JUNE 24 — As a kid who grew up in the 1980s, watching cartoons on television was the norm. Even if your family was too poor to own a TV set, an enterprising kid will always find a way to get his or her fix of the latest cartoon series at a friend’s house, at the very least.
I can name all sorts of animated series that ruled the discussion in school during recess, from Thundercats to Silverhawks to Centurions to Jem & The Holograms, but the undisputed king of them all was definitely Transformers.
So prevalent was its popularity that on almost every morning of the first day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri during my years in primary school, the animated The Transformers: The Movie will be shown on local TV, just like how Khabie Khushi Khabie Gham will inevitably be shown on TV during the Raya holidays up to this very day.
Watching Transformers was a rite of passage for every 80s kid, so even as a cinephile who loves all kinds of high-brow cinema, I can’t help but feel giddy at the thought of watching a new Transformers movie.
And even though I can quite confidently say that the only “live” action Transformers movie that I loved was the first one, with every new Michael Bay-helmed instalment getting progressively worse, the 80s kid in me still can’t help but get excited to watch the franchise’s latest entry — Transformers: Rise of the Beasts — in the cinema.
The reviews have been mixed, which is kind of a good sign, because the last few Transformers movies had uniformly terrible reviews.
I had to wait more than a week to see it since my band was away on tour in Indonesia for nine days during the movie’s opening week, so even if this review is about two weeks late, let me share with you how happy I was to find that Transformers: Rise of the Beasts got so many things right that I can, without any hesitation, proclaim that this is my second favourite Transformers movie yet, which means that this new one stands heads and shoulders above all the other entries in the franchise (except for the first movie, for obvious nostalgic reasons, and the spinoff/prequel that was Bumblebee, which was fun).
I’ve always said that for something with such an instant brand recognition as the Transformers movies, you really don’t need to do that much to make a fun summer crowd pleaser.
Since it’s a franchise about transforming robots, of course the main course would have to be the robots themselves, and showing their battles with as much clarity as possible.
But since the movies are set on Earth and involve humans, just make sure that the human characters are relatable and that the story surrounding them at least have a bit of heart and are told with enough clarity to not make them inconsequential.
And who’d have thought that it would be Steven Caple Jr. (the guy who made Creed II, probably the most formulaic and “safe” film in the Creed franchise, but one that I’m pretty sure most fans have a very soft spot for) who would finally clear this lowest of bars with this latest entry in the Transformers franchise.
Who’d have thought that casting sympathetic actors like Anthony Ramos (channeling the nervous charisma of a young John Leguizamo) and Dominique Fishback (what a year she’s having after her earlier breakout role in Swarm) to play sympathetic characters can work wonders in elevating the human part of the story, so often dismissed as the boring background in the last few Transformers movies?
And when you also add in another winning ingredient in the fact that the Optimus Prime we’re witnessing in this movie (which by the way is set in 1994, way before the first Transformers film) is one that is yet to fully mature in terms of leadership qualities and philosophy, what the fans are getting with Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is easily one of the most human and sympathetic movie in the entire franchise.
It still has a very simple plot, this time everyone, from the Autobots to the newly introduced Terrorcons and the Maximals, is looking for an object called the Transwarp Key, which can open a portal to anywhere in the universe.
The Autobots want it to go home to their beloved planet Cybertron, the Terrorcons want to retrieve it for their master, the planet devouring villain Unicron, and the Maximals are tasked with protecting it. The humans, of course, are caught in the middle of all this.
It’s a plot as simple and direct as in all the other movies in the franchise, but it’s enriched by sly little touches that put in a bit more emotional stakes for everyone involved, and by the end of the movie, everyone has learned a thing or two about each other, even Optimus Prime, who has finally learned the value of human friendship and sacrifice here.
Yes, it’s not Shakespeare, but there’s a clarity here, from the earnest and uncomplicated storytelling all the way to the metal-crunching robot action that finally lets you see what’s happening, that will make you feel genuinely excited for the next Transformers movie, which I never thought would be possible this late in the franchise game.
This is a Transformers movie that you can’t hate, now just let that sink in and marvel at what an accomplishment that is!
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.