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The big news of the new Transformers film (not a line I imagined writing while in journalism school) is that this seventh installment features the Maximals’ first appearance on the big screen. Whether or not this information means anything to you will determine if you are your target audience Transformers: Rise of the Beastsa de facto sequel to 2018’s Bumblebee which features enough rock ’em, sock ’em robotic action to thrill the faithful while showcasing captivating performances from Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback as the token humans at hand.
The story begins in New York City circa 1994, providing plenty of opportunity for the soundtrack to include classic ’90s hip-hop cuts to complement Jongnic “JB” Bontemps’ thundering score. We are introduced to Noah (Ramos, In the heights), a former Army soldier and tech whiz who tries to make ends meet by setting up illegal cable boxes for his friends. Noah is in desperate need of money to support his hardworking mom (Luna Lauren Velez, Right) and to pay for the vast medical needs of his devoted little brother (Dean Scott Vazquez), who suffers from sickle cell disease.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
It hasn’t turned into anything original.
Release date: Friday 9 June
Launch: Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Luna Lauren Velez, Dean Scott Vazquez, Peter Cullen, Ron Perlman, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Yeoh, Liza Koshy, Pete Davidson, Colman Domingo
Director: Steven Caple Jr.
Screenwriters: Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber
Rated PG-13, 2 hours 7 minutes
The other big non-robot character is Elena (Fishback, Judas and the Black Messiah), a gifted researcher working at an archaeological museum on Ellis Island who attempts to uncover the lineage of a recently discovered ancient artifact resembling the Maltese falcon. He gets more than he bargained for when his late night examination of the piece virtually destroys it, revealing a mysterious object inside.
Meanwhile, Noah, during a failed attempt at petty crime, ends up hiding out in a Porsche 911 who is soon revealed to be Mirage (the ubiquitous Pete Davidson), an Autobot lying around the city along with his fellow Transformers, including Optimus Prime ( series stalwart and MVP Peter Cullen), Bumblebee and Arcee (Liza Koshy).
It turns out that the object Elena discovered is an interplanetary beacon capable of summoning the fearsome planet-sized Unicron (Colman Domingo), the leader of the Terrorcons who intend to destroy both the Autobot homeworld and Earth. Needless to say, it all leads to a huge amount of violent chaos as the Autobots team up with the Maximals to defeat the Terrorcons, who are led into battle by the short-tempered Scourge (Peter Dinklage). Noah and Elena also get caught up in the conflict, accompanying the Autobots to Peru to help save the world.
The Maximals, for the uninitiated, are derived from a syndicated animated television series that ran from 1996 to 1999, featuring Transformers taking animal forms. Fan-favorite robot beasts include Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), a gorilla; Airazor (Michelle Yeoh), a peregrine falcon; Rhinox (David Sobolov), which you can guess; and Cheetor (Tongayi Chirisa), ditto. This breed of Transformers sporting genuine looking fur, skin and wings is a nice contrast to the car brand we have become accustomed to.
The film takes great advantage of its locations, including New York City (and Montreal as its subtitle) and especially Peru, including the beautiful historic city of Cusco and the ruins of Machu Picchu, which have not received this kind of visibility since, well, pretty much everyone’s dating site profile.
Director Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II) approaches the plate nicely, with this massive production representing a major departure from the smaller-scale films he has previously helmed. (Of course, it helps to have Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg producing.) The many, many action sequences are spectacularly conceived and executed, including a car chase over the Williamsburg Bridge that is probably still holding up downtown traffic.
Let’s face it, watching those Transformers to commute themselves never age. These Hasbro action figures, and their on-screen incarnations, are capable of reducing even the most mature and jaded adult into a dumbfounded child who just wants to get down on the floor and play with them. Toward the end of the film, Ramos’ character becomes a Transformer himself, and you can practically hear the toy makers trying to figure out a way to get a home-made version in stores by the holiday season.
As for the story, well, that turns out to be less interesting, even if the five, count ’em, five writers attempt to invest the proceedings with genuine human emotion. While the subplot involving Noah’s younger brother battling illness seems like something even Pat O’Brien would have considered too corny in a 1930s melodrama, Noah and Elena’s growing friendship – fueled by their shared Brooklyn roots and from the desire to save the world without dying in the process – it actually turns out to be sweet. Ramos invests his performance with a dynamic enthusiasm that is sure to work for younger viewers, while Fishback, so impressive in the recent Prime Video series Swarmturns out to be equally recognizable.
The vocal talents are also impressive, with Perlman and Dinklage using their stentorian delivery to suitably commanding and Yeoh proving perfect as the Maximal falcon because, as everyone knows, he can actually fly in real life. The only misstep is Davidson as the wisecracking Mirage; the comic actor’s voice is recognizable in an absent-minded way as he delivers Marky Mark’s lines and moans like “Cojones muy grande!”
The film ends with a teaser suggesting that the Transformers the franchise will later be merged with another. No spoilers, but if you’re thinking corporate synergy, you wouldn’t be far off.