top of page

The Media Man Reviews: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

Updated: Sep 24, 2023


Title card for my review of Transformers Rise of the Beasts

How is it been a year since this blog started and I'm yet to do a Transformers related post?


Well, better late than never. I have been a lifelong Transformers fan and I do mean lifelong. I first discovered the franchise back in 2001 when Transformers: Robots in Disguise aired on the defunct Fox Kids channel (man I miss that channel). From then on, I would go on to watch most of the Unicron Trilogy, watch Beast Wars, play the Transformers Armada video-game, see the live-action Michael Bay movies, see Transformers: Prime and its sequel series, play the War for Cybertron games and also see Bumblebee back in 2018. Oh and I have a huge collection of Transformers toys from the days of Armada to present. Yeah, to say I'm a huge fan of the franchise is underselling myself immensely. XD Even as an adult nearing the age of 30, I'm still collecting the toys to this day and I consider Transformers: Prime to be among my all-time favourite cartoons, as well as unquestionably the best Transformers show currently made.


As is though, I don't love EVERYTHING about the franchise. I consider G1 to be highly overrated, I didn't think much to Robots in Disguise 2015 and see it as a downgrade from Transformers: Prime, I couldn't get into the recent EarthSpark cartoon (seriously, I only watched the first episode and that was it for me) and I absolutely DESPISE the live-action movies. The first one was fine enough I guess but the movies have done more harm than good for the franchise as now whenever people think of Transformers, they think it's just a dumb action series with lowbrow vulgar humour that only dumb, horny teenagers would laugh at when the franchise is NOT like this and never was! Bumblebee gave us the only live-action Transformers movie that can genuinely be considered good and was a step in the right direction for the series. And now here we are with a sequel to Bumblebee with the newest live-action Transformers movie, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.


When this thing was announced I honestly had my doubts about it. Considering there's THREE factions in this movie all at once, I had a feeling the movie was going to be an overcrowded mess similar to the Bay films and just wouldn't work out. But then the trailers came out and made it look promising and the appearance of Unicron fully won me over. So does this film transform into something amazing? Or should we let Unicron eat it so we may never see it again? Let's transform and roll out readers as we review this new Transformers film...


Section 1: The Story


Transformers: Rise of the Beasts sees a new human companion named Noah Diaz who gets swept up in the adventure of a lifetime as he ends up caught in the middle of a war between the Autobots, the Maximals and the Terrorcons as both Autobots and Maximals have to keep the Transwarp key out of Terrorcon hands. The key will allow a planet-eating monster named Unicron destroy the Earth so it's a battle for survival to prevent Unicron from snacking on our world...


Going into this movie, I was already nervous on how this story was going to turn out thanks to a HUGE red-flag...the cast. As mentioned earlier, the large cast was a huge red-flag for me and upon seeing the movie, I was right to be concerned. This film is overstuffed and overcrowded with characters and just like in the previous five Michael Bay directed movies, it causes the film's story to suffer as a result. I mean come on, a movie featuring new human characters, a group of Autobots, the Maximals, a new faction called the Terrorcons AND Unicron all at once? Who's the crazy guy who thought that was a good idea?! This overstuffed cast didn't work for the Michael Bay movies so what made these guys think they could do it any better? And the worst part is there is ZERO reason the cast needs to be this large. Why couldn't it be just the Autobots and Decepticons fighting it out for this movie? Why did we need three factions all at once here on top of adding in new human characters to follow? All they did was give themselves more workload and it just didn't pay off in the end. I guarantee there'll be a Transformers fan who will feel very disappointed because their favourite character barely got their time to shine because there's just not enough room to juggle everyone.


This also leads to another huge criticism I have with this movie: the scope. The premise of this movie admittedly sounds awesome...for a CONCLUSION to a film series. For context, this is the SECOND movie in a new film series for Transformers. All we've had beforehand is a movie starring Bumblebee and that's it. So to suddenly go from Bumblebee's relatively lower stakes, smaller scale and more simple plot to a large high stakes plot with a world-ending scale and more complex plot, it just feels too big of a leap for this series. It's like how the DCEU jumped the gun by going from Man of Steel to Batman v Superman in their second movie, it just didn't work out and felt like the series was rushing itself. Here, it feels like it's too early to have this big Avengers Infinity War/Endgame style climax battle because this continuity has barely had any real set-up. For this movie to work, they needed at least two more sequels before we got this plot so we could gradually build-up to the threat of Unicron instead of making it the plot of the second movie in this series. It's like baking a cake and taking it out of the oven too early: set-up for the cake was great and you got it going nicely but because you took it out before it was finished, you didn't get the best result you were aiming for and now you've used up all your assets too quickly. So while it was nice to see Unicron here, they really did use him WAY too early here. This movie should've been a third, fourth or maybe even fifth movie instead of the second movie if it ever had a chance of working.


Also this movie ends up playing out like a typical Transformers film, making it super-predictable and formulaic from top-to-bottom. Would it kill these writers to give us a Transformers film where the plot ISN'T about multiple factions fighting over a McGuffin for once? Bumblebee managed it so it's clearly possible. The moment I saw that Transwarp key and heard its significance to the story in the opening prologue, I was like "Oh yeah, it'll be just like the other movies now..." This causes the plot to feel less interesting as a result because it's like that same story we've already gotten five times before. And the film has the GALL to insult the audience's intelligence by killing off Bumblebee. Come on, who actually believed for a minute he was dead and they were seriously going to kill him off for real? And who actually believed they were going to kill off Mirage for that matter? So pretentious...it says a lot when the only non-villain death that sticks was Airazor's and that was the only death that surprised me, though I really shouldn't be surprised since she HAS died before in Beast Wars...


The film's overcrowded cast also plagues the film's pacing. After the opening prologue, we get our introduction to the human characters that goes on for a little too long and then we spend too much time on some characters and not enough on others and it just hurts the story as a result. This bad pacing also leads to plotting issues that raise some questions, like how the hell did Scourge know the second half of the Transwarp key was in Peru and knew to follow the Autobots there? He destroyed the museum so he couldn't have gotten any clues there like Elena did so how did he find out? No time to explain that because the film has too much on its plate as is!


But in spite of all that, the story does have some good points to it as well. For starters, its humour is better handled and is less juvenile than the Michael Bay films and there are some funny moments here and there. We even get Optimus being sarcastic at one point, that was pretty funny. XD Also this film follows Bumblebee's example and puts more effort into characterizing the Cybertronians than the films before it. There's too many characters to juggle so they don't do well at it but they still tried at least. The villains especially aren't just mindless snarling grunts and have personalities to them so they feel more like villains and not generic mooks and Optimus, Mirage, Optimus Primal and Airazor are well-characterized for what we got with them.


The opening prologue is by far the film's best scene in my eyes. It set up the story brilliantly and established its main threats perfectly. It was a great opener to the film and Unicron's appearance just felt gigantic and epic, just as it should do. I'll cover more in the characters section but bottom line, the opening was well handled and I wish the rest of the film was like that.


But another aspect of the film that worked surprisingly well for me were the human companions. Like in Bumblebee, these humans aren't annoying loads and are actually pretty good for the most part. Noah's story about being this ex-military electronics expert who wants to help his sick brother was pretty compelling stuff and it harkened back to how in the previous film, we had Charlie who was going through a depression phase due to her dad's passing. If the film wasn't spinning so many plates, they could've done more with this plot and made it more special in my eyes but for what we got, I liked it and I'm glad they went this route instead of making the humans irritating wastes here. Oh and the movie does a good job on actually making it about the Transformers too. That's always a plus. XD


And finally, the main thing that most Transformers fans enjoy the live-action movies for: the action scenes. This film is chock full of action and they really give us some cool scenes to watch with lots of robot battles and plenty of chase scenes. I'd say this movie is closer to the Bay films in terms of action for there's more of it than in Bumblebee but they still execute them well and make them the highlight of the movie so for those who love action, they'll be very satisfied.


This film had potential to be great but the potential was squandered due to the overstuffed plot, the rapid rising of stakes that makes it feel like it's too soon for this kind of plot and ill pacing that does the story no favours. It has its merits but I think this script needed a few more re-writes before the cameras started rolling...


Section 2: The Characters


Bare with me folks for there's a lot of characters to cover in this movie. As I said, they went with quantity over quality here.


I'll cover the characters faction by faction as that should be a tidy way to organize things. Let's start with the Autobots first. We have our leading man himself of course, Optimus Prime (voiced once again by the legendary Peter Cullen). This Optimus feels more like a character than he's done in ANY of the previous live-action films. This Optimus is a war-weary leader who has a SERIOUS guilt complex over how the war on Cybertron is going and he feels it's all his fault that he and his comrades remain stranded on Earth for now. This in turn explains why he comes off as cold, aloof and grumpy for most of the film. He's so overly-focused on his mission that of course he's not going to care much for humanity and much of his arc is about him coming to learn that there's more at stake than just his home world. Also as many have pointed out, he gets a return to form here as he displays moments of sarcasm and is able to smack talk his opponents, which is more akin to his old G1 personality. And unlike the Michael Bay films where he's a violent Energon thirsty psychopath who doesn't act like Optimus Prime, this Optimus feels much closer to the character he's supposed to be and he's only driven to kill when pushed to the extreme such as when Scourge kills Bumblebee. I'm still not keen on Optimus killing myself but as I say, it's better handled here than before and he still acts like Optimus at least so I can let it slide. This movie is probably the best portrayal of the character in all the movies so far.


The only other important Autobot to note here is Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson). While I wouldn't call him my favourite character or say he's the funniest character ever, he was pretty fun at times. He's a bit of a rebel and isn't afraid to snark at his boss's face but his spark is in the right place and when push comes to shove, he'll do whatever it takes to help his fellow Autobots win their battle. His bond with Noah is quite well done too and they play off of each other nicely, though him becoming a suit of armour for Noah to fight in was pretty dumb. Come on guys, it was dumb when Miko used the Apex Armour to fight the Decepticons in Transformers: Prime and it's dumb here. Stop giving humans armoured suits to fight the bad guys in Transformers, it never works out! XD


As is, the other Autobots are just there to fill up space during the action scenes and have little to no-character to speak of. Bumblebee is the tough scout who dies and comes back to life at the end, Arcee (voiced by Liza Coshy) is the Action Girl, Wheeljack (voiced by Cristo Fernández) is the smart one who has an awkward, unnecessary joke about racism with Noah and Stratosphere (voiced by John DiMaggio) literally only exists just to fly the Autobots from Point A to Point B and does sod all. You could've dropped him out entirely and nothing would change.


Next we have the Maximals and as a fan of Beast Wars, it pains me to see how wasted they were in this movie. In this film's overly large cast, they got the worst end of the deal here.


There's Optimus Primal (voiced by Ron Perlman) who is just the wise leader of the Maximals who wants to keep the Transwarp key out of enemy hands and Airazor (voiced by Michelle Yeoh) who is the flying scout who helps our heroes along the way but doesn't make it to the end. They're the only ones the film could be arsed to develop because Cheetor and Rhinox have no character to speak of. They exist purely for fan-service, and really bad fan-service at that because Cheetor barely even speaks, Rhinox doesn't speak AT ALL and they don't contribute anything to the movie. The Maximals shouldn't have been here and if they were going to be in this movie then the Predacons should've been here instead of the Terrorcons, otherwise why even have the Maximals at all if the Predacons aren't going to be here too? Also the film gives Scourge a personal connection to Optimus Primal given Scourge destroyed his home world and killed his mentor...and yet instead Optimus Prime is the one who has the big rivalry with Scourge and is the one who kills him in the end instead of Primal. So why even have the Maximals here if Optimus is just going to steal Primal's personal beef with the villain from right under his nose? Any scene with the Maximals could've been done with the Autobots instead and I guarantee if they'd done that, the film would've been better because it wouldn't have been so overcrowded as a result.


Anyway, let's go onto the final faction of this overstuffed movie, the Terrorcons. Why they're called "Terrorcons" and are a separate faction instead of just being Decepticons will always be a mystery to me. The Terrorcons are led by Scourge (voiced by Peter Dinklage) who is by far the best character in this movie for me. Scourge is an utterly ruthless, cunning and menacing villain who commands a lot of authority when he's onscreen and is a powerful force to be reckoned with. He just RELISHES being evil and I love it! All that plus Peter Dinklage's incredible performance easily makes Scourge one of the best villains to come out of the Transformers films. I was always happy to see him whenever he was onscreen and he made for a great villain for our heroes to face. I just wish he was given more development though. A little backstory to him would've been nice as I would've loved to have known why he serves Unicron and is so loyal to him.


For the other Terrorcons, there's Nightbird (voiced by Michaela Jaé Rodriguez) and Battletrap (voiced by David Sobolov). Like the other Autobots and Maximals, they have no real character to speak of and are just grunts for Scourge to order around and battle the Autobots with. Though at least they bothered to give them any personality at all. It's better than how the Decepticons are usually handled in these films where they're just snarling, mindless beasts with no character.


And then of course there's the big planet eater himself, Unicron (voiced by Colman Domingo). While I complained that it was too soon for Unicron to be here, I did enjoy his portrayal in this film. Unicron is given the respect he deserves, portrayed as this TERRIFYING force of nature that is pretty much unstoppable and his name alone should instil fear in you. We sadly don't see him transform but we do see that even in his planet form, he's a powerful foe to the point he can torture Scourge for his failures despite being lightyears away from him. The movie also leaves him alive at the end so hopefully we'll see more of Unicron again in the future. I just wish they saved him for sooner rather than giving us the cosmic terror so early on in this series.


And now finally, let's cover the humans. Our main human companion is Noah Diaz (played by Anthony Ramos). Like Charlie in Bumblebee, Noah's story was surprisingly compelling and he ended up being one of the most interesting characters in the movie. Yeah, when's the last time a HUMAN companion was an interesting character in Transformers? XD He's immediately sympathetic thanks to his status as a hard-working family man who wants to help his brother Kris Diaz (played by Dean Scott Vasquez) who's sick from sickle cell disease and sadly, this leads to him needing to commit crimes in order to get the money he needs. I know I'd be the same if my brothers were sick like that and needed all the help they could get. He also proved to be pretty useful on the battlefield too and wasn't a useless load like most human companions are in this franchise. I'm so glad the movies lately are doing better with the human companions with Charlie in Bumblebee and Noah in this movie being good standout companions here.


The other human companion is Elena Wallace (played by Dominque Fishback). She too is surprisingly useful here for her book smarts and research skills help in finding out clues where to find the second half of the Transwarp key and she even figures out the code needed to help stop Unicron from coming over in the climax. While how she comes to these conclusions might be a bit overly convenient, at least she's not useless and gets to be helpful like Noah and I liked their growing friendship over the course of the film too. She's not as compelling as Noah but I found her to be alright overall.


Aside from Optimus, Mirage, Scourge and the human companions, the characters here all suffer from too many cooks and don't get enough time to develop or have any real character because there's just too much going on here. If this cast had been trimmed down, we could've had even better characters to use in this story...


Section 3: The Cinematography


The live-action Transformers films may have issues with story and character, but the one thing they NEVER skimp on is the cinematography. They always put a lot of effort into making these films look awesome and this movie is no exception.


Let's start with the visual effects first. The CGI in these movies has a tendency to look really impressive and come Bumblebee, they really started to look amazing. This movie keeps up the quality of the CGI by giving us some really impressive looking Transformers that manage to blend in well with the real-life backgrounds and look mostly natural in the light that reflects off of them. Like in Bumblebee, the character designs follow a more G1 inspired aesthetic with some of the Michael Bay designs mixed in there to give us some realistic looking Transformers that also manage to look more like the toys they're based on. The sleeker, smoother designs make the characters look much better than in the previous films where a lot of them just look like a mess of robot and car parts and kinda end up blending in with one another. Here, every design is unique and easy to make out and they all stand out from one another from the classic Optimus Prime design to the sleek and slick looking Mirage to the monstrous looking Scourge and the beastly looking Maximals. The Maximals especially have this cool techno-organic theme going for them with their beast forms looking robotic of course but also possessing a few animal traits like patches of fur or feathers in places and they move like the animals they're based on while also looking mostly anatomically correct to them. Sadly we don't see their robot modes very much and there are some designs that don't really work such as Wheeljack's. Why he turns into a Volkswagen bus and looks nothing like Wheeljack, I have no idea. They got his design right in Bumblebee so why did they drop the ball with this one?


As is, I'm at least glad they did well on the other Transformers and I'm especially happy with how they depicted Unicron here. They got everything about his design here PERFECTLY from his planet-sized appearance to the horns that protrude from the top of him and we see on the inside of Unicron that he's basically just a whole bunch of metal parts with no real shape to them and the only hint of his robot form we get are a pair of huge yellow eyes that stare at Scourge when he gives his reports. It was great to see a faithful depiction of Unicron's famous design here and they made it look so awesome whenever he was onscreen. If only we got to see his robot form as well, that would've been epic...


It's not just the CGI that looks good too. The practical effects are well handled too with some well-timed explosions during the fight scenes, some good looking props and the great selection of cars and other vehicles used for the Transformers. They gave each and every one a unique form to call their own so they all stand out amongst each other and these vehicles look great onscreen and when they're driving around. The best ones for me include Optimus's truck form, Mirage's Porsche form and Scourge's monstrous looking truck form. Again, I'm confused why Wheeljack turns into a Volkswagen bus when he's always a sports car in other media but hey, it's unique I guess so I'll give them that.


The visuals also extend to the real life visuals that were filmed for this movie. They chose some great looking scenery to set the movie in and we get a variety of locations to set some action in. There's sweeping shorts on the streets or overhead in New York City, we get lovely shorts of Peru both during this festival they're hosting and in the jungle and even the Maximal's home planet in the prologue was pretty to look at for what little we saw of it. It's depicted as this tranquil looking jungle world with some sci-fi technology in places and it looked rather nice. These films have always been good at making use of their filming locations and this movie keeps up that tradition. Oh and I'd be amiss if I didn't bring up how this film is set in 1994. They do a good job on making it clear this is the 90's with the presence of vintage technology like an old Gameboy console, some older looking car models, no modern phones to be seen anywhere, a more retro dress sense for the humans and Elena especially has to do most of her research by looking in books rather than on a screen. This does mean we get shots of the World Trade Centre in New York though...yeah, I get it, it still existed back in the 90's but I'm sure it might feel awkward for some Americans watching this. Naturally, some TF fans had to make jokes about "Unicron causing 9/11" in response to this but that's another story. XD


And of course, it wouldn't be a Transformers movie without the action scenes and like the previous films, they deliver on that in spades. Following on from Bumblebee's great action choreography, the action scenes are fun to watch and very action-packed with all sorts of martial arts moves being used, weapons firing everywhere and lots of robot-on-robot action but like in Bumblebee, the action is much clearer to see and it's easier to make out the battles due to the cameras being focused on the fighting when it happens and there's little to no shaky camera so the visuals don't become blurred. They make a great use of slow-motion too in one scene where a missile launches towards Arcee and Wheeljack and they narrowly dodge it by having Wheeljack swerve to one side and let the missile go through his open doors out the other side. That was awesome. But the action does have some rather silly moments in there too. I already mentioned Mirage becoming a suit of battle-armour for Noah. It looks dumb and Noah just ends up looking like he's cosplaying as Cyborg from the DC Universe as a result. XD But the most awkward moment for me was Airazor's death. Due to how awkwardly staged and shot it was, it looks like Optimus Primal just kills her by...hugging her to death I think? It was so bizarre and I have no idea what was going on there. They could've at least added in sound effects of parts in Airazor breaking as Primal bear hugs her so it sounds like he's crushing her to death or even show her breaking apart as he does so. It was such a weird death scene and I have no idea how it was meant to look with how they executed it.


Weird moments aside, they did a great job on the visuals with this movie. The CGI looks awesome, the locations were well-chosen, the 90's aesthetic is done well and it's a treat for the eyes all the way through. The movies are always good at looking good and this movie is no exception...


Overall


Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the prime (pun intended) example of what happens when you get too ambitious with your ideas and don't take your time. The story is overstuffed to the point it does more harm than good, there's too many characters to juggle, the scope is too big for this early on in the series, the pacing is poor and its too close to the usual Bay film formula for my liking. The film is saved from being terrible thanks to some awesome action scenes, great characterizations for Optimus Prime and the humans, a menacing villain, some fine acting and voice-acting and beautiful cinematography but the fact I can only call it "decent" at best still feels disappointing. It felt as if we were on the right track after Bumblebee came out but now we're taking a step back again. Hopefully the next TF movie will slow things down a bit and give us a better paced story with a smaller cast to juggle because I don't want things to go back to being like the Bay films again. Rise of the Beasts had some good moments, but the bad moments held it back too much for me. But with any luck, something greater can transform this franchise and give us a stronger film next time...


And that's it for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you all to share your thoughts down below. Did you like the movie? Did you not like it? I'd love to hear. Next week I'll be joining up with my friend Thomas Holmes again as we celebrate Sonic's 32nd anniversary with a review of Sonic Heroes. See you then media fans!

33 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page