After the mixed-to-negative reactions to Michael Bay’s Transformers movie series and the more positive responses to Bumblebee, the robots in disguise are back and have their name in the title once again. People who despise Michael Bay and his take on battling robots can sigh relief because he is only a producer on this newest feature. However, that is not to say that this new film is exceptional or even at the same level of goodness that Bumblebee achieves.

Still, the film has its positive elements but is limited by some lazy writing that reflects a lack of inspiration on the filmmakers’ part. Where at least Bumblebee has a tremendous amount of heart, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts takes too many shortcuts that ultimately left me uninspired and disinterested.

This newest installment introduces the Maximals, a race of Transformers who have adopted the forms of jungle beasts. When their home planet comes under attack by the planet-devouring Unicron (Domingo Colman) and his minions, the Maximals must flee from the world and eventually end up on Earth. In 1994, human Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) struggles to support his mother and his ailing brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez), whose increasing medical bills prevent him from getting the proper treatment.

As Noah can’t seem to get an excellent job to help his family, he reluctantly agrees to work for his friend Reek, who steals cars. Noah thinks he has fallen into a goldmine when he discovers a Porsche that he could easily steal. However, this particular Porsche happens to be the Autobot Transformer Mirage (Pete Davidson), who has a lot of fun helping Noah escape the police after the theft goes south. Meanwhile, museum intern Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) discovers what is believed to be an ancient artifact but is, in fact, a powerful device that can either get the Autobots home or bring to Earth Unicron.

Directed by Steven Caple, Jr, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is better than most Michael Bay installments but still has a silly MacGuffin plot that feels lifted from a Saturday morning cartoon. I found it rather tricky to genuinely care about the Autobots and the Maximals regarding their journey and struggles. For the most part, developing the Transformer characters could be more exciting and inspiring. The most interesting, entertaining, and likable one is the sassy and brash Mirage, played hilariously by Pete Davidson.

As for the human protagonists, their stories are more intriguing but relatively typical of dark horse characters. Still, both Anthony Ramos and Dominique Fishback make some solid cases for them. The actors put much heart into their roles that it is difficult not to root for them. Ramos and Fishback have excellent charisma and share a lovely chemistry when they share the screen.

As for the CGI-laden robot action, the visuals look great, but again, it is hard to feel anything for these undynamic characters. At least in the movie Bumblebee, the Autobot character shows much heart and shares a lovely relationship with his human friend. There are shades of these moments here, but these beats get overshadowed by the robot-on-robot violence that dominates most of the screen time. Overall, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is a mediocre affair that has some great moments. Still, the filmmakers must do better to excite me about this franchise and any further installments genuinely.

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