HOW "RISE OF THE BEASTS" CALLS BACK TO "BEAST WARS"
Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. I highly recommend you watch the movie before reading this piece.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the first live action Transformers film to bring Beast Wars characters into the mix. This universe is clearly different than the one featured in the Beast Wars Transformers cartoon from the 90's and the many comic books that would follow over the years. Despite that continuity separation, there are many elements of Beast Wars that made their way into the film. Here is how the seventh film in the live action Transformers series calls back to the Beast Wars Transformers cartoon.
In the opening sequence of the 90's Beast Wars Transformers cartoon's first episode we see two ships come out of a disturbance in space. We would soon learn that these are the Maximal ship, Axalon and Predacon ship, Darksyde coming out of a Transwarp portal that not only moved the ships through space, but time was well. This is a possible through use of the Transwarp Drive. In Rise of the Beasts, the MacGuffin in the film is the Transwarp key but the artifact also can open portals through space and time.
The Axalon pursues the Darksyde from Beast Wars Transformers: Part One
Some fans may be wondering "Ape-who?" and I wouldn't blame you. The beginning of film introduces us to the leader of the Maximals, Apelinq who sacrifices himself to save his fellow Maximals and names Optimus Primal as his successor. This is a very obscure reference to a Beast Wars character who only appeared as a Botcon convention exclusive in past years. The on-screen version is quite different than his Botcon story counterpart, but the two do share one thing in common: both characters use Optimus Primal as their base model. The original Apelinq action figure was a redeco of the Beast Wars Transmetal Optimus Primal. In the film, the Apelinq CG model is a partial reworking of the Optimus Primal model. For a ton of more details, check out David Willis' article on Polygon that goes deep into the character's history.
The four Maximals featured in Rise of the Beasts are Airazor, Cheetor, Optimus Primal and Rhinox. All four characters take inspiration from their animated counterparts featuring similar beast modes and a "techno-organic" look that is most obvious with certain features such as the "skin and fur" on Optimus Primal's shoulders or Airazor's feathers. Like the 90's cartoon, Optimus Primal is the leader of the Maximals. Cheetor is an ultra fast warrior while Rhinox is a tank on four feet. Airazor serves more of an advisor role in this film, but she does have a fierce beast mode attack that made me think of her introduction in the series where she took out Terrorsaur by herself, leaving him in pieces on the battlefield!
Beast Wars Transformers Airazor (L) and Rise of the Beasts Airazor (R)
During the course of the film, we learn from the Maximals that Earth is rich in unrefined Energon that appears as glowing blue veins of energy running through rocks. Beast Wars Transformers also presented an Earth where raw Energon was readily available and it became a major plot point for part of the series. The difference is that in Beast Wars the Energon would cause the Transformers to short out if exposed for too long. In Rise of the Beasts the Energon is inert and does not activate until a powerful energy source "ignites" it. Either way, having raw Energon being abundant on Earth is a nice tip of the hat to the original Beast Wars Transformers.
Raw Energon as seen in Beast Wars Transformers
Past and Future
In Beast Wars, it was eventually revealed that the Maximals and Predacons were the descendents of the Autobots and Decepticons respectively. While the planet the show took place on appeared to be a wild, alien world, we would eventually learn that the planet was actually ancient Earth! These fun twists were among the reasons why Beast Wars is considered a classic Transformers tale to this day.
Beast Wars Transformers Rhinox (L) and Rise of the Beasts Rhinox (R)
In Rise of the Beasts, Airazor explains to the Autobots that the Maximals are from their future and past. It is also heavily implied that the Maximals are more powerful than the Autobots. After a key battle where the Terrorcons have beaten the Autobots, Airazor shows up and Nightbird comments that now maybe they would get a "real fight". Optimus Primal also uses the word "advanced" to describe the Maximals and when he introduces himself to Optimus Prime, he explains that he is named after the legendary Autobot leader. While it is never said outright, all these bits of information hint that the Maximals are the descendents of the Autobots as they were in Beast Wars.
As the movie progresses, we soon learn the Maximals not only escaped their homeworld, but wound up on Earth 5000 years ago (if not more). This suggests that when they left their planet, they not only went through space but also time. Much like the Maximals in Beast Wars, these Maximals traveled to Earth's past. This is a brilliant nod to one of the best parts of the Beast Wars story.
Seven years after arriving on Earth, Optimus Prime has adopted a policy of hiding from humans and interacting with them as little as possible (and given the events in Age of Extinction and The Last Knight he may be on to something but let's shelve that for now). However, he learns that the Maximals went in the opposite direction, having allied themselves with a family living in the jungles of Peru centuries ago. Their cooperation helped protect half of the Transwarp Key and in turn the Maximals influenced human culture in the past, going so far as to appear as the subjects of artwork by ancient humans.
In Beast Wars Transformers, the Maximals eventually befriend two Protohuman children, Chak and Una. These Protohumans were targeted by the Predacons because eventually humans would help the Autobots in the future. While the Rise of the Beasts Maximal/Human alliance does not date back millions of years, the theme of Maximals allying with humans in the past is a nice theme that can be traced back to Beast Wars.
Chak and Una from Beast Wars Transformers
Actor David Sobolov has a long career in voice acting including roles in DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Mass Effect and Marvel's What If...? series. In Rise of the Beasts he plays three roles: Apelinq, Battletrap and Rhinox. However if you go back towards the beginning of his career, you'll find that he played the character of Depth Charge in Beast Wars! Depth Charge was introduced in the show's third season as a Maximal hunting down the powerful and insane "Protoform X" (aka Rampage). This was only the first of Sobolov's many encounters with the Transformers brand. Years later he would voice Brawl in a Transformers video game, then Shockwave in Transformers: Prime and more recently Blitzwing in the Bumblebee movie.