Transformers: Rise and the Beasts is the seventh installment in a long-running live action Transformers franchise that began with Michael Bay’s Transformers in 2007. Bay’s signature style has been unaffectionately named Bayhem (Bay + Mayhem), and no better examples in Bay’s filmography than the five Transformers films from 2007-2017 highlight the limits of Bay’s talents. The action sequences are chaotically incomprehensible with shifting aspect ratios and loud colorful monstrosities spray-painting the frame, the jokes are sophomoric and childish, and the camera is leering and objectifying. Much has already been made of Bay’s shots of Megan Fox bending over a broken car and a character carrying around the age of consent laws in Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014).
Bay’s influence colored the franchise until Bumblebee (2018), which attempted to be a more human story. The plot was basically ET: The Extraterrestrial (1983) but with a robot alien Transformer. After Bumblebee disappointed at the box office, the latest release, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, attempts to combine the two styles. Moments are like Bumblebee with a human story and character interactions that go beyond the plot-heavy chaos of Bay’s films, and there is the signature Bayhem action that populates the trailer.
Steven Caple Jr. directs, and he is in the impossible position of navigating the two styles. Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback are the two main human characters. Ramos plays a tech wiz who needs money to care for his ill brother (Dean Scott Vazquez), and Fishback plays an archeologist who can find the film’s MacGuffin, a key that will return the Autobots to their home or bring Unicron, Transformers’ planet-eating villain, to Earth.
If we divide the film into its Bumblebee-lite, character-driven aspects and its Bayhem aspects, it’s hard to find anything worth recommending. Ramos and Fishback do their best to inject some humanity into their scenes, but they’re given very little to work with. The characters fall flat and fail to jump off the screen. They have surface motivations, and the brief conflict between the humans and the Autobots does not take any risks.
Most of the dialogue is simply terrible. Here are actual lines from the film’s battle sequences:
“You’re going to die on this speck of dust.”
“I can think of no better place to bury you.”
“Stand down. I won’t ask a second time.”
Nineties video games had better dialogue than the cliched nonsense that some A-list voice talent, including Michelle Yeoh, Peter Dinklage, Pete Davidson, and Ron Perlman, is made to say.
In typical Bayhem fashion, many shots are low-angles of tough guys posing and incomprehensible banging and smashing of robot aliens fighting a disposable CGI army. Some sections are just sprays of colors and very loud noises.
To give an impression of the film’s attention to detail, one scene involves a Transformer standing on a car in order to see through a window. He then crushes the car. Later, in the same scene, the same Transformer is having a face-to-face, eye-level conversation with the characters now positioned on the fire escape just outside the window. Apparently, the Transformer grew or the building shrunk between cuts.
There is a degree to which the audience expects this kind of action sequences and dialogue, and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts may satisfy those expectations, but ultimately, this film is a step back from Bumblebee and perhaps a grim sign of what’s to come from this franchise.