Transformers: Rise of the Beasts–Another great franchise entry from Hasbro

From the title Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, you may figure you’re in for a wall-to-wall kaiju fight fest against Optimus Prime, BumbleBee, and some other old Autobot pals.  But that’s not what the movie is.  It’s in fact something better–like producers Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg would ever steer us wrong.  It’s difficult to screw up a Hasbro movie, and this latest sequel was supposedly the last in a long continuation story based on Hasbro’s famous toy line, before the next film goes back to the origins of Cybertron.  But that ending sure telegraphs something much bigger and potentially greater.  In fact you’ll get the feel watching this movie that someone at Hasbro is at last priming for a universe of films on par with Marvel’s.

Transformers movies first and foremost are about the transformations, and the first of the film features a Porsche transforming into Autobot Mirage.  It’s the best transformation in the movies yet.  In fact all the transformations are all you need to love this movie.  The story is set in the 1990s for no important reason other than franchise continuity.  The new “race” of Transformer aliens are the kaiju-inspired Maximals, including the awesome Airazor, voiced by Michelle Yeoh, Cheetor, voiced by Tongayi Chirisa, and Rhinox and Apelinq, both voiced by David Sobolov, and leader Optimus Primal, voiced by Ron Perlman.

The big bad this time is Scourge, voiced by Peter Dinklage, and his Terrorcons, trying to open a portal for the evil planet-transforming Unicron, which needs two parts of a Transwarp key, both hidden on Earth by Maximals.  Franchise star Peter Cullen is back as Optimus Prime, leading no-talking BumbleBee, Mirage voiced by Pete Davidson, Arcee voiced by Liza Koshy (a motorbike), and Wheeljack (a VW van) voiced by Cristo Fernández.  Davidson does a great job creating a new, fun character, who partners with a human named Noah Diaz, played by Anthony Ramos, an American actor who resembles Clint Howard.  Noah has a rough life.  He can’t land a job, so he has no medical insurance for his little brother with sickle cell disease.  That’s some hard stuff he must leave to go save the world.

Noah is joined by Dominique Fishback as Elena, a museum worker who is trying to make her own name despite an clueless boss who takes credit for her work.  Elena discovers half of the Transwarp key inside an ancient artifact that looks like the Maltese Falcon.  Optimus Prime and the Autobots recognize the Transwarp key as their only way home after being stranded for seven years on Earth.  But Noah believes it should be destroyed to prevent future threats to humanity.

Transformers move into new territory here–that of big traditional fantasy films.  Several elements mirror scenes or tropes from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, including a giant portal that resembles Sauron’s lair and Mordor.  It really works well.  Longtime fans should be prepared–some good guys get picked off in the movie.  The only big error is one Transformer that doesn’t make it to the end, and the reason it is not explained.

Michelle Yeoh’s Airazor is probably the best of the pack, with the best characterization.  The special effects are all cutting edge.  You need only see one word to know why: Weta.  Weta FX did great work on the creatures and battles.  The action is what you want from a movie with Michael Bay’s name on it.  Noah’s wearable Transformer suit is a great new component, the kind of thing that makes this feel like a G.I. Joe or Pacific Rim movie.  Director Steven Caple, Jr. now has two wins behind him after the success of his Creed II.  Rise of the Beasts is a giant, expensive-looking action film with two key setting locations: New York City and the Peruvian Andes around Machu Picchu.

The best part is the ending.  It all sets the franchise up for a partnership with another huge Hasbro toy franchise we all want to see much more of.  Ramos proved his character would be a good beginning to a future stage of Transformers movies.  There’s even a cool throwback to the late Roddy Piper.

It’s a good follow-up to the best of the earlier entries, BumbleBee and Transformers: The Last Knight.  You really can’t miss with this movie.  Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opened in theaters June 9, but it’s now streaming on Paramount+.

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