Thursday, June 22, 2023

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. A Review


The last Transformers film that I saw was Revenge of the Fallen. I knew a nice couple with a newborn back then who had surprisingly invited me to see it with them. They told me this was the third time that they had seen Revenge of the Fallen that opening weekend, with their second time being in 3-D (I went to a 2-D screening). As I watched, I sat absolutely stunned that anyone would willingly subject themselves to seeing Revenge of the Fallen at all, let alone three times in one weekend and even in 3-D. While Rise of the Beasts may not be on that level of horror, it is still a very bad product: loud but dull, pointless and unnecessary.

After an introductory section where we learn that the giant world-swallowing Unicron is thwarted from obtaining a powerful key that is spirited away to Earth, we go back in time to 1994 Brooklyn.

Here, veteran Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is desperate for a job that will pay not only his bills but also for his brother Kris' (Dean Scott Vasquez) medical expenses. In desperation, he agrees to steal a car from a swanky hotel. Little does Noah know that this car is a Transformer, specifically Mirage (voiced by Pete Davison). Mirage and other Transformers have been summoned by Transformers leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) to find this key, a key that might get them back to their home world.

Into all this comes Elena Wallace (Dominque Fishback), a museum intern who has uncovered information related to the key's location. It is somewhere in darkest Peru. With that, Noah, Elena and various Transformers travel there to find the key and keep it away from the Terrorcons who serve as Unicron's henchmen, especially the villainous Scourge (Peter Dinklage). Aiding the Transformers are the Maximals, Transformer-like beings who escaped with the key to Earth. Their leaders are the gorilla-like Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) and hawk-like Airazor (Michelle Yeoh).

The various bots battle it out for the key, with Noah joining in. While the Transformers turn out to be victorious (and some manage to return from the dead), others do not. Now, Noah has a chance at a job, and to join a mysterious program called G.I. Joe.

I can't say much about Rise of the Beasts because there is little to say. It is loud. It is busy. It is really nothing. It amazes me that the film is only actually a little over two hours long as it feels so much longer. The first twenty minutes or so are taken up by Noah's domestic issues, particularly of his younger brother. That whole section could have been cut altogether, or at the very least summed up in less than five minutes. Instead, we get away from a Transformers story into one about the difficult American healthcare system.

Perhaps the bloat of Rise of the Beasts is due to there being five credited screenwriters (Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters and Eric and Jon Hoeber, whom I presume are related). We have another case of too many cooks in the kitchen, too many people throwing so much at the audience that it becomes unwieldly. Those are the credited screenwriters, though I suspect there were more hands on this.

Even if one was generous in saying that five screenwriters could make Rise of the Beasts coherent, it does not excuse some awful plotting and lines. At one point, Mirage expresses puzzlement over the state of his relationship with Noah. "Friends? You've been inside me!", the connotation not even worth thinking about. Elena calms herself by singing TLC's Waterfalls (a song that technically was not released as a single until 1995), but what this or talking about her father has to do with giant robots endangering the Earth one can only guess at.

Worse is the film's naked attempts at sympathy. Bumblebee, one of the most popular of the Transformers, is "killed" in a major battle. Stealing from The Search for Spock, his remains are taken to Peru in the hopes of reviving him. Of course, he's being revived, complete with him appearing at the right moment to the first line of LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out. What could be more apropos than having Bumblebee make his triumphant return to "Don't call it a comeback!"?

Truth be told, I was literally waiting for both the resurrection and the use of Mama Said Knock You Out given the predominance of hip-hop and rap in the soundtrack. 

The overblown nature of Rise of the Beasts drowns out the two human actors. Ramos and Fishback had nothing to work with. In the climatic final battle, they were so superfluous one wonders why they were there at all. For all the progressivism of having a Hispanic and black lead, Rise of the Beasts still could not get away from stereotypes. I wondered why Elena could not be already established as a historian versus an intern or Noah is not gainfully employed. Why could they not be coworkers at the museum who stumbled upon this discovery? That everyone, including the human characters, handle something as goofy as Rise of the Beasts with the reverence of D-Day drains what fun the film could have had. 

Rise of the Beasts cannot have fun with itself. Every death of these machines is treated as some kind of immense tragedy, which is silly given that this is both a film based around toys and we know some of them are coming back.

I, to be fair, did not immediately recognize Davison's voice, but he did not give a performance. I cannot say that Michelle Yeoh gave one either, only that I did immediately recognize her voice. 

Finally, trying to attach Transformers to the G.I. Joe universe only makes one reel back at the horror of more expanded universes. 

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts could have been fun. Instead, it is loud, pointless and just there.


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