Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts sinks to some pretty familiar lows

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Travis Knight restored the long-lost spark to the Transformers franchise with BUMBLEBEE, erasing the excremental excesses of the Michael Bay era and starting the story afresh by paring it back to a very human-centred story featuring shapeshifting robots from outer space. While we remain in that explicitly retconned continuity for TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS, everything old is new again as we’re dragged back to the era of paper-thin human characters oscillating between over-earnest kitchen sink drama and glorified military porn.

When Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) attempts to steal a seemingly abandoned Porsche, he’s surprised to discover it’s actually Mirage, one of a handful of Autobots currently on Earth, all of whom are searching for the Transwarp Key, an ancient space artefact discovered by research assistant Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) that will allow them to open a portal to travel home to Cybertron. The only problem is the Autobots aren’t the only ones searching for the Transwarp Key – Scourge and his Terrocons are also searching for it, in order to bring his ravenous master Unicron to Earth from the lifeless galaxy where he was trapped by the Maximals many years before.

The introduction of the Maximals is the latest in a long line of clumsy lore plundering by a film series that still hasn’t really managed to get the basics right beyond the aforementioned BUMBLEBEE and because there’s no care taken to keep the lore cohesive, it all just becomes a jumbled mess which is, actually, quite the achievement when this is only the second film in the new continuity. The selection of Transformers assembled is so arbitrary that it resembles nothing so much as a toddler let loose in their old sibling’s retro toy collection and bashing things together with no regard for character, context or canon.

Over the years, the Transformers movies have brought us many an Optimus Prime, but rarely has he been such a whiny bitch as he is in this movie – except for when he’s being a moribund, guilt-ridden misanthrope. We’re as far away from the glorious character of comics and cartoons and it feels almost cruel to make Peter Cullen participate in the callous assassination of one of his greatest roles. Then again, at least Prime gets a personality – albeit a repellant one – because most of the other Transformers have nothing going for them but their trademark Michael Bay racial stereotypes.

The human characters fare little better, with Anthony Ramos weighed down by a poorly articulated back story and an unnecessary and, at this point, deeply clichéd subplot involving illness and America’s perennial go-to for character motivation: medical bills. Still, he fares better than Dominique Fishback, who’s introduced as hugely talented archaeologist intern with little in the way of character detail beyond that definition which would fit on the front of a GI: JOE action figure package (wink wink).

The plot of this overlong movie (it clocks in at just over two hours but feels like three) is largely a chase-the-MacGuffin travelogue which takes the action from New York to South America without really showcasing much of either (well, there are the many, many, many gratuitous shots of the World Trade Centre to hammer home the fact that it’s the nineties) and unfortunately, the plot is too often prolonged not by the villains’ excessive power levels but by our heroes’ repeated staggering ineptitude. No sooner has Optimus Prime pronounced that ‘something’ must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to happen than that very thing is not only allowed to happen but almost caused by something the Autobots do or fail to do.

Sad to say, Peruvian fantasy archaeology hasn’t been this disappointingly executed since Harrison Ford tried to lose Shia LeBeouf in that ancient Aztec burial ground. And INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL is far from the only pop culture touchstone this movie gets its grubby pawprints (tyre prints?) all over, with JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM getting an extended homage and other movies literally being mentioned by characters as they plunder them for ideas.

The finale brings us back to the over-complicated transformations and endless, eye-numbing wall-to-wall CGI spectacles of various shiny polygons smashing and crashing into each other while a massive glowy thing blasts into the sky. Logic is suspended and the entire driving purpose of the heroes’ quest – that is the quest they adopted after their first couple of quests failed miserably – is rendered moot because it turns out the bad thing can just be blown up after all, much the same way TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS destroys any goodwill BUMBLEE had created.

Tranformers Rise Of The Beasts Poster
Score 4

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