Yeah, we’re getting old. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts may be an overdue return to the metal-on-metal Bayhem of the franchise’s past – but it’s also a nostalgia-drenched love letter to the ‘90s.
From Wu-Tang Clan posters to Power Rangers merch, and even references to a former Transformer lead Mark Wahlberg’s hip-hop career (try not to think about how that affects canon too much), Rise of the Beasts heads to 1994 Brooklyn to help restart and re-energize the series.
At the heart of this step back in time is Noah (Anthony Ramos), a down-on-his-luck ex-soldier who, after a carjacking gig gone wrong, encounters wise-cracking Autobot Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson).
For Ramos, Mirage – who he describes as the "coolest Transformer" he’s ever seen – and Noah were able to stand out from previous human/Autobot dynamics in the series by being fast friends from the get-go.
"First of all, Mirage was really fun on the page," Ramos tells GamesRadar+. "Pete took Mirage to another level. So, there was this balance of Mirage bringing that out of Noah. He has that in him, but he’s a little more reserved than Mirage. It was this balance of how does each character bring the best out of the other one?"
Ramos continues: "From my standpoint, Mirage brought that humor out of him, he gave Noah life. [With] this dynamic, we wanted to establish that these guys were close from the beginning. Obviously they had to earn each other’s trust… You start to see that bond grow as they go on that journey."
How do you do, fellow '90s kids?
But it’s not just the human and Transformers leads which set this instalment – the seventh in the series – apart from its predecessors. From the first frame, Rise of the Beasts is a ‘90s kid’s dream, all thanks to director Steven Caple Jr.’s efforts to create what he calls a "time capsule."
"There’s a lot of music that I incorporated. I love music, especially that era and that time. I love ‘90s TV shows: Living Single, the movie Juice, Poetic Justice. Power Rangers, Game Boys. You name it," Caple Jr. says of the inspirations behind crafting a specific slice of 1990s New York.
"It was everything I loved, I had, or wanted as a kid – I incorporated it into this film with the characters. I wanted it to be a time capsule, and something you can open up and go, 'Wow, I’m reliving that moment in that era.'" Caple explains.
That joyous recreation of that counter-culture era is something that spills over into the actors’ love of how their characters embodied that ‘90s look.
"For me, it was all the clothes that I had on, from Walker Wear… to the [Jordans] he was rocking," Tobe Nwigwe – who plays Noah’s perma-Twizzler-chewing best friend Reek – tells us.
"The Poetic Justice clips you saw, the music. That was incredible," Nwigwe says – with a caveat. "The only thing I wish they could have had was some WWF wrestling."
Ramos adds: "It was cool to see the cab, the New York cab, the yellow cars, the exact kind of car. I think it was a Lincoln. Even to see the buses the way they were back in the ‘90s because they look different in New York now. That was cool for me."
Of course, even with the ‘90s of it all, it’s not a Transformers movie without a few robots in disguise.
The Transformers melting pot has grown unwieldy in recent instalments. The eternally warring Autobots and Decepticons were eventually joined by Constructicons and Dinobots. Now, Maximals – the animal-like Transformers who first debuted in 1990s animated series Beast Wars – have joined the party in a more back-to-basics conflict against planet-eating Unicron and his army of Terrorcons, led by Scourge (Peter Dinklage)
Caple Jr. says fans of Beast Wars will still see the King Kong-like Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) and the falcon-esque Airazor (Michelle Yeoh) strutting their mechanical stuff – while pulling back a little on the show’s dense lore.
"You’re not going to get all, but you’re going to get some of your favorite characters. They’re all going to have some personality to it. Some of them reflect what they were like in Beast Wars… You can expect Optimus Primal to be like the character he was in the cartoon: very noble, a leader," Caple Jr. explains, though he admits: "I didn’t want to confuse audiences for people who are not familiar with Beast Wars, because there’s a lot of time travelling [in the animated series] that might lose you somewhere in our first film."
That’s all brought together by the director, whose storied history with the franchise feeds into the holistic mindset that helps Rise of the Beasts appeal to every generation of Transformers viewer.
"I approach it as a fan, a little bit. I’m trying to feed [in] what I liked about it. So I think it came from a very natural place," Caple says.
"I was young enough to experience the Autobots, the first Transformers stuff in the ‘80s. They were still playing in the ‘90s when I was actively watching cartoons. When Beast Wars came out, I was a teenager, then I was 19-years old when I watched Sam Witwicky for the first time with Michael Bay and I was like 'woah, what is this?'
"I have an appreciation for each one and I know what I liked about each different decade, if you will. When stepping into it, it was like: what works for live-action is the scope, scale, being in beautiful locations, capturing the action, and making sure the transformations are – in Michael Bay’s words – 'sick'."
So, whether you’re an ‘80s vet, a dyed-in-the-wool Beast Wars watcher, a Michael Bay fanatic, or a recent convert thanks to Bumblebee’s heart, Rise of the Beasts is bringing it all together to offer something for every type of Transformers fan – as well as making every ‘90s kid crumble into dust.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is now out in cinemas.