Transformers: Rise of the Beasts – A miserable one star for this numbingly tedious mayhem

The latest entry in this boring, cacophonous series has nothing like the unexpected sprightly form of the 2018 spin-off Bumblebee

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
    
Director: Steven Caple jnr
Cert: 12A
Starring: Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Peter Cullen, Michelle Yeoh, Peter Dinklage, Ron Perlman, Pete Davidson, Colman Domingo, Dean Scott Vaquez
Running Time: 2 hrs 7 mins

A philosophical miserabilist once used a bird flying through eternal darkness as an analogy for the human experience. Somewhere on its endless journey the creature enters a room that is hosting a party – one that is all light and joy and noise. This is life. The poor thing then escapes through the window and gets back to its bleak struggle through utter nothingness.

Need cheering up after that? Well, I wouldn’t recommend the new Transformers film. True, the episodes that preceded Bumblebee, the spin-off from 2018, were characterised by neither silence nor gloom. Mere mention of their cacophonous hyperactivity can still induce fits in survivors. They were also a good deal more boring than sensory deprivation. But Bumblebee, in which Hailee Steinfeld made friends with a VW Beetle, really was among the most delightful franchise films of the century.

You have probably already gathered that the new film (about which we cannot avoid talking forever) does not maintain that unexpected sprightly form. To be fair, coming after a silly prologue involving metallic gorillas in prehistoric Peru, the opening act proper of Steven Caple jnr’s tinnitus machine makes a few promising noises. Anthony Ramos, charismatic lead of In the Heights, appears as Noah Diaz, a US army veteran struggling to get by in Brooklyn in the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, Elena (Dominique Fishback, from Judas and the Black Messiah) is not much enjoying her job as an intern at a museum on Ellis Island. Both actors make something of thin writing as the camera – sometimes working to the beats of Wu-Tang Clan – does a decent job of summoning up New York’s premillennial energies.

The film then slumps into a figurative landfill amid all the usual garbage. It is hardly worth explaining how the Transformers arrive, but there is something about a stolen Porsche, something about a magical shard, something about time portals and something about Scourge, “herald of Unicron”. Before long, Ramos and Fishback are trying to make themselves heard above the same tedious mayhem that, years back in the perpetual darkness, once drowned out Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox.


In a spirit of full disclosure, we should point out certain improvements over Michael Bay’s opening five episodes. Rise of the Beasts does not last 2¾ hours. There are no leering close-ups of the female lead’s bottom. The shots occasionally last longer than three seconds. There is generally less sense of the audiovisual assault that the US intelligence services euphemise as “enhanced interrogation”. Another hour of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, back in 2009, and I would have shopped my own grandmother to the CIA.

Some loyalists do still give a fig. They will still get something from the volume and the visual clutter. Nostalgia is a powerful drug

We are, nonetheless, left in no doubt that the film-makers no longer have any time for the character drama of Bumblebee. The last hour of the new film is almost entirely taken up with that still-disorienting CGI – so overworked that objects cease to have independent existence – punctuated by kidult dialogue that shifts between inspirational hokum and tedious exposition. The effect is most often numbing. But every now and then one wakes up to discover that, say, a giant metallic falcon is discussing impending apocalypse with a sometime articulated lorry. When Optimus Prime gets into his second paragraph on the perils of temporal wormholes, it takes all one’s strength not to yell, “Who cares? You pompous, droning, overrated haulage vehicle! Why are people still bothering with a toy commercial whose charm was long withered by the time of the first Clinton administration?”

Some loyalists do still give a fig. They will still get something from the volume and the visual clutter. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Even the most dedicated will, however, surely baulk at one of the stupidest final shots in the history of cinema. That surely doesn’t count as a spoiler.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist