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We live during a time in which the biggest movies in the world involve heroes with supernatural abilities wearing colorful costumes as they fight to save the world from the forces of evil.
Often, these men, women, phrase-repeating trees, etc., are trying to save the whole galaxy — or, increasingly, a multiverse populated with near-infinite versions of themselves and their enemies.
And yet none of this nonsense seems nearly as silly as what goes on in a live-action “Transformers” movie.
Take, for instance, the action-packed-but-poorly written seventh entry in the nearly 16-year-old franchise, “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” hitting theaters this week.
In its opening moments, we are introduced to a proud race of giant intelligent robots who resemble animals from Earth but who are living centuries ago in a distant galaxy. These aren’t the Autobots, Decepticons or other Transformers clans we’ve already met in the movies, which date back to director Michael Bay’s 2007 hit, “Transformers.”
They are — wait for it — the Maximals.
The Maximals run afoul of another robot faction, the Terrorcons, who work for a massive planet-eating entity, Unicron, with an insatiable appetite.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because various elements of the story are pulled from 1986’s animated “The Transformers: The Movie” and the digitally animated TV series “Transformers: Beast Wars,” which came more than a decade later. Both were based on the line of Hasbro toys and were made, you know, for the kids who played with said toys.
“Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” is rated PG-13. And it sure seems like it’s made for those same, now-grown kids.
“Rise of the Beasts” is the direct sequel to 2018 prequel “Bumblebee” and is set primarily in 1994 — seven years after the events of that reasonably enjoyable “Herbie”-meets-a-”Transformers” romp.
It is helmed by “Creed II” director Stephen Caple Jr., a Cleveland native whose resume also includes 2016’s “The Land.” He works here from a screenplay contributed to by Joby Harold, who also gets the story-by credit, and the tandems of Darnell Metayer and Josh Peters and Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber. None of these writers has done Caple any favors.
After the prologue, we find ourselves in mid-1990s Brooklyn, New York, where former U.S. Army Private Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos of “In the Heights”) is struggling to find work. Noah reluctantly agrees to steal a car, but the silver Porsche turns out to be a Transformer, Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson).
Soon, Noah is pulled into an adventure with the keep-it-casual Mirage and fellow Autobots Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, as always), Arcee (Lisa Koshy) and Bumblebee, who now using bits of movie dialogue to communicate along with snippets of songs.
“I don’t want you going to that drive-in anymore,” Optimus, the Autobot leader, scolds his loyal soldier and friend.
The Autobots become aware of the presence of the Transwarp key on Earth. If they can find the ancient gizmo, it can lead them back to their lost homeworld of Cybertron. However, the Terrorcons — led by the fierce Scourge (Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”) — are out to retrieve it for Unicron (Colman Domingo, “Fear the Walking Dead”), who would harness its power to find more tasty planets on which to feast.
This quest leads both groups to 25-year-old art researcher Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback, “Judas and the Black Messiah”), who has discovered what proves to be half the key in an ancient statuette. She agrees to help the Autobots find the other half of the key.
They also get help from the surviving Maximals, now living on earth and led by — again, wait for it — Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman). Along with this gorilla-like bot are Airazor (Michelle Yeoh, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”), Cheetor (Tongayi Chirisa) and Rhinox (David Sobolov). They were on earth long before the Autobots and have watched and respected the development of humans, to whom Optimus Prime is yet to warm.
It will take a group effort — “till,” as Prime says, “all are one!” — to save Earth and other planets from Unicron.
“Rise of the Beasts” has its enjoyable moments, which come almost exclusively when Mirage and Noah are interacting and can be mainly attributed to the solid line deliveries of former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Davidson.
Far too often, though, the words spoken by other Transformers are the wrong kind of silly — super-serious and overly familiar phrases such as “This is my fight!” and “Let them come!”
This first fully fledged “Transformers” without Bay in the director’s chair — he also served only as a producer, as he does here, on “Bumblebee” — benefits from Caple’s better handling of characters. On the other hand, given how ridiculous this all is, “Rise of the Beasts” could have used Bay’s gift for spectacle. This is more run-of-the-mill action, not the bombast-on-steroids for which Bay is known.
To be fair to “Beasts,” it is no more outlandish than Bay’s last effort for the franchise, 2017’s “Transformers: The Last Knight,” the backstory of which had the Transformers connected to Merlin, King Arthur and the like.
And look, we all like what we like from our childhoods. Admittedly, if an adventure is set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we’re going to give it every benefit of the doubt.
By comparison, though, “The Transformers” movies— and this one especially — make “Star Wars” feel like Shakespeare.
‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’
When: June 9.
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and language.
Runtime: 2 hours, 16 minutes.
Stars (of four): 1.5.
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