Movie review: 'Transformers' repeats past mistakes, not successes

Optimus Primal (L) meets his namesake, Optimus Prime (R). Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
1 of 5 | Optimus Primal (L) meets his namesake, Optimus Prime (R). Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

LOS ANGELES, June 6 (UPI) -- Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, in theaters Friday, is not the worst entry in the series. However, it makes far less of an attempt to invigorate the series as the seventh entries in other long-running franchises.

A prologue introduces Unicron (voice of Colman Domingo), a robot so massive it eats planets. The robotic creatures of a lush planet, led by the robot gorilla Optimus Primal (voice of Ron Perlman), use the transwarp key to escape and keep the key out of Unicron's hands.


On Earth in 1994, museum intern Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) discovers the transwarp key hidden in an artifact. Meanwhile, unemployed Army veteran Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) steals a Porsche that turns out to be a Transformer in hiding, Mirage (voice of Pete Davidson).

After the events of Bumblebee, but separate from the five Michael Bay-directed Transformers films set in the present, the heroic Autobots have been hiding on Earth for seven years. The transwarp key could help them return to their planet, Cybertron.


But, Unicron sends Scourge (voice of Peter Dinklage) to find it, too. And yes, the robot beasts will be involved, as well.

Transformers were the ultimate two-in-one toys in the '80s. Robots that turned into cars meant you could play with either.

Like He-Man and other toy lines, Transformers had a successful afternoon cartoon. The chance to see live-action Transformers seemed impossible until visual effects technology made the 2007 movie a reality.

The novelty of seeing real cars transform into robots has worn off by the seventh movie. Some of the other entries have kept up with interesting set pieces or stories, but Rise of the Beasts struggles to even make the basics work.

The friendship between a human and a Transformer has been the only thing that humanized the good films in the series. Noah and Mirage never really develop a relationship.

Mirage and Noah have few scenes together, and what they do share is all sarcasm and bravado, like two bros afraid of showing their feelings. It feels like scenes of Noah and Mirage actually bonding were deleted, though it's entirely possible they never were created.

Noah has an 11-year-old brother, Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez), with sickle cell anemia. Kris is only there to give Noah someone to fight for. Kris has nothing to do in the movie after serving his plot function.


Revealing Optimus Prime's (voice of Peter Cullen) transformation in the space between parked buses is a good introduction, but the leader of the Autobots is not acting like himself in this movie. Prime's distrust of humans is weird.

Prime always was the one who saw the good in humans despite their hostility. Even if this is the story of how Prime learned to trust humans, it's not worth making the best Transformer so obstinate.

Although the film takes the action to Peru and stars Latino leads, it includes some oddly tone-deaf racial jokes. There is a Peruvian robot who speaks English with a Spanish accent.

That robot also calls Noah racist for assuming he spoke Spanish. Having a broken English animated robot accuse the actual Latino actor of racism is as bad as some of the earlier films imbuing robots with racial stereotypes.

In addition to the technological hurdles, the Transformers movies also had to prove they were more than just toy commercials. Though the film's robot beasts already exist as toys and animated characters, Rise of the Beasts really makes blatant their capitalist purpose.

Optimus Primal is the leader of the Maximals, those robots in the shape of Earth mammals. Primal and Airazor (voice of Michelle Yeoh), an eagle, are the only two Maximals who get significant screen time, while the others appear only enough to justify merchandising.


The action of Rise of the Beasts is coherent, which is an improvement over some entries, though not enough to match others. Robots hit, slam and shoot lasers at each other, and you can see who's attacking who.

Since they're giants, they can use statues as weapons. A car chase becomes a robot brawl, but it's no more than serviceable.

For a franchise that has outlived several generations of children, the Transformers movies appear to be running out of inspiration. Despite a roster of characters with deep mythology, Rise of the Beasts struggles to give any of them a narrative purpose.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback attend 'Transformers: Rise of the Beasts' premiere in NYC

Stars Anthony Ramos (R) and Luna Lauren Velez arrive on the red carpet at Paramount's "Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts" premiere in New York City on June 5, 2023. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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