Ever since I saw Transformers The Movie back in 1986, my love for Unicron only grew! To learn that he’s the big threat in Rise of the Beasts only got me excited, and since I knew this ancient threat is tough to take down, some new warriors must be borne!
In the original, various Cybertronian factions worked together to sever this giant’s link to his robotic self. As a result, his spirit would always linger. His head looms over Cybertron as a reminder of how he simply lays sleeping. To bring some of that omnipresence in Rise of the Beasts is a highlight and Steven Caple Jr. certainly delivers what we both adored from the animated film!
However, to show just how nasty this intergalactic level threat truly is can be tough. Short of using artificial intelligence to bring Orson Welles’ voice back, Colman Domingo has big shoes to fill! What’s presented is very satisfactory. But to show why he matters to the Maximals, the new robot guardians of the peace, is part-way explained, even though it breaks the original canon.
Although their story is different from the Mainframe Entertainment (now known as Rainmaker) series from long ago, I’m saddened that the producers didn’t consider hiring the original talents (they’re still active). Just whom they got to replace Optimus Primal is great, but I’m sure Gary Chalk has some choice words. Who would’ve thought Ron Perlman aka Hellboy can be equally scary and poetic? Not only are most of that cast recreated in glorious modern CGI fidelity, but also to see them roar is classic Kong.
Even Cheetor (voiced by Tongayi Chirisa) looks and sounds terrific, despite not having enough screen time. And as for Airazor (Michelle Yeoh), the character design and performance steals the show! As much as I love Rattrap in animated form, he would not have worked in live-action. The same can be said for Waspinator. Any ounce of humour would have weakened this presentation. The spotlight Autobot, Mirage (Pete Davidson) comes dangerously close, and I kept on wondering why remove his rocket launcher/holo-emitter?
As for the humans, the figurative and blood bond shown between brothers helps keep Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) motivated to help the Autobots. It’s not because he accidentally fell into the situation, but instead, he needs to learn about what it takes to be a team player and to have him join the fight is one way to learn! Sadly, there’s not enough to Elena (Dominique Fishback)’s story to make it stand out. Had that been played up, there’d be more of an Indiana Jones style narrative going on.
As for why the Terrorcons matter, much of their origin is retconned. Scourge was a commander of his own faction, and just where they are in this film is invisible! His vehicle mode is rather unusual too, because in the cartoon, he’s a futuristic plane, not a black Peterbilt 359 logging semi truck. Although most fans know the movies don’t have to adhere to toy lines or first animated series, I wondered if the alt mode was intentional to foreshadow the return of Nemesis Prime.
My only real criticism concerns Wheeljack. In the G1 cartoons, he was a scientist, and in Transformers Prime, a soldier. The alteration from what’s previously known and turning him Hispanic was grating; it felt like a change Michael Bay than Hasbro forced, since the narrative concerned taking the adventure to Peru and needed a mech attuned to “local flavour.” His original design would’ve worked, since he sort of looked like a masked ancient warrior.
Even the Terrorcons and Predacon have their connections to local lore, had they visited Earth in the past. Since Unicron wants to conquer all of time and space, he’ll need these agents to do the work for him until the Transwarp Key is found! Perhaps those horns seen in the 2017 film were remnants of what got cut when the portal was closed in 1994. Alternatively, it’s possible to theorise that other agents of this overlord are trapped on Earth. Between films, they might have built a conduit, a mini version of their boss, so that he can inhabit this form. This theory makes sense when considering past origin story and why, in The Last Knight, Quintessa is adamant in draining his life force to awaken Cybertron. He did manage a foothold to being remade, but the transformation was incomplete.
While it’s great that the prequel films deliver the action and fun from the toons to the live-screen, eventually the narrative will have to resume where the story set in today left off. Fans can cringe, or be hopeful about the talents involved and can correct all that past writing teams got wrong. Even though the last film is a “soft reboot” even though they predate the Bay films, it still uses the robot designs agreed upon when news of a live-action series would be developed. Thus, to not continue where that fifth film left off will have continuity analysts wondering how it all gels.
3½ Stars out of 5