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MOVIES: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts - Review

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Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is what happens when you forget the second act; a common fallacy of many modern day blockbusters. The plot kicks off in a vague 90s setting. You know it’s the 90s, because the protagonists listen to De La Soul, the Twin Towers are still ever present on the New York skyline, and cable television is still a thing that our protagonist, Anthony Ramos’ Noah Diaz, is hacking into to gift to his neighbours. Ramos’ lead protagonist is quickly tasked to steal a car from a garage after being rejected for a security shift when his former senior in the army put in a negative reference for him, but it wouldn’t be a Transformers movie if that car didn’t steal him in turn; answering a call from Optimus Prime when a new threat to destroy Earth emerges.

Rise of the Beasts has some interesting ideas on paper. The idea that Optimus isn’t quite the great leader of the Autobots that we know him in the 90s is something that a meatier script and something that isn’t a franchise about robot cars would have potentially delved into in more detail. He’s focused on getting home above all else; and is prepared to sacrifice Earth to do so – for much of the movie; Noah is planning to steal the macguffin away from Optimus and destroy it. It’s not quite the happy-go-lucky Charlie or Sam being pulled into Bumblebee’s life; and Steven Caple Jr is aware of having Bumblebee be the beating heart of the Transformers for multiple films: this time, it’s Mirage, a car that can clone itself ala Dr. Strange. It’s an idea that isn’t exactly original; but then nothing in Rise of the Beasts is original: it borrows pretty much everything from better things and lacks the visual or creative flair of the Michael Bay movies so that even the vehicular carnage which is what we’re all here for anyway comes off as incredibly dull.

Dominique Fishback is grossly overqualified and far-to-talented to be caught dead in a film like this; yet it wastes her talent on a nondescript museum intern Elena who gets caught into the Transformers plot when she discovers the same maguffin the autoboots are hunting. It’s video-game by the numbers plot; go from point a to point b, don’t ask questions, don’t develop your characters other than maybe talk on the way there – forget to even have a second act and go straight into the third. It’s where Rise of the Beasts starts to go wrong the second it gets going, you’re in endgame mode without really having to take the time to adjust to the new world these characters live in: it’d be like if Frodo and Sam left The Shire and ended up straight away in Mordor five minutes later. There’s no journey; the thinnest of ones, for Elena and Noah who feel like strangers at the end of the film and you don’t buy that they spent any time together at all to care about them. The Autobots, especially Optimus, his journey also doesn’t feel earned – but one of the complaints about the past Transformers movies are that they spent too much time with the humans and Caple Jr. attempts to rectify that: you want autobots, you’ve got them! Too many to keep track of and they’re all comedic caricatures; I never bought them as characters.

The second-third act problem also lends Rise of the Beasts to a greater issue and that’s the amount of fakeout deaths this movie has. It’s all a sham – there’s at least two of them; and it comes so frequent and fast that you don’t have enough Rise of the Beasts can never commit to anything: like Rise of Skywalker revealing that Chewbacca was still alive seconds after Rey thought she killed him robbing the film of the chance to do anything interesting; except multiplied ten times over. There’s no time to spare or grieve for these would-be-fakeouts and the weight of the situation isn’t really felt: never has an end-of-the-world plot felt so mundane.

The film kept wanting to have the action in New York but kept cutting away to the middle of nowhere to a boring nondescript field with two nameless armies running at each other in the final act. There’s no creative flair with these action choices; and again; the bombastic nature of Michael Bay’s filmography kept it fresh. Rise of the Beasts borrows from the Marvel school of humour too; robbing any chance of sincerity in that it spends too much time poking fun at the absurd nature of its characters to truly believe in it. It doesn’t help Rise of the Beasts’ favour that I watched it right before going into Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One – but that movie showed how to balance stakes, care, character moments and humour whilst having the three act structure.

Rise of the Beasts quite simply has none of these; and you don’t have to look too far back to the Transformers franchise to see what happens when you let directors approach the franchise with the heart and soul that they need to make these movies work. Bumblebee was a success: Travis Knight’s direction was a breath of fresh air. But there’s nothing notable about Steven Caple Jr., a yes man for a corporate-mandated piece of work that feels completely hollow. Not offensively bad, that would have at least been an entertaining disaster. Just boring.

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