Movie Review: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
The long-running franchise returns, without much improvement, for a trip back to the '90s.
It’s no good. Bumblebee has one cool scene.
Do you need to know any more than that?
Inexplicably, the modern “Transformers” franchise has now endured through seven installments over 16 years. It’s not inexplicable in concept; nostalgia is a powerful thing, and plenty of people played with the robot toys or watched their popular cartoon series as children. What’s inexplicable is how uniformly dull this franchise is; in all those prolonged hours of content, they’ve never once flirted with being entertaining.
This latest version, “Rise of the Beasts,” flashes back to the mid-’90s, thus offering a convenient excuse for the absence of all of the characters from the other films. We meet a group of robots that transform into animals rather than trucks, called (ugh) Maximals, as well as their leader, named (ugh) Optimus Primal. Apparently, they’ve been on Earth for thousands of years — their initial struggles are awkwardly tied into Peruvian legends and Incan symbols — to keep a very big robot from getting a very powerful macguffin.
A couple of humans (Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback, neither of whom deserve this indignity) inadvertently stumble upon that doohickey, gaining the attention of a selection of new and returning Transformers (the main robot character is a sometimes-Porsche named Mirage, voiced by Pete Davidson). This leads to a soporific throwdown and the incidental destruction of a world heritage site — none of which garner much interest.
It’s not just that “Rise of the Beasts” is bad — although it absolutely is. Plenty of movies are bad yet remain vaguely engaging despite their lack of quality. The fatal flaw of these films is that they’re uninteresting. The cosmic backstories presented are unimaginative; there’s always an important whatsit that could give a bad robot the power to destroy the universe, and a coalition of good humans and good robots need to get it. The fact that this is the plot of every third movie at the multiplex does not seem to deter the “Transformers” folks from returning time and time again to that well.
If the action were compelling, it could cover some sins. Unfortunately, these films only have a soupy, eye-straining brand of early-aughts CGI, a swirling mass of nothing that serves only to irritate. If you can look at these robots fighting and see anything more than a pair of unconvincing cartoons flailing at each other, your eyes must be a lot better than mine.
I suppose I could say that “Rise of the Beasts” is slightly better than the worst movies in the franchise, in that it moves at a steady clip and uses its era as an opportunity to pepper classic hip-hop hits into the soundtrack. Saying that it’s better than its brethren, however, is like saying a meal that made you spit out your food in disgust is slightly better than a similar meal that gave you food poisoning.
But hey: The soundtrack is fine. When the best thing about your robot-fighting movie is L.L. Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” though, you’ve really screwed up.
My Rating: 2/10
“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” is now playing in theaters.