Faint praise alert! There is nothing truly hateful about Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts. It is an affable enough splurge of metallic VFX, speed-ramping action and sub-bassy sound design (whob-whob-whob-whob), with an appealing and very welcome human element in the form of Dominique Fishback (Judas And The Black Messiah) and Anthony Ramos (In The Heights) as a pair of glowy MacGuffin chasers. Not to mention a soundtrack bumping with ’90s hip hop. But — and it’s a sadly predictable “but” — this latest instalment in the Transformers autoverse (our word, not theirs) is, frankly, logically negligent.
On plot terms alone, this sequel/prequel is packed with noggin-scratchers. Such as: why do the Maximals, these giant robo-animal-things lifted from a late-’90s toy line and kids’ toon, have fur and feathers poking out between their metal bits? And if they’re from another planet, why do they bother looking like Earth animals? Even on Earth, it isn’t much of a disguise. How would a gorilla ever mistake the Mighty Joe Young-sized, steel-faced Optimus Primal — yes, that is his actual name and not a typo — for a potential mate? And another thing: if the Autobots have only been on Earth for seven years at this point, why is one of them (Stratosphere, voiced by John DiMaggio, aka Futurama’s Bender) a rusty old World War II cargo plane?
Don’t even get us started on its flagrant and clumsy attempt to set up a Hasbro Cinematic Universe.
Then there’s the logic lapses that careen into sheer gaffe. One key scene shows the Autobot Mirage (Pete Davidson) stepping onto the roof of a car to peer into a window, before noisily crushing the vehicle. Having recently shown him capable of expanding his form into a garbage truck (he’s usually a Porsche), why can’t he just transforminate some longer legs? Even worse, one scene later he’s suddenly tall enough to have a face-to-face conversation with people standing on the same window’s fire escape. It’s shoddy stuff.
Given the movie’s set about 13 years before the events of the first Transformers and features a few of its main players (Optimus Prime! Bumblebee!), it critically lacks jeopardy, too. Characters are as likely to stay dead as someone from the Fast & Furious family.
Still, if you try not to think about all that, and are willing to put up with talk of “Terrorcons” and “energon”, there is some baseline fun to be had. The script has the occasional solid gag, such as an in-joke about future (in the film’s chronology) ’formers star Mark Wahlberg; plus the line, “You’ve been inside me!” The call-backs to the 1986 animated movie (Unicron! Scourge! Arcee!) may be welcome to older-model Transformifans, but as Rise Of The Beasts climaxes with a battle that shamelessly borrows beats from Avengers: Infinity War — switching Wakanda for Peru (including a curiously tourist-free Machu Picchu) — it evokes déjà vu rather than nostalgia. And don’t even get us started on its flagrant and clumsy attempt to set up a Hasbro Cinematic Universe. When toys collide…