Transformers: Rise of the Beasts review – There’s one good minute in this film. And that’s it

Here we go again. Squint hard enough and you might catch a glimpse of promise near the beginning of this horrible, hazardous picture. For the briefest of moments, there is at least some semblance of a plot. For a minute or so, we are thoroughly convinced this film will work. And then it all falls apart. Bear with us while we untangle the knots.

A shaky standalone sequel to 2018’s Bumblebee (without question the only decent Transformers flick), Steven Caple Jr’s gargantuanly budgeted extravaganza begins in the far reaches of space where a humungous robot god wreaks havoc on unsuspecting civilizations. No joke. Unicron (voiced by Colman Domingo) eats entire planets whole and complains whenever his robot stomach is grumbling.

Spectacularly rude, if you ask me, and the Maximals (rowdy robo-animals, whose planet Unicron is set to devour) might agree.

These mighty, muscular warriors work hard to defend their territory, but they are no match for Unicron’s ferocious Terrorcon lackey Scourge (Peter Dinklage), who kills their leader and vows to destroy anyone else who stands in his way.

As it turns out, Scourge is on the hunt for a “Transwarp key” (keep up down the back), a mystical MacGuffin that will help Unicron travel anywhere in space and time – a handy weapon for a maniacal, interstellar god with an insatiable appetite. Luckily, a group of Maximals, including a cheetah, gorilla, falcon and rhino, make off with the key before Scourge can find it. A load of old nonsense so far – and we haven’t yet reached the promising bit.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts comes alive when Caple Jr’s film sets up its stall in Brooklyn, New York. It’s 1994, and ex-military electronics expert Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is struggling to provide for his family. Job interviews go nowhere. His little brother’s hospital bills are stacking up. Noah needs help, basically, and he needs it fast. Across town, an underappreciated artefact researcher (Dominique Fishback’s Elena Wallace) struggles to make sense of her museum’s latest find.

Obviously, the artefact is the aforementioned space key. Obviously, our man Noah is going to stumble upon a car that’s really a Transformer. In time, our frazzled leads will converge and try to save the world despite having zero experience in that department. Everyone I mentioned near the beginning comes back into it. Now, did you catch the promising bit in the middle?​

If, like me, you had trouble keeping up with that synopsis, then imagine what it’s like having to watch this muddled, maddening garbage. Spare a thought, too, for our unfortunate cast.

Ramos (an extraordinary talent, well received in Hamilton and In the Heights) barely convinces as an unlikely hero trying to make the most of a surreal situation. Fishback (terrific in Judas and the Black Messiah) is hampered by a sorely underwritten role.

Oscar winners (Michelle Yeoh), esteemed character actors (Dinklage) and overpraised comedians (Pete Davidson) lend their voices to the irritating robots. Do we recognise them at all? We do not. Did we have to Google who’s who afterwards? We did.

It might be silly to expect something magical – something tangible, even – from the seventh Transformers flick, but again, Travis Knight’s Bumblebee spin-off was funny, thrilling and surprisingly moving; an unexpected gem, in fact.

In contrast, this ugly, irksome display doesn’t appear to have learned anything from Knight’s prequel. It’s a bigger, stupider film, sloppy and charmless, like those horrid Michael Bay instalments. Bay continues to serve as a producer, and you can feel his presence here.

Nothing anyone says or does makes the slightest scrap of sense. The film’s final hour, set in Peru, is especially poor; a raging, rotten cacophony of noisy gun blasts, silly explosions and angry robot grunts. It’s all smashy-smash-smash, clinky-clunk-clank. We could go on.

Transformers films require at least some internal logic to make them work. This one has none, and is essentially thrown together with nary a hint of regard for its audience or, indeed, itself.

Eventually it runs out of ideas and a) turns one of its human characters into a superhero, and b) teases the most spectacularly stupid sequel idea in the history of cinema. A tiresome, toxic exercise in mainstream filmmaking.

One star

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