It’s hard to say if director Michael Bay was a blessing or a curse for the “Transformers” franchise. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle; after all, Bay was the first to bring the iconic toy franchise to the silver screen in the form of the 2007 live-action blockbuster.
For its time, it was a respectable film – not exactly food for the mind, but with cool effects and rampant explosions, it was entertaining enough.
The problem was, the subsequent movies showed Bay’s limitations as a filmmaker who’s good at making explosions happen… and that’s really it. Long-time fans were left wringing their hands as Bay subsequently made a string of mediocre movies, each more ridiculous than the last.
It got to the point that even Paramount Pictures realised the situation was no longer tenable, or profitable, and they proceeded to quietly start over. Hence, viewers were treated to “Bumblebee” in 2018, which swept the slate clean and was surprisingly good.
It certainly helped that Bay was no longer in the director’s seat, having been given a production credit instead. A promising start, no doubt, and with the sequel “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” now out in cinemas, one wonders if the franchise will continue to be on the mend.
Well, instead of wondering, perhaps one could do with a summary of the film – not that folks are as interested in the plot as they are in the spectacle of giant robots punching one another’s lights out.
In a galaxy far, far away, there were space wizards with laser swords… oh wait, wrong universe. This one has a planet-eating robot that wants to eat more planets, that’s all.
Travelling the galaxy in search of meals is difficult for a creature of Unicron’s girth, and he needs a sci-fi thingy called the Transwarp Key that opens portals to any point in the universe.
Problem is, the two halves of the key are on Earth. So, he sends his servant Scourge (voiced by Peter Dinklage) to retrieve them for him.
Of course, Earth is also the residence of Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and his gang of Autobots, who would like the key to return home to Cybertron.
Meanwhile, there’s a third group: the Maximals, led by the similarly named Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), who’d prefer their new home planet to remain off Unicron’s menu.
So, the race is on for the thingummybob, with the customary pair of humans, Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) and Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback), tagging along for the ride.
It’s not exactly the most riveting of storylines, but it certainly continues the tradition of the “Transformers” films coming up with some magical device that everyone must fight for.
At least the usual Bay features are thankfully missing – no American flag flying defiantly in the breeze, or blatant product placement, or disturbing sexualisation of female characters. It does feel strange watching a “Transformers” film that isn’t a two-hour-long US-army recruitment reel, though.
So, is “Rise of the Beasts” actually any good? One supposes the word “serviceable” best describes it. It isn’t amazing, but it doesn’t leave you all numb and dead inside like Bay’s previous efforts did, either.
This film is set in the ’90s, and portions of it do ooze with the vibes of the era – perhaps apt, given how the toys were everywhere then. There is at least some creative vision here, and director Steve Caple Jr deserves credit for that.
Another selling point is that the focus is less on the humans and more on the robots themselves. Who watches these films for the puny humans, anyway? That said, it’s notable that Diaz and Wallace aren’t annoying, for the most part, compared with previous human characters.
Oh, and a gold star has to be awarded for Michelle Yeoh’s role of Airazor, a Maximal that resembles an eagle. It is always nice to hear her dignified voice in any media, whether it’s an Oscar-winning film or in a silly action flick with squabbling robots.
On the topic of voice performances, everyone brings their A-game here. Perlman’s performance, in particular, oozes with masculinity befitting a gorilla-esque bot of Primal stature; while Peter Cullen, who has been voicing Optimus Prime for decades now, is always ready to give an epic speech about good and evil at the drop of a hat.
All in all, whether you are a long-time fan of the franchise or just a casual moviegoer, “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” is worth an afternoon with popcorn bucket in hand.
As of press time, ‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ is playing in cinemas nationwide.