As if five robot-morphing, infrastructure-smashing films, plus one spin-off, weren’t enough, the Transformers are on the rise again. There might be excitement over this summer’s Barbie movie with Margot Robbie, but Hasbro’s toy line is not about to be sidelined in the multiplex sandpit. Never mind robots that change into vehicles, this time around there are the Maximals.
Introducing these mechanical jungle creatures, Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts tweaks the formula that stretches all the way back to when the alien Autobots fought the Decepticons in Michael Bay’s 2007 film Transformers. Like 2018’s Bumblebee, the last time we saw a Transformers story in cinemas, it’s a prequel. Whereas that was 1987, this is 1994, baby. And incoming director Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II) doesn’t let us forget it.
The camera soon glimpses De La Soul cassettes, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers t-Shirts and the OJ Simpson trial on TV. But at least this ’90s fest gives Caple Jr. an excuse to lay down some joyful hip-hop beats. The Notorious B.I.G.’ (‘Hypnotize’), LL Cool J (‘Mama Said Knock You Out’) and A Tribe Called Quest (‘Check The Rhime’) are all dropped. If Bumblebee was all very Short Circuit, Rise Of The Beasts goes all Deep Cover.
Anthony Ramos (In The Heights) plays Noah Diaz, a Brooklyn-based ex-soldier struggling to support his sick 11-year-old bro Kris. When a candy-chewing chum drags him into a bit of grand theft auto, he picks the wrong (or maybe the right) vehicle. This slick-looking silver Porsche 911 Carrera is actually Mirage, an Autobot (voiced by Pete Davidson) lying low ever since he and his pals got stranded on Earth.
Shortly after Noah’s got over the shock of being zoomed around the city by a talkin’, morphin’ robot-car, he’s on a mission for the Autobots to steal the ‘transwarp key’, a gadget that will help Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and others leave the planet. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones after it. A planet-munching deadly force named Unicron has sent ruthless robot Scourge (Peter Dinklage) to retrieve this portal-stretching device.
It all leads to a night at the museum, so to speak, when Noah bumps into researcher Elena (Dominique Fishback), who found the key stashed inside a statue. Thankfully, she has a working knowledge of ancient Aztec symbols, which is handy, because the second half of the film is in Peru. Cue a quick flight to South America, where the group encounter the Maximals, who have been hiding out for years since their planet was destroyed by Unicron.
Led by a gorilla named Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) – see what they did there? – this band of merry beasts do add something different. Caple Jr. still delivers plenty of robot-a-robot smash-ups, but it’s nowhere near as endless/tedious as the Bay-era Transformers films. Ramos is also a very likeable presence and can sell even the worst dialogue about saving the world. Pity the script borrows lines from better movies (Die Hard, A Few Good Men), but Rise Of The Beasts is still a notch above its predecessors.
- Director: Steven Caple Jr.
- Starring: Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Pete Davidson
- Release date: June 8 (in cinemas)