The Transformers have had a long and somewhat grueling theatrical run since the first Michael Bay-directed film arrived in theaters back in 2007. Over the last 16 years there have been six live-action Transformers films, but following Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 2011, each subsequent entry in the franchise has grossed less and less. Now, Paramount has switched gears by including the Maximals in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, but is it enough to breathe new life into the franchise? The short answer is simply, no.
Looking at the box office decline of the Transformers franchise, it’s almost as if mindless action isn’t enough to keep audiences entertained. Given the fact there are a number of Transformers fans who are now in their 40s, it would seem logical that audiences want these movies to adhere more to the source material, and include plots that make sense to anyone over the age of 10. Paramount went against this line of thought with Star Trek and GI Joe, and the company continues to make these same mistakes with the Transformers.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts takes some aspects of the 1986 animated film, and combines them poorly with the Beast Wars cartoon series. The film takes place mostly in 1994, before any of the Bayformers films. However, while Bumblebee was pitched as a prequel movie, it was really more of a reboot, with Rise of the Beasts serving as the second film in the rebooted franchise.
Unicron (Colman Domingo) is the looming villain in the background throughout most of the film. However, despite the obvious parallels to the animated movie, where Unicron was one of the biggest threats the Autobots had ever faced, he’s merely a side character in Rise of the Beasts. He has a handful of lines, and never really poses enough of a threat for the audience to care.
Stepping up as the real main villain is Scourge (Peter Dinklage). While only a minor side character in the 1986 film, he’s been promoted in Rise of the Beasts. Unfortunately, all of his uniqueness has been stripped, and he comes off as a budget Megatron. Speaking of which, Megatron played a significant role in the 80s film, with Unicron giving him a new body and evolving the character into Galvatron. Scourge in Rise of the Beasts is a mere afterthought when compared to Galvatron in the animated film.
Even if we leave the far superior animated film aside, the Bayformers take on Megatron was more threatening and ominous than anything Scourge did in Rise of the Beasts. With two lackluster villains, there was never any real danger. Even some of the more interesting plot developments were downplayed due to a lack of real gravitas. Sure, the world is in danger, and the universe will be next, but just saying a few lines of dialogue claiming such things isn’t going to make it seem like more of a threat. By the end of the film, there was clearly no weight behind those words.
Peter Cullen steps in once again as the voice of Optimus Prime, but even the legendary leader of the Autobots feels like a one-note, bland hero in Rise of the Beasts. Pete Davidson adds some levity as Mirage, in easily one of his best roles in years, but it’s not enough to propel Rise of the Beasts to anything above mediocrity. The same goes for Michelle Yeoh as Airazor. While not her best role, she did admirably with the generic dialogue she was given. And for a movie called Rise of the Beasts, some of the Maximals didn’t even have dialogue.
G1 Transformers fans shouldn’t even bother showing up. Mirage is a Porsche instead of an F1 vehicle, which wouldn’t be a terrible change, except that Jazz is also a Porsche. Why make Mirage the same vehicle as Jazz when there are a near infinite number of sports cars to choose from? Even worse is Wheeljack, who was actually seen in the Cybertron scenes during Bumblebee in his proper G1 portrayal, but somehow gets a Peruvian accent in Rise of the Beasts, transforming into a VW Bus instead of his proper sports car appearance.
It’s one thing to change vehicles for licensing and monetary reasons. With all the Autobots Paramount has to choose from, there’s really no good reason to make new ones either. But when the changes are so drastic a character becomes unrecognizable to fans, that’s a huge problem. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that Paramount has supported throughout the entire run of live-action Transformers films.
None of these issues are helped by the fact that Rise of the Beasts has five different writing credits, most of which are from writers with a lackluster history, and low box office returns. The bottom line is that Paramount is either unwilling or unable to produce a Transformers film that respects the franchise. Remove Peter Cullen, and this would be Transformers in name only. Until that changes, none of these movies will be worth anyone’s time, and the box office returns will continue to come in well below expectations.
About Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
Synopsis: During the ’90s, a new faction of Transformers – the Maximals – join the Autobots as allies in the battle for Earth.
Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Writers: Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber
Stars: Peter Dinklage, Pete Davidson, Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Peter Cullen
Runtime: 2 Hours, 7 Minutes
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.