Rise of the Beasts picks up the narrative after 2018's Bumblee and stays in the bygone year of 1994, providing it some welcome space from the dreadful Transformers films we try to avoid bringing up anymore. Noah Diaz, a Brooklyn electronics expert and former soldier who serves as the Autobots' human correspondent, is portrayed by Anthony Ramos. As he humorously struggles with the reality of mechanised aliens travelling the roads of Earth, the incomparable voice of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime reveals a new artefact of the day that needs to be recovered before it ends up in the hands of the planet-sized, world-eating villain Unicron. The narrative is precisely what you would anticipate from a film of this calibre.

Although the animal-themed Maximals aren't the first non-Autobot or Decepticon group to arrive in these Transformers films (I'd previously forgotten about the Dinobots in Age of Extinction), they undoubtedly make a striking entry. The barrel-chested imposition of the character, played by Ron Perlman as the lowland gorilla bot Optimus Primal, is met by Michelle Yeoh's soothing performance as the magnificent and wise peregrine falcon bot Airazor. Beyond the visual contrasts of Maximal robotics covered in fur and feathers against Autobot detailing with vibrant Pimp My Ride designs, there is a clear distinction between Optimus Primal's relationship with nature and the people of Earth and the untrusting and more militant Optimus Prime.

We aren't overrun with the groan-inducing Michael Bay action sequences that ruined the subsequent Transformers films, giving the Maximals a chance to shine. As Autobots, Maximals, and Unicron's Terrorcon gorehounds participate in their vehicle slaughters, cinematographer Enrique Chediak keeps the camera steady, allowing clean and precise animation to demonstrate what explosive Transforms combat choreography looks like. Optimus Primal uses a thundering ground-and-pound savagery, while Liza Koshy's Autobot Arcee is a guns-akimbo Ducati 916 that dashes about like a seasoned assassin.

The voice actors, notably Pete Davidson's wisecracking Mirage, are well-suited to the roles of rubber-burning heroes and villains. He is the Autobot with the greatest personality, making crude jokes and Wu-Tang allusions just like Davidson would on stage in real life. As Scourge, Unicron's right-hand henchman, Peter Dinklage is the least recognisable. That's not to say he's not excellent, but Scourge is a standard villain with a Robotic Mean #1 vocal range that may be a choice in a generic video game character maker.

However, not everything can be celebrated with the same fervour. As supporters for the Transformers, Diaz and Dominique Fishback (as the intelligent museum artefact researcher Elena Wallace) give believable performances, but their characters still seem like cogs in the system. As the new charlie and Bumblebee team, Diaz and Davidson trade amusing lines of bromance, but the Transformers are more entertaining by themselves than with their corporeal tour guides. When the setting shifts from New York City to Peru, Noah's relationship with his ailing brother Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez) offers Diaz more to think about in his role as a sibling who struggles to teach his little brother how to overcome hardship.

The release of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts demonstrates that Bumblebee wasn't an exception and that the Transformers franchise is now moving forward. Even if it never achieves the epic sweep it seeks and the human side of the tale can't keep up with the robots, Steven Caple Jr. manages to strike a good mix between paint-by-numbers interplanetary apocalypse storyline and entertainment-first Transformers action. Thanks to controlling Michael Bay's style of sensationalist pandemonium, the emphasis is always on a tale with heart and heroes. Although on a greater scale than Bumblebee, Rise of the Beasts stays true to the core elements of the Transformers franchise.

It reminds me of spending a weekend playing with Autobot and Maximals action figures in the garden while getting lost in a silly adventure that might not rescue the galaxy but is still a good enough reason to see robots transform into vehicles and engage in combat.

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