Transformers: Rise of Questions

I have a confession to make: I watched "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" last night.

(I know. Arcee is shocked too. That, by the way, is the full range of emotional intensity conveyed in the movie.)

In my defense, I wasn't planning on it. I happened to be on a screener portal, and that was one of the movies available to view for free before the award season wraps. So, through a combination of inertia and late-night laziness, I decided to give it a try.

It would be far too easy to criticize it. It's not even a low-hanging fruit. It's fruit that has already fallen off the tree and rolled under my boot. All I have to do is put my foot down, and all the meaty pulp will go squirting in every direction.

But, as I read in a social media post1 recently, one should strive to critique the product not for what it fails to do, but for what it tries to do. So with that in mind, I'd like to offer a review praising the strengths of the latest movie in the Transformers franchise.

  • For being a "Transformers" movie, it does a remarkably good job catering to the niche market of viewers who don't like Transformers. If you happened to dally at the concession stand and missed the first ten minutes, you would be treated to a solid forty minutes of a movie that has absolutely no shape-shifting mechanical creatures in sight, free to enjoy a simple human-driven drama about two ordinary New Yorker POCs who struggle to find purpose, both in their lives and in the movie itself.

    (Even a superpowered flashlight won't help you find it, kid.)

  • Though released in 2023, "Transformers" takes place in 1994, and the movie's writers have fully embraced the era. The writing, the script, and the dialogue all feel less like something from our century and more like an homage to the 80s Saturday morning cartoons: 
    • Autobots speak with unapologetically ethnic accents and mannerisms, no doubt evoking the multicultural environment in which they naturalized upon arrival to New York City. They even notably comment on their lack of accents when confronted by our unenlightened human protagonist. The multiculturalism is further underscored by the fact that our heroes travel to Peru and briefly partake in a local ethnic festival--before they proceed to rip apart the lush countryside.
    • The villains' sole purpose is to be unapologetically evil. Unicron, the main bad guy, is a gargantuan floating entity that likes to snack on planets, preferably ones with sentient life on them (because presumably large chunks of rock taste better when seasoned with genocide?) His henchmen do all they can to enable their master's strange tastes. At no point are any of them burdened down by backstory, rationalization, or similar modern-day attempts to shore up empathy.
    • The numerous VFX transformations are blissfully divorced from conservation of mass, energy, volume, or any other grounding in physics.
    • Shameless commercial tie-ins (yes, I'm looking at you, G.I. Joe).
  • The hard-working animators and character designers have spared no effort in studying animal movement, and have gone to incredible lengths to recreate the life-like behaviors of animals such as cheetas, gorillas, and eagles on mechanical alien creatures that have no reason to move or otherwise emulate millions of years of evolution of our organic muscle-driven flesh. Furthermore, at one point during the movie's climax, the Maximals demonstrate working knowledge of evolution by transforming into unarmed humanoids, which presumably grants them better fighting abilities than the claws, horns, tails, and sheer bulk of their animal forms? The purpose of that particular transformation remains unclear, as they fail to acquire any useful tools and are summarily wiped out by Unicron's minions.

  • The review would be remiss without mentioning the richness of sound design. Indeed, the constant skittering, screeching, and high-pitched shrieking noises made by the evil Terrorcons evoke a night in the wilderness of the Amazon rather than a highly-advanced mechanical murder machine prowling through an Ellis Island museum. Take note, Terminator: you should've made more insectoid slurping noises when you were tearing through the police station.
  • Finally, despite being rooted in 1994 society, the movie injects its world with a sense of unfailing optimism. Nothing illustrates this better than the conversations between the protagonist, Noah, and his younger brother Kris. Kris uses Sonic and Tails as his "covert" nicknames for the two of them; but he also talks about how he's struggling to beat Bowser while bedridden due to his illness. The socioeconomic implication is clear: that a single working Hispanic mother in Queens, laden with unpaid bills from her son's medical treatments, is nonetheless able to afford both a Sega and a Nintendo gaming console system in an era marked by sharp partisan polarization along platform lines. 

So there you have it: the numerous positive qualities that "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts" brings to the franchise. I have tried my best to avoid spoilers in case you wish to indulge yourself, after reading this gushing review, of the joys of staring at the screen while the movie plays in the background.

Are there any other positive qualities I missed? Leave your opinions at the link below!


1 Social media post credited to emeryleewho; original platform unknown.