Action/AdventureMovie Reviews

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts review

It only might have felt like waiting an eternity for this moment for longtime fans, but Transformers: Rise of the Beasts marks the first live-action film to genuinely capture that 80s appointment TV thrill of watching the Transformers cartoon series.

After a string of clunkers, the 2018 Bumblebee standalone finally got the franchise in the right lane. As a standalone, it was more about getting the brand back on good footing. Rise of the Beasts builds off Bumblebee’s hard-earned goodwill with an installment that incorporates far more characters, action on a global scale and multiple human characters that are actually useful in telling the story.

transformers rise of the beasts review - optimus primal, cheetor, wheeljack and arcee

Another highlight of Bumblebee was its strong opening act, which displayed in grand fashion, the epic scope of the Autobots/Decepticons war on Cybertron in a way the Michael Bay-directed installments never managed.

Rise of the Beasts Director Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II) has no such struggle in capturing the feel, the look and the tone of Transformers. One where the humans are partners to the robots in disguise instead of the main attraction.

transformers rise of the beasts review - optimus prime and noah

It helps that Rise of the Beasts has likable regular human characters caught in the middle of this fray. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese’s characters always felt like they belonged in a Michael Bay-helmed G.I. Joe film as their military characters frequently had the best moments in the first three films. Haille Steinfeld’s Charlie was arguably the main character in Bumblebee, but for that story’s E.T. vibe, it worked.

Here, Anthony Ramos (Hamilton) and Dominique Fishback (Project Power) star as complementary players Noah and Elena. Noah is a former vet trying to help his mother (Lauren Velez) care for his sick younger brother (Dean Scott Vazquez). Elena doesn’t have as compelling a backstory. She’s an unappreciated intern at a local museum who’s more knowledgeable in archelogy and history than her flighty supervisor.

transformers rise of the beasts review - elena and noah

Both Ramos and Fishback do terrific work in making their characters regular people. They’re not the best at everything constantly outshining the Transformers, but use their skill sets that prove valuable in specific circumstances. In a very nice touch, the humans might do something heroic, but need the Transformers to bail them out/help them. And kudos to the screenwriters for not trying to force a relationship with Noah and Elena.

The film opens with a sneaky homage to The Transformers The Movie with a flashback detailing the arrival of the planet killer Unicron (Colman Domingo), who destroys the home world of the Maximals. At least the Maximals gain a small victory as they strand Unicorn in that sector forcing his lieutenant, Scourge (Peter Dinklage) to regain the item that will allow his master to teleport to new worlds.


Through a series of events, Noah and Elena find themselves in possession of one half of the device and encounter the New York City-based Autobots: Optimus Prime (still voiced by the iconic Peter Cullen), Bumblebee, Arcee (Liza Koshy) and Mirage (Pete Davidson).

Setting the film in the mid-90s was a savvy choice. That was the time period that kids who grew up with the first round of Transformers figures and cartoon episodes were now in college rocking to Notorious B.I.G. The Wu-Tang Clan, LL Cool J, A Tribe Called Quest, etc. Rise of the Beasts hits the nostalgia factor on multiple levels with the filmmakers wisely opting to appeal to the initial audience.

transformers rise of the beasts review - nightbird, scourge and

There’s an abundance of fan service moments and dialogue that might be somewhat pandering, but that’s not a bad thing for a franchise that needed a serious reset.

The initial battle with Scourge and his fellow Terrorcons doesn’t go great, but they find new allies with Optimus Primal (Ron Pearlman), Airazor (Michelle Yeoh) and the other Maximals as well as reuniting with other Autobots. There’s some visual continuity issues and some material from trailers that didn’t make the final cut. While the film is over two hours, it didn’t feel boring or slow and might be an instance where an extended cut could be useful.

One of the major improvements from the Bay-era films is the Transformers are no longer shying away from color making it easier to make out characters in the midst of a chaotic action sequence. Caple has a strong sense of fight choreography allowing for cleaner sequences without an abundance of over-editing.

transformers rise of the beasts review -arcee, optimus prime and bumblebee

There’s also an intriguing stinger that sets up a potentially exciting crossover assuming it’s done well, but this is an exciting development for 80s-era fans.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a welcome entry in the franchise that hopefully is the start of a new level for the Transformers series.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures