Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Rhinox, Airazor — for legacy fans of the Transformers franchise’s Beast Wars animated TV series, these are household Maximal names. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts adapts them to live action for the first time ever, but it also brings in a fifth Maximal, and his inclusion in this movie is a pretty bonkers deep cut. Someone behind this movie is clearly a serious Transformers lore specialist — this particular Maximal is a reference to Transformers convention fiction from the beginning of the millennium.
The gorilla-shaped Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman) leads the Maximals for most of Rise of the Beasts, but in its opening scene, he’s second-in-command to a second metal gorilla named Apelinq. That Maximal is surprisingly distinctive, a different design from Optimus Primal’s gorilla model — he has a white mohawk, metal tusks, and intimidating blades tucked into his forearms.
Voiced by David Sobolov (who also voiced Battletrap and Rhinox in this film, as well as the original Beast Wars cartoon’s Depth Charge), Apelinq passes the mantle of Maximal leadership onto the smaller Optimus Primal so Apelinq can stall their enemy Transformer Scourge (Peter Dinklage), and send the other Maximals to safety with the Transwarp Key, a McGuffin Scourge wants on behalf of his planet-eating master Unicron (Colman Domingo).
Apelinq’s appearance is a shocking but welcome feature-film debut for a character who first appeared as a toy exclusive to BotCon 2000. If Rise of the Beasts’ five credited screenwriters felt that a different gorilla character should precede Optimus Primal as the Maximals’ leader, Apelinq is an obvious but obscure choice. The original Apelinq was a redeco of 1998’s Transmetal Optimus Primal in black, red, and green, and BotCon only produced 1,200 copies of the figure. Being a Transmetal meant that Apelinq transformed from a furry, organic robot into a robotic gorilla, but with a third transportation mode. (In Apelinq’s case, this meant his robot legs partially transformed into a surfboard for the gorilla mode. The ’90s, folks!)
Three hundred years into the future of the Transformers setting, when Maximals rule Cybertron after the end of the Great War, Apelinq was the commander of Cybertron’s legendary do-or-die strike team, the Wreckers. (Those characters appeared in live action in 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon.) But Apelinq’s true passion was scientific research and engineering. He was best known for his Transfer Interlink, an invention that allowed Apelinq to “download digital objects into reality.” This was admittedly a more impressive superpower before 3D printers became widespread, but it allowed Apelinq to essentially pull weapons out of thin air. In practice, mostly this was an attempt to explain his toy’s deployable “virtual digiboard.”
Apelinq’s character history was chronicled across multiple toys and additional Transformers convention fiction. He was first thrown back in time from the future to the Beast Wars, where he witnessed the Omega Point, an epic battle with the Unicron-powered Predicon Shokaract. This battle paradoxed itself out of existence, leaving Apelinq as the only participant who remembered it happened.
He was returned to his time, where he wound up on the Vehicon-controlled Cybertron seen in 1999’s Beast Wars sequel series, Beast Machines. But instead of joining Optimus Primal’s team of Maximals in their 26-episode attempt to free the planet from Vehicon control, Apelinq was tasked by the Oracle to take his Wreckers off planet to stop the evil gangster Cryotek from possessing the Divine Light, an artifact that would let the Predacon take control of Vector Sigma itself.
Along the way, Apelinq merged with Primal Prime (another Optimus Primal toy in different colors), which involved being transformed out of beasthood and becoming a truck cab for the Matrix-powered guardian Sentinel Maximus. Now renamed Hyperlinq, he and Sentinel Maximus were sent across various Transformers continuities under assignment from the Transformers’ creator god Primus himself, which has got to have made Apelinq/Hyperlinq — a magic-hating, insistent atheist — chafe a little.
A variant of Apelinq returned to BotCon in 2014, with a new toy (another Optimus Primal in different colors) and a story to match. This time, the Maximal engineer was the scientific officer for the Cybertronian Knights, a Wreckers-like team led by former Cheetor Alpha Trizer. He and the Knights fought pirate Transformers, like you do. Though he wasn’t the same Apelinq as he was previously, he still had his Transfer Interlink, which he used to summon his virtual digiboard. The version of Apelinq from Rise of the Beasts never became Hyperlinq, that we know of — he appears to die in this movie, though in a franchise where characters are so frequently killed and resurrected, I wouldn’t count him out just yet.
In case you’ve been wondering, yes, “Apelinq” was always just a corny pun on the word “Uplink,” with Apelinq’s creator, BotCon organizer Glen Hallit, putting the “Q” in there only so there’d be some name continuity when he became “Hyperlinq.” And characters say this name out loud! In a theatrical blockbuster movie, yet!
I do, however, regret to inform everyone that in Rise of the Beasts, while Apelinq has been transformed from obscure convention exclusive into a heroic Maximal commander, he does not at any point download anything digital into reality. Not even a virtual digiboard.