Humans and car-shaped alien robots are more than work friends in “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.”
The film is the seventh installment of a live-action franchise — based on the Transformers toy line — that typically creates a team between humans and Transformers (extraterrestrials that morph into automobiles) as they fight evil. Here, unemployed veteran Noah (Anthony Ramos) is in the process of stealing a Porsche when it reassembles into a robot named Mirage (Pete Davidson). At one point in the film, when Noah refers to Mirage as a colleague, Mirage says, aghast, “You’ve been inside me!”
The movie doesn’t have much going for it.
“Rise of the Beasts,” directed by Steven Caple Jr., is about the revival of an old conflict between the Maximals, animal-shaped Transformers, and the Terrorcons, henchmen of a powerful being named Unicron that is capable of consuming planets. In 1994, archaeological researcher Elena (Dominique Fishback) discovers an ancient trans-warp key, an instrument that facilitates space-time travel and that Unicron needs to access and destroy planets. The discovery alerts the Terrorcons to the key’s location in New York.
While the Maximals delayed Unicron’s planet-annihilating agenda once before, they aren’t alone in stopping him this time. The key’s activation brings together the Autobots, the good guys of the franchise. Noah, Elena, and the Autobots set off on their fight, which takes them from New York to Peru — a destination as seemingly random as the film’s occasional shots of projectile-engine-oil vomiting.
Those unfamiliar with “Transformers” lore will at least be able to understand the basic conflicts through the heavily expository dialogue. And despite the convoluted backstories, the plot follows a predictable rhythm: The humans and the Transformers bond to overcome bad forces.
The problem is that there are low stakes and few moments of real tension in the film. Unicron is presented as a vague evil at once omnipresent and completely absent, talked about but glimpsed only briefly. The lack of context around his motivations or ideology beyond his desire to eat planets makes the central conflict feel flimsy. In the face of such nebulous concerns, a generic notion of teamwork among the Autobots and humans creates little momentum or chemistry between the characters.
A weak script, coupled with a visual flatness, undercuts the characters themselves. While Ramos and Fishback could have been fresh additions to the franchise, their characters don’t have the depth to be emotional entry points. Noah and Elena begin with intriguing life stories, but their arcs are too rushed to feel genuine. That’s unfortunate for a movie about robots with inexpressive faces, whose characterization mostly comes in the form of grave proclamations or irreverent one-liners.
Movie references also pile up to a somewhat irritating extent. A nod to “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” or “Indiana Jones” will have you wondering if audiences are meant to believe “Rise of the Beasts” is a similar vehicle for beloved blockbuster material. It isn’t.
The result is a formulaic, underwhelming set-up for another era of “Transformers” movies. But how much more is there to wring out of “Transformers” property? It might be time to see more planets get eaten and end it there.
TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS
Directed by Steven Caple Jr. Written by Joby Harold, Darnell Metayer, Josh Peters, Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber. Starring Anthony Ramos, Dominique Fishback, Pete Davidson. 127 minutes. At AMC Boston Common 19, Landmark Kendall Square Cinema, suburbs. PG-13
Abigail Lee can be reached at email@example.com.