The one thing the live-action Transformers films are never short on is spectacle. Ever since Michael Bay initially turned the keys that ignited the engines of this blockbuster franchise 16 years ago, audiences have been bombarded with alien robot mayhem.
Considering all the elaborate battles and general destruction that occur in each film, it is hard to believe that anyone would complain about not having enough explosions. I can see debating the lack of substance or, more accurately, lamenting the ridiculously convoluted plots. Let us not forget that Transformers: The Last Knight featured an arc that referenced Harriet Tubman working with a covert order to keep the presence of Transformers on Earth a secret. HARRIET TUBMAN!!!
One would assume if Tubman were friends with Transformers, they would have played a bigger role in the abolition of slavery, but I guess they were busy trying to fill Energon cubes or something. But I digress…
Back to the complaints.
In the “Human Affair“ feature on the Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Blu-ray, the latest instalment of the decade-spanning franchise, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura notes that the major complaint they heard from the fanbase about the previous film, the 2018’s spin-off Bumblebee, was that it was too intimate. While fans enjoyed the film they missed all the explosions.
To those fans, I will simply channel my inner Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) from Magnolia and judge you silently.
As someone who loved Bumblebee, it is the best live-action Transformers film, I thought it had the perfect balance of heart and action. The bond between Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and the titular Autobot added real stakes to the action beats. It was the only Transformers film up to that point that truly felt like it was made by people that grew up playing with the toys, rather than simply trying to sell new ones.
There is no denying that the idea of robots turning into cars, jets, and a microcassette deck that spits outs out a cassette tape that transforms into robot dog, is extremely cool, however, it was the human element that made the original cartoons a hit. Kids got to imagine themselves as Spike Witwicky, while watching him and the Autobots save the world from those pesky Decepticons.
As a person who grew up experiencing all things Transformers, the first film I ever saw in theatres was the 1986 animated The Transformers: The Movie, simply seeing explosions and the flurry of metal clanking together on the big screen was never enough to get my motor running.
While Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (read Victor’s review) does not quite balance the emotion and spectacle as well as Bumblebee, it offers an admirable attempt. The film takes its time establishing the plights of out of work ex-military electronics expert Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos), whose brother desperately needs treatment for his sickle cell disease, and artifacts researcher and museum intern Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback). Setting the film in 1994 Brooklyn, the soundtrack is full of iconic hip hop bangers, director Steven Caple Jr. both plays with stereotypes and breaks them with how he introduces and evolves his human characters.
Rather than linger on familiar societal tropes, Caple Jr. wastes no time in giving the human characters the bulk of the heavy lifting. While Optimus Prime wallows in the burden of uncertainty most leaders face, it is the Noah and Elena who must risk their lives exploring hidden tunnels and deciphering symbols to find the Transwarp Key, a device that can open a portal through space and time.
While the addition of the Transwarp Key allows for plenty of fan service, such as the inclusion of the villainous Unicron, fan favourites The Maximals, and even an Exo-suit, it is the friendship between man and machine, most notably Noah and Mirage (Pete Davidson), that provide many of the film’s best moments.
It is those bonds, and not simply seeing vehicles turning into robots that makes Transformers: Rise of the Beasts one of the upper tier films in the franchise.
Yes, there are plenty of explosions and carnage to satisfy those who crave it. However, it is the intimate human elements that remind us that the franchise can offer more than meets the eyes.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts hit Blu-ray October 10th, courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Bonus Features: Human Affairs, Heroes, The Chase, The Battle of Ellis Island, Into the Jungle, The Switchback Attack, The Final Conflict, Extended/Deleted Scenes
Get Physical is regular column featuring ramblings loosely inspired by the latest physical media releases.