Review: A Solid Action Flick, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Brings a Long-Anticipated Crew to the Big Screen

Sometimes, a gifted director, a shorter runtime, and a unstoppable period soundtrack is all you need to pivot a franchise in the right direction. For the Transformers universe, the previous film, 2018’s Bumblebee (set in 1987), is the best of the bunch, in large part because of a winning cast (that included Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena) and a tighter, more focused screenplay. Lo and behold, it’s follow-up, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts has a similar running time of about two hours (most of the other Transformers film are pushing two-and-a-half hours in length) and concentrates on a single mission, while introducing a handful of new giant robot characters and a couple of excellent humans as well. The new film also has a great new director in Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II) and a collection of period hip-hop tracks that will have you singing along while you engage with scene after scene of quality action sequences.

Set in 1994 (seven years after Bumblebee), Rise of the Beasts introduces us to robot animal creatures known as Maximals, whose mission in life is to protect a sacred key that can open up portals to every corner of the universe, making it possible for a planet-eating/-sized villain named Unicron (voiced by Colman Domingo) to destroy as many worlds as he can reach. His primary harbinger is a deadly robot named Scourge (Peter Dinklage), who has devoted his existence to tracking down the Maximals and retrieving this key for his master.

Meanwhile on Earth, a young man named Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos, In the Heights), who is good with machines, is trying to keep his Brooklyn household together with the help of his hard-working mother (Luna Lauren Velez) and his little brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez), who is sickly and in desperate need of prolonged medical attention. While finally agreeing to a friend’s request to steal an expensive car for the money, Noah accidentally ends up stealing a Transformer named Mirage (a smart-mouthed Porsche voiced by Pete Davidson), who is called to action by Transformer OG Autobot Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). Reluctantly, the Autobots ask Noah to help them steal the key from a local museum, just as would-be archeologist Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback, Judas and the Black Messiah) is examining a found artifact that was housing/hiding the key. But Scourge and his soldiers (I believe known collectively as Terrorcons) find them and manage to get the key themselves, although it turns out it’s only half the key, with the other half somewhere in South America with the Maximals, who have it safely hidden away—or so they think.

The Maximals include a giant robot ape called Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), a giant bird named Airazor (Michelle Yeoh), and other transforming animals with names like Nightbird, Rhinox, and Cheetor, among many others. Eventually, the Autobots and Maximals join forces to defeat Scourge, protect the second piece of the key, and stop Omicron from devouring the earth. What little I know about the extended Transformers universe is that fans have been waiting for the Maximals to show up in these movies for a very long time, and Rise of the Beasts is likely to make them very happy. The action sequences are well-staged, fairly easy to follow, and seem to have actual consequences and stakes. For most of this movie, the good guys are getting their asses handed to them, and it’s only by being smarter, sneakier, and using the skills of a human thief that the Autobots have a chance of saving the planet.

Of course some of the humor falls flat, some of the effects shots look almost cartoonish (which actually might more closely link this movie to the animated series than any of the other films do), and the motivation for Noah to finally save the day at the end of the film is beyond corny and didn’t move me in the slightest. The film also remembers what younger people can be like and how sometimes their emotions get the better of them, even when global decimation is on the line.

I’m always willing to give these movies a chance because it’s pretty clear that a weirdly high percentage of human beings actually like them (or at least the toys and animated series they’re based upon), but Rise of the Beasts is actually quite enjoyable. Bumblebee is still better, but that’s a high benchmark. Speaking of which, I don’t normally talk about post-credits scenes in my reviews, but there’s a mid-credits moment that I was positive was going to link back to the Bumblebee movie (Bumblebee does, in fact, appear in this movie, although he’s sidelined for quite a bit of it.) Instead, the scene in question gives us hope for a direct sequel to this movie and the possible combining of this franchise with another, more struggling, one, which I wasn’t expecting. It’s a nice stinger on a worthy entry in this Transformers franchise.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.