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Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (Film Review)

3 min read

as a movie franchise is a lot like the Fast franchise, rarely good but very successful. Starting in 2007, the first five films were directed by Michael Bay, and despite being based on children's toys were marked by casual sexism, casual racism and over the top product placement. The first three notable for a gurning Shia LaBeouf, and women less defined than wet cardboard. The robots were either indistinguishable from one another or racial stereotypes – Jazz the African American robot who talks like a 2002 gangster rapper, Mudflap and Skids the gold-tooth illiterate Mexican robots. The lowest point might be in the fourth film in which Marky Mark Wahlberg's teenage daughter has an older boyfriend who explains how statutory rape is protected by the so-called Romeo and Juliet law.

But in 2018 came Bumblebee, Laika maestro Travis Knight's Spielbergian take on the yellow car and his friendship with Hailee Steinfeld. Smaller scale, funny and very enjoyable it was both prequel and reboot. Now Steven Caple Jr having made the thoroughly enjoyable and moving Creed II comes in for a sequel / expansion.

In 1994 we meet Noah Diaz () and Elena Wallace (),a former soldier with a sick brother and budding historian respectively. They come into contact with the autobot lead by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and a plot by a giant planet eating robot to find a special key.

While not as small scale and fun as Bumblebee, is the best mainline entry to date. Though the 1994 setting holds no reason, making you question where Stenfield is, how this connects to the original films (it doesn't) and the fact that the period detail isn't there save for an old GameBoy and the Twin Towers.

The film suffers from the same issue that plagued the others – too many robots. Most boil down to large robots with authority voices – the conflicted Optimus Prime, the noble gorilla-bot Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), the plant eating Unicorn (Colman Domingo) and his sadistic lieutenant Scourge (Peter Dinklage) or just robots with zero personality. Perhaps owing to having a spin-off Bumblebee is sidelined in favour of Michelle Yeoh as a falcon-robot and Pete Davidson as himself but can turn into a car.

Paramount Pictures

The action is much better this time around, Caple Jr makes sure we know which robot is which, and doesn't opt for confusion in the smashing metal, and the climax is both emotionally satisfying and thrilling in equal measure. It helps that Ramos and Fishback have good chemistry together and feel like 3D characters that serve the story and aren't just there to be attractive women in hot pants.

While this doesn't do anything new with the series, and following a charming spin-off this feels like going back into the same muddy waters as before, it offers up more fun than previous instalments, and Davidson is genuinely funny and likeable as the immature Mirage that must learn to be a more noble soldier.

It may have learnt from some of it's mistakes, but the robots still require work to make them individuals and to create a sense of their personalities, and the world ending stakes never really feel that world ending despite a giant robot planning to eat us all. Sadly for the film there isn't more than meets the eye.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is in cinemas now.