean that he is getting tough opponents to fight on most of the planets that he visits in order to find the key, with a patch on his shoulder displaying a great many badges of opponents he has killed along the way (Also used as a great homage to many different Transformers groups and franchises). His two partners in crime… Saving them for the next section.
With Unicron, I felt that he was a threat from the shadows throughout the whole film, and even when Transformers: Rise of the Beasts ended, there was still the cloud overhead that said that Unicron was coming and that Transformers: Rise of the Beasts was just pushing him back for the time being. This means we could see Unicron closer to Earth or even Cybertron in a future film and maybe see this canon’s version of Megatron come along and possibly become Galvatron (or skip Megatron completely). Walking out of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts left me with that “I want to see what’s next” feeling, something that has been lost on me as a filmgoer for a long time.
A bit of Status Lock
Alright, let’s get this over with.
The Autobots… I was not a fan of a LOT of the way these characters were used in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, especially Optimus Prime. I know the idea is that Prime is upset about having his crew stranded on Earth after the events of Bumblebee, but the guy was just so emo about it one minute, then angry about it the next. Pick a lane dude! Emo Optimus Prime is not something that I want to see in a Transformers film. Luckily, we got to see more of the standard heroic leader that we all love by the time the third act rolled around.
The rest of the Autobot crew doesn’t really fair much better here. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is about the Maximals, I get that, so why bother having Autobots in the film if all you are going to do is relegate most of them to the background, and the one you push to the forefront is annoying as shit! Arcee, Wheeljack, Stratosphere (He has a lung condition where he coughs up parts… I feel ya my dude), and even Bumblebee… Yes, BUMBLEBEE, is pushed into the background for the most part. Bumblebee gets a great moment in the third act fight that had me cheering, but outside that he barely does anything. I really got the point that somewhere in the process, these Autobots weren’t going to be used and a studio decision was made to force them in.
Speaking about forced. Fucking Mirage… Oh my god, this character was annoying as hell. I know that with the Transformers live-action films Bumblebee is usually the reference machine, but Mirage was the one who copped that role here for no reason at all except that he was reformatted into something from the 1994 era. But every time Mirage opened his mouth and said something, I wanted to rip my ears off because everything he referenced was pure 100% CRINGE! I know the 1990s weren’t the height of comedy or anything decent, I lived through it, but it wasn’t this bad.
Also, why give Scourge partners if they aren’t even mentioned by name? I know I name them above, but it took watching the credits to work out who they were.
Rise of the Beasts? More like Rise of the Box Office!
Look, there is going to be a huge negative push against Transformers: Rise of the Beasts because it’s yet another live-action Transformers film, and because there is no agenda pushing with any characters here. So “critics” will slam Transformers: Rise of the Beasts as much as they can as a generic nostalgic holdover of a bygone era. DO NOT BELIEVE THEM! Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a goof fun action film that just takes a simple storyline and makes it fun with big robots fighting, which is what Transformers fans want. This is a film for fans, which is not a bad thing to do in 2023. So get out there, grab some popcorn, and enjoy explosions and robots on the big screen as they are intended to be.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is easily one of my top 3 live-action Transformers films ever made, with it just falling short due to one horrible character and more than one mismanaged character in the mix making the heroes side of things look a lot less heroic than it should have been. There’s a good chance that other “critics’ who’ll be horrible about this film because it’s live-action Transformers, but it’s a lot better than what others will tell you. Put your hate for live action aside and give this Autobot/Maximal team up a go… It’s worth it.
Primal and Scouge were excellent
Unicron looks amazing in live action
BIG METAL ROBOTS SLAPPING STEEL!!
Too many characters with one line or pushed into the background