A scene from Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts continues on the path of Bumblebee in that it is a Transformers film without the directorial hand of Michael Bay. Bay allowed his worst tendencies to come to the forefront with his Transformers movies; they were all quite terrible.

Bumblebee, released in 2018, was the most recent Transformers movie. Hailee Steinfeld and co. proved that robots in disguise could be relatively fun without an audio/visual hammer repeatedly pummeling you in the face à la Michael Bay.

Rise of the Beasts, regrettably, is a step backward for the franchise. Directed by Steven Caple Jr. (Creed II) and starring Anthony Ramos (Hamilton) and Dominique Fishback (Swarm), the film is a surprisingly boring and confusing affair. It’s more than two hours long (of course); it’s chock full of so-so CGI effects; and I’m still not entirely sure what the whole thing was about. Plotlines slam into each other and overlap in a way that left me lost or not caring.

As much as I could put together, it has something to do with another race of angry, mean robots stirring up shit for Earth and the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, the blue-and-red truck that changes into a Shakespearean robot. The likes of Ron Perlman, Pete Davidson and Michelle Yeoh lend their voices to robots, and the humans barely factor in at all.

Visually, it’s not as hard on the brain as Bay’s films; the action unfolds in a manner that won’t drive you insane. There are some fun robot-to-car (and back) transformations, and you can actually follow the action in most of the battles. It gets passing grades on the special-effects front.

But the human part of the story drags. Caple makes a noble effort to create characters we care about, but the performers don’t command the screen in a way that pulls one in. Not counting voices, there are few recognizable actors in this movie, unless you are a hardcore Hamilton or Swarm fan. Ramos and Fishback are likable, but some bigger stars could have shared the burden of carrying what is supposed to be a blockbuster movie. The film feels like something you’d see on a streaming platform rather than a summer blockbuster.

The film is, technically, a direct sequel to Bumblebee. Bumblebee was set in the ’80s, and this one is set in 1994. This lends to a fun soundtrack and reminders of how bad cars were 30 years ago, including lots of shitty Oldsmobile sedans on the road. Too bad they didn’t find a way to work Hailee Steinfeld into the story. That would’ve taken care of some of that star power.

I suspect this chapter isn’t going to set the box office on fire, and some recalibrating may be in order. While I’m no huge Transformers fan, they finally got the formula right with Bumblebee. When you have a Hailee Steinfeld in your movie, it makes a large difference. This one doesn’t have a Steinfeld, just a bunch of robots smacking into one another for two hours. While that can be impressive at times, it gets a little tiring.

While Rise of the Beasts didn’t make me want to tear my face off while watching it like Bay’s efforts did, it’s merely fair to middling entertainment—and these days, you need more than that to justify a trip to the theater for a summer blockbuster.

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