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'Transformers: Rise of the Beasts' review: More diverse cast, more fun that predecessors

Sep 05, 2023Sep 05, 2023

This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Anthony Ramos, left, and Dominique Fishback in a scene from "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts." Credit: AP/Jonathan Wenk

PLOT Two species of alien robots join forces to save the Earth.

CAST Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Pete Davidson

RATED PG-13 (some rough action)


WHERE Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE A new focus on diversity pumps a little life into a bogged-down franchise.

The Transformers finally got the memo.

You know, the memo — the one that's been circulating through Hollywood, delivering the shocking news that multiethnic audiences want to see themselves on screen. Disney moved on it fairly aggressively, breaking color barriers with Black princesses, Afro-Latino superheroes and Asian Star Warriors; other studios have been slower to respond. Take Paramount-Hasbro's "Transformer" series, about sentient cars that reassemble themselves into robots. It's no staunchly whiter than most franchises — although switching out original star Shia LaBeouf for Mark Wahlberg couldn't be called progress in any sense.

Now comes "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts," Movie No. 7 in the series. Gone is director Michael Bay, replaced by a rising Black talent, Steven Caple, Jr. ("Creed II"). Gone is Wahlberg, replaced by Anthony Ramos ("In the Heights") as a Puerto Rican Brooklynite named Noah Diaz. Though "Rise of the Beasts" is set in long-ago 1994 and peppered with classic rap tracks (and quaint tech — check out that De La Soul cassette), it feels much more "now" than its predecessors.

It's also more fun — something that was missing from installments with grim subtitles like "Dark of the Moon" and "Age of Extinction." This one at least features a "Rise," and it refers to a species of animal machines called Maximals — they have names like Rhinox and Cheetor — who step up to save humanity. Kudos to the animators behind these CGI beasts: The curved ape nostrils that flare mechanically are a nice touch, and there's a peregrine robo-falcon named Airazor (Michelle Yeoh) who actually brings a touch of pathos to Act III.

That said, this is still a "Transformers" movie — louder than a 747 at full speed and about as emotionally involving. Dominique Fishback plays Elena Wallace, an intern at the Ellis Island archaeology museum (bogus New York alert!), but don't expect any romance with Noah; these movies generally eschew the mushy stuff to make room for wide-eyed kiddies like Noah's ailing little brother, Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez). There's a new villain named Scourge (the voice of Peter Dinklage), a new thingamabob to chase (the key to a portal that will blah blah blah), and a new sidekick named Mirage, a Porsche played by a wisecracking Pete Davidson. As always, voice actor Peter Cullen somehow manages to give Optimus Prime, a shiny red big rig, the gravitas of Zeus.

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All told, then, not much to engage your brain but a victory for representation on screen — even if New York City is occasionally played by Montreal.


Here's what other critics said about "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts":

These Hasbro action figures, and their on-screen incarnations, are capable of reducing even the most mature, jaded adult into an awe-struck child who just wants to get down on the floor and play with them. — The Hollywood Reporter

No Michael Bay. No Mark Wahlberg. No oppressive bombast. — Seattle Times

It's got a relatable human story that works, and thanks to a script that actually has sustained bursts of dialogue, the robots felt more real to me as characters than they usually do. — Variety

This is a beast that needs to be put down. — Tribune News Service

Tries but fails to energize the saga — Associated Press

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