Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023) poster

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023)


USA. 2023.


Director – Steven Caple Jr., Screenplay – Joby Harold, Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber, Darnell Metayer & Josh Peters, Story – Joby Harold, Producers – Michael Bay, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Duncan Henderson, Don Murphy & Mark Vahradian, Photography – Enrique Chediak, Music – Jongnic Bontemps, Visual Effects Supervisor – Gary Brozenich, Visual Effects – MPC (Supervisors – Richard Little & Carlos Caballero Valdes) & Onyx Visual Effects (Supervisor – John Brennick), Visual Effects/Animation – Weta FX Ltd (Supervisor – Matt Aitken, Animation Supervisor – Kevin Estey), Special Effects Supervisors – Guillaume Murray & J.D. Schwalm, Production Design – Sean Haworth. Production Company – Paramount/Skydance/Hasbro/New Republic Pictures/diBonaventura Pictures/Bay Films.


Anthony Ramos (Noah Diaz), Dominique Fishback (Elena Wallace), Tobe Nwigwe (Reek), Dean Scott Vasquez (Kris Diaz), Luna Lauren Velez (Breanna Diaz), Sarah Stiles (Jillian Robinson), Michael Kelly (Agent Burke), Lucas Huarancca (Amaru)


Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Pete Davidson (Mirage), Ron Perlman (Optimal Prime), Peter Dinklage (Scourge), Michelle Yeoh (Airazor), Liza Koshy (Arcee), John DiMaggio (Transit/Stratosphere), David Sobolov (Rhinox/Battletrap/Apeling), Colman Domingo (Unicron)


New York City, 1994. Struggling to pay for his younger brother Kris’s hospital bills and find a job, Noah Diaz agrees to help out his friend Reek who runs a carjacking operation. He is required to break into a parking building and steal a Porsche. However, the Porsche develops a life of its own and accelerates away with Noah inside, before revealing it is the Autobot Mirage. Meanwhile, Elena Wallace, an intern at the museum, becomes obsessed with a falcon shaped statuette, which cracks open to reveal an artefact inside. As it sends a signal up, the Autobots immediately recognise the artefact as the Transwarp Key that can allow instantaneous teleportation between planets. The rival Terrorcons, agents of the planet-sized Unicron, descend on the museum in a furious fight to get the key. The key would allow Unicron to ravage planets everywhere but would also allow the Autobots to go home. They are joined by the Maximals, Transformers in the form of animals. With the key captured by the Terrorcons, it is revealed that this is one of two pieces. Elena is able to decipher clues that lead the way to a temple to Peru and they embark on a race to get there and obtain the second half before the Terrorcons do.

The Transformers films were one of the biggest box-office phenomenon of the 2010s. Based on the Hasbro toys of the 1980s and the popular animated tv series The Transformers (1984-7), the series was reinvented by director Michael Bay as a series of colossal effect-driven vehicles of mass destruction beginning with Transformers (2007). This proved to be the third highest grossing film of the year and was followed by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) and Transformers: The Last Knight (2017).

Michael Bay retired from the director’s chair after that point and the subsequent entries, Bumblebee (2018) and Rise of the Beasts, have been placed in the hands of others (although Bay is still present as a producer). In this case, the new director is the African-American Steven Caple Jr., who had previously made the indie film The Land (2016) and then Creed II (2018).

Caple’s inheritance of the director’s chair does demonstrate the gulf between two directors when it comes to essentially the same film. Michael Bay’s films are aimed fairly and squarely at the frat boy demographic, while saluting the Stars‘n’Stripes. They feature average middle-class white kid Shia LaBeouf and Texan homeboy Mark Wahlberg. They are intended to appeal directly at the red-blooded male, featuring a sweat-dripping Megan Fox bent over a car or Shia hooking up with model Rosie Huntingdon-Whitley.

By contrast Bumblebee was a softer film that gave us a female protagonist. Similarly, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts goes for diversity – it has an African-American director and lead actress (the greatly talented Dominique Fishback in a nothing role) and male lead Anthony Ramos who comes from Puerto Rican parentage. Rather than having Bumblebee express itself via popular songs, the soundtrack is now pumping with tracks from rappers like LL Cool J, Notorious B.I.G and Wu Tang Clan.

The Maximals - Optimal Prime, Cheetor, Wheeljack and Arcee in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023)
The Maximals – (l to r) Optimal Prime, Cheetor, Wheeljack and Arcee

Nothing demonstrates the two different worlds that Bay and Caple’s films exist in than the way the lead male characters are portrayed. Shia LaBeouf is an average preppie college kid who lives in a two-storey home, whose father buys him the Camaro that is Bumblebee as his first car and whose biggest problem seems to be keeping his girlfriend. At complete contrast, Anthony Ramos is down a whole other end of the socio-economic scale – he lives in an inner-city apartment while struggling to find a job and pay for medical bills for his younger brother, where taking up high-end carjacking job to make quick money seems the natural thing to do (something the film seems to have no particular objections to) and who only gets into the Transformer car that is Mirage because he steals it. No criticism made of either world but it is interesting how the replacement of a director can end with lead characters that seem to exist worlds apart.

None of which serves to make Transformers: Rise of the Beasts anything different to the rest of the Transformers films. I am not a particular fan of the series – they are loud, based solely around mass-destruction effects and giant robots beating each other into scrap metal with little of substance beyond that. Rise of the Beasts is no different in this regard.

The one thing Michael Bay’s Transformers films did was raise mass destruction and the images of giant-sized humaniform robots beating the crap out of each other to an artform, where such sequences could easily go on for twenty minutes or more. By contrast, Steven Caple Jr. seems to lack Michael Bay’s enthusiasm for mass destruction. The sequences here are perfectly fine in their own right and the assorted effects houses do a fine job – and you could consider them standout sequences if you had never seen any of the Bay films. However, if you have, this feels like Michael Bay Lite. The Transformers clash and do their thing, but proceedings do not drag on in ways that wreck whole cities or where you can see the effects people delighting in showing new ways things can be destroyed. It feels like a Transformers film made by someone with little-to-no experience with big-budget effects who is coasting by and letting the pre-visualisation people run the show.

Even aside from that, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is lumbered with a certain daftness. I have always found it amusing some of the anthropomorphic designs that the Transformers adopt and question them in terms of what conceivable function they could have. Here you have the Maximals, which were introduced in the Beast Wars: Transformers (1996-9) spinoff animated series, which adopt the likeness of gorillas, cheetahs, a rhinoceros and a falcon. Why the designs of Earth-based animals would be seen as desirable as the natural form of a race of alien robots is a big question. There is also the character of the Transformer Mirage that Anthony Ramos befriends. For some reason, the filmmakers have chosen to cast Pete Davidson for the voice role. I find Davidson a comedian with an incredibly annoying personality and he gives Mirage a gratingly hip voicing that makes you cringe whenever he is around on screen.

Trailer here

Actors: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Themes: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,