Review: Latest ‘Transformers’ movie is a solid reboot to a stale franchise

(Paramount Pictures)

Expectations are often hard animals to tame as a movie fan in this day and age. There is so much information available about all films today — particularly the summer blockbusters — that you can often feel like you seen the movie before it ever opens in theaters.

Wrongly that was my attitude going into “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” and admittedly my expectations were relatively low for this beast of a summer movie, despite enjoying the previous movie in the franchise, “Bumblebee,” (2018) quite a bit.

My experience with “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” was surprisingly good. Director Steven Caple Jr. crafted a solid sci-fi action picture that breathes new life into a franchise that wore out its welcome years ago in the hands of Micheal Bay.

The movie, set in the 1990s, acts as a sequel to “Bumblebee” and possibly a prequel to Bay’s six “Transformers” films. I say possibly because if this movie proves to be a hit, Paramount could move forward with a new continuity that basically ignores Bay’s films.

The franchise’s premise is derived from Hasbro’s line of action toys that were highly popular in the 1980s and early 1990s that includes the Beast War figures that play a big part in this movie.

Transformers, of course, are a race of sentient robots from outer space that can morph into the shape of vehicles of all sorts. The battle between the noble Autocons and the wicked Terrorcons spills over to Earth as the evil Unicron (voiced by Colman Domingo) seeks to destroy a subspecies of Transformers known as the Maximals.

Why does Unicron want to destroy the Maximals, robots which mimic the forms of animals from the Beast Wars toy line?

They possess the Transwarp Key, a grand piece of technology that can open portals through space and time. Unicron sees as key to his conquest of the universe. Unicorn deploys Scourge (voiced by Peter Dinklage) and his cronies to attempt to destroy the Maximals and take the Transwarp Key.

If you are a fan of Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” or the DC Comics series “The New Gods,” you will notice quite a few similarities in plot, concepts, and design on a basic level.

In the ensuing battle, some Maximals, led by Apelinq (voiced by David Sobolov) and later Optimus Primal (voiced by Ron Pearlman), escape to Earth where they link up with the Autobots and a couple of humans — former military electronics expert Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) and Elena Wallace (Dominque Fishback), a computer whiz, who works as an artifact researcher at a museum.

The Autobots are led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and we are introduced to Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson), an autobot spy who can project holograms and can morph into a Porsche 964 Carrera.

(Paramount Pictures)

Ramos and Fishback do yeoman’s work as the human links in what is at its core a dynamic war story. Their performances gave the film enough heart to make me care and buy into all the outrageous shenanigans, which Bay’s Transformers movies failed to do past the second film.

Credit Caple (Creed II) and his deft direction for ground the movie just enough for me to buy into it. The film has five credited screenwriters, which usually isn’t a good sign, but the characters were engaging enough to keep my mind from wandering. The pacing on the film is solid. It doesn’t drag much, even with a number exposition dumps.

Enrique Chediak also deserves credit for his cinematography, which makes all the action decipherable, thus solving one of the major problems with several of Bay’s films in the franchise.

Like many big blockbusters of late, the film’s CGI is spotty here and there. One could argue there is too much going on in the climactic battle, and the visuals get very grey, soft, and mushy. However, the humanity provided by Fishback and Ramos’ performances keeps the film watchable.

The movie does have end credit scenes that set the table for future installments.

There are better options than “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” in theaters now. I’d rate “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” and “The Little Mermaid” as more entertaining, but if you are a Transformers fan or have seen those other three, “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” isn’t terrible. It’s fun popcorn fare.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 7 min.
Grade: B-

New in Local Theaters – June 9, 2023

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (PG-13) 2 hr. 7 min. (trailer)(AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Malco Towne, Skylight)

Classic Corner – The Kid Who Would Be King

Louis Ashbourne Serkis and Dean Chaumoo in The Kid Who Would Be King (Twentieth Century Fox)

While I admit it’s dodgy to classify a movie that’s just four years old a true classic, I have a soft spot in my heart for “The Kid Who Would Be King,” and with a rainy weekend forecasted, it might make a fun movie night for the family.

The movie is an earnest but fun reimagining of the King Arthur legend in modern England, but with a twist. This time the kids are running the castle.

Most tellings of the Arthurian legends speak of a time when King Arthur and the valiant knights of the round table will rise to safeguard England once again during its direst need.

Writer-Director Joe Cornish’s latest film tells this tale, only the re-incarnated Arthur, named Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and his knights are all middle-school-aged kids when the magical sword Excalibur is yanked from the stone.

Alex is a kind and courageous every-boy, who looks after his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) and attempts to see the good in bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kay (Rhianna Doris) when he needs some muscle for the impending battle.

With Excalibur in the proper hands, the evil witch Morgan le Fey (Rebecca Ferguson) — Arthur’s twisted half sister — and her demonic knights are awakened from their slumber beneath “the land” and begin their quest to retrieve Excalibur, whose bearer is considered the rightful ruler of England.

A zany teen-aged, Led Zeppelin T-shirt-wearing Merlin (Angus Imrie) also appears to lend guidance to young Alex on his quest to not only save himself and his friends but also all of England. Merlin uses quirky hand gestures to summon his magic that might remind some of the “Hand Jive.”

Merlin is a teen now because he lives backwards through time, but he also appears in his elder state at times with Patrick Stewart taking over the role.

Incidentally one of Stewart’s earliest film roles was as a knight in John Boorman’s 1981 classic Arthurian retelling “Excalibur,” which is decidedly not a kids movie, but one well worth watching at the proper age.

While not quite as entertaining as the 1980s films like “The Goonies” or “Monster Squad,” which clearly inspired Cornish, “The Kid Who Would Be King” is a good time and a solid introduction of King Arthur lore to kids.

It’s message of unity, friendship, and courage while standing in opposition to hate, ignorance, and evil is a noble one for any age.

The movie is streaming on Disney + and YouTube.