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Film review: Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a movie for those who prefer robots to people

After a decent outing with Bumblebee, the franchise is back to its ponderous, MacGuffin-clutching ways with a whole new crew of giant alien robots and their human friends

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If you’re into loud, long-running movie franchises with lots of cars, this summer has two. But as they say in the commercials, mileage may vary.

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First up was Fast X, a giddy, gas-guzzling gleefest and the latest in the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s not a smart film, but it knows that dumb can be fun, and it makes the most of its sprawling “family” of cast members, headed up by Vin Diesel, who kicked off the franchise way back in 2001, and has been in every Fast and Furious movie since number five.

And then there’s Transformers. They don’t have numbers but there have been seven including the latest, Rise of the Beasts. Others include Age of Extinction, Wrath of the Forgotten, Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon, and Yes I Did Make One of Those Up.

The very first, from 2007, was a decent time-waster with some fun (and Oscar nominated) visual effects, and nice turns by stars Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox and John Turturro. But somewhere along the way, Michael Bay (director of the first five, still a producer) decided that what people really cared about were the giant robots.

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And so the humans came and went – Mark Wahlberg in a couple of movies, Hailee Steinfeld in the last one, now Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback – while the cast of robotic characters grew to ever larger proportions. Imagine if the Fast franchise had decided that Vin and the gang were expendable, because all audiences really wanted was the vehicles.

Even the Transformers themselves showed little consistency, other than the “hero” Autobot, Optimus Prime, a tractor-trailer voiced by Canadian Peter Cullen, who’s been doing it since the animated series of the mid-1980s. But Decepticons gave way to Constructicons, who were overtaken by DinoBots, and now Maximals and Terrorcons.

The Terrorcons are (surprise!) the bad guys, trying to track down the latest of the franchise’s many flimsily concocted MacGuffins, a “trans-warp key” that will presumably unlock whatever plot twists the movie needs to keep going. Opposing them are the Maximals, robots that resemble animals, with names like Cheetor and Apelinq. (Also, ask your doctor if Rhinox is right for you!)

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Their leader is Optimus Primal (voiced by Ron Perlman), a gorilla-esque creature keen to protect Earth and its inhabitants from the likes of Scourge (Peter Dinklage) and his army of what look like Swiss Army Orcs. Helping out on the human side, the aforementioned Ramos and Fishback as Noah and Elena, he a former soldier in danger of drifting into a life of crime, she a museum employee with a handy knowledge of ancient temples and millennia-old writing.

From left. Optimus Primal, Cheetor and Wheejack in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.
From left. Optimus Primal, Cheetor and Wheejack in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. Photo by Paramount Pictures

The setting is 1994 Brooklyn, which places it about seven years after the last film, 2018’s Bumblebee – still one of the few bright lights in the franchise, by the way. But Rise of the Beasts (that title!) returns Transformers to its ponderous ways, from the opening line – “There is a legend that precedes the dawn of our civilization” – to the closing one: “Evil can never be vanquished completely.”

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OK, that’s not the very last line in the movie, but the studio has asked me not to engage in any “spoiler coverage,” further requesting “that any spoilers do not appear in headlines,” which is why you didn’t read: “Transformers: More like Cries of the Least” at the top of this review.

Let’s just say that this movie has both an official sequel – Transformers One, due out in September of 2024 – and an unofficial one, a crossover of sorts, revealed in the final scene of the film, and also on the movie’s Wikipedia page if you want to know what it is. (But you didn’t hear that from me!)

Let’s also say that, for all its fantastic-looking robot transformations, Rise of the Beasts is a lengthy, leaden tale, barely brought to life by the spark of its fortunately lively and expressive human co-stars. Like the toys of the decade that spawned it, this is a case of batteries not included. Any energy and joy you feel will merely be what you bring with you.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opens June 9 in theatres. 

2 stars out of 5

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