The latest installment in the Transformers franchise, Rise of the Beasts, has officially arrived in theaters nationwide! Serving as both a direct sequel to 2018’s Bumblebee and a prequel to 2007’s Transformers, the film has enjoyed strong early box office success, grossing $170.5 million worldwide in its opening weekend. While financial prowess is not always indicative of overall quality, it’s worth noting that the movie has been very well received by fans, as it currently holds a 91% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite being a sequel, Rise of the Beasts returns only two cast members from its predecessor, Bumblebee: Peter Cullen, who reprises his role as the voice of the iconic Optimus Prime, and David Sobolov, who voices three new characters (Rhinox, Battletrap and Apelinq). All other actors and voice cast members are making their first foray into a Transformers film. Steven Caple Jr. makes his directorial debut for the franchise, as well (also known for his work in Creed II).
Notable newcomers are stars Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback, who portray the main human characters, Noah Diaz and Elena Wallace, respectively. The film’s primary antagonist, Scourge, is voiced by Peter Dinklage, while notable heroic Transformers making their on-screen debut are voiced by Ron Perlman (Optimus Primal), Michelle Yeoh (Airazor) and Pete Davidson (Mirage), respectively. With all that said, let’s dive in and discuss what does and doesn’t work with this story.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts spoiler free review
While Rise of the Beasts represents the seventh live-action Transformers adaptation overall, it is the first to introduce characters from the Beast Wars franchise. The film wastes no time incorporating the heroic Maximals, as it opens with and sets the backstory of Apelinq, Optimus Primal, Airazor, Cheetor and Rhinox. Rise of the Beasts deviates a bit from established Beast Wars canon, but the crux of the story is the same: the Maximals are a time-traveling race of Autobot descendants who wind up stranded on Earth.
Following the Maximals’ introduction, we don’t see them again for a good portion of the film. After the prologue, the year is 1994, seven years since the events of Bumblebee. We’re introduced to the main human protagonist Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos), an ex-military electronics expert struggling to find work as a civilian. Through a series of events, Noah crosses paths with Autobot Mirage (Pete Davidson), and the two form a pair similar to what we see with Bumblebee and Sam Witwicky/Charlie Watson.
In many ways, Noah and Mirage’s budding partnership is the heart of Rise of the Beasts. They bond quickly and Mirage becomes quite protective of his new friend, especially as he learns more about Noah and his family’s situation. Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback), a studious museum intern, soon becomes the Autobots’ other human ally. While she does not develop the type of relationship with any Transformers that Noah does with Mirage, her empathy for them and their mission is evident throughout the film.
What about our villain(s)?
While iconic Transformers villain Unicron (Colman Domingo) lurks in the background throughout the movie, the driving antagonistic force is Scourge (Peter Dinklage), a Terrorcon who functions as the former’s herald. Armed with additional strength and abilities by Unicron, Scourge and his henchmen create havoc for the Maximals, Autobots, and the people of Earth from start to finish. It should surprise absolutely no one that Dinklage brings his usual heat to this role, sounding just as heartless and menacing as you’d expect.
Rise of the Beasts also corrects an egregious error from the events of Transformers: The Last Knight in its portrayal of Unicron. Established throughout Transformers canon as an intergalactic planet-consuming entity, The Last Knight instead decides to portray Unicron as a Transformer that’s embedded within the Earth (although he’s never fully pictured on screen). Fans will be delighted to know that this film does Unicron’s trademark look justice and entrenches him as a looming threat for the foreseeable future.
Beast Wars fans, rejoice! The Maximals bring the heat
Given that the movie title revolves around their involvement, there was a great deal of intrigue surrounding the Maximal characters and how they’d be incorporated into Rise of the Beasts. The team of Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), Airazor (Michelle Yeoh), Cheetor (Tongayi Chirisa), and Rhinox (David Sobolov) have a large impact on the story, which is why leaving them offscreen for such a large portion of the film after their initial introduction is such a puzzling choice.
This is a non-spoiler review, but I will offer up the mildest of them here: the Maximals do indeed drop a trademark line that will have longtime fans excited!
The Maximals’ robot forms were specifically omitted from all promotional material, with only their beast forms shown to audiences in the months leading up to release. However, the revelation of said robot forms in Rise of the Beasts are absolutely perfect, and their respective looks do the Beast Wars source material justice. The Maximals have less overall screen time than their Autobot counterparts, a manner in which the movie falls short. Hopefully, they’re more involved in future installments.
The Autobots once again make their mark
Of all the Transformers films the character has appeared in (and he’s appeared in them all), this might be the least likable and competent leader that Optimus Prime has ever been. Prime’s guilt, stubbornness, and reluctance to accept help are significant components of the movie’s plot. While we’re not used to seeing these qualities from the legendary hero, it’s as close to humanized as a massive robotic Mack Truck has ever been.
The bonds between humans and Autobots in Rise of the Beasts are established quickly and powerfully; not quite on par with the loving connection Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) forges with Bumblebee in the 2018 film, but close. Elena and Noah become extremely invested in the Autobots’ fight for survival and a safe return home to Cybertron. Conversely, the Autobots and Maximals both develop a palpable level of respect and admiration for the human race.
Oh, and speaking of Bumblebee, he once again establishes himself as a fan favorite in this film, particularly in the final act. One of the best parts of the movie involves the below image—it’s accompanied by a fantastic musical choice and helps set up an exciting conclusion. Bumblebee is my personal favorite Autobot (yes, I like him more than Optimus Prime), so this is extremely gratifying.
‘Rise of the Beasts‘ final takeaways
Rise of the Beasts definitely doesn’t forget the fact that it’s based in 1994, as a number of the film’s references and musical choices are from the early 90s. Here’s hoping that there’s not too much of a time jump in the next franchise entry so that we can enjoy more top-notch nostalgia.
What audiences do not get enough of, however, are the Maximals’ typical foil—the Predacons—who are effectively replaced by the Terrorcons. There is only one Predacon represented in the film, and that particular character’s backstory is tweaked a bit. It remains to be seen if they will be incorporated in future installments, or if the Decepticons will come back into focus. Some additions to the Maximal team would be welcomed, as well!
While Rise of the Beasts is a great deal of fun, it does get a bit bloated in its final act. It’s a lot to take in, considering that it’s virtually all CGI. That, along with some forced humor, set the film back a tad. If a handful of the one-liners had been left out of the script or wound up on the cutting room floor, the difference would be considerable. That being said, there are a number of genuinely funny moments sprinkled throughout the movie.
Overall, the franchise’s fans should be extremely pleased with its latest entry. Rise of the Beasts is the exact type of summer blockbuster that you’ll want to go see again on the big screen while you still can! To see where it sits on our list of Transformers movie rankings, you can check here.
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'Transformers: Rise of the Beasts' Review'Transformers: Rise of the Beasts' Review
- Top notch 90s references and soundtrack
- Genuine emotional moments
- Fun and uncomplicated story
- Maximals design true to 'Beast Wars' source material
- Not enough Maximal screen time
- Subpar Predacon representation as well
- Some forced humor
- Final act is somewhat bloated