Transformers – War For Cybertron: Siege

A little bit late today with my cartoon review. Time to look at the new Transformers show on Netflix. Spoilers ahead, I will be discussing events that occur in the show.

While still enjoying success (they wouldn’t be making toys otherwise), Transformers has been in a dip the last few years when it comes to film and television. The Bumblebee movie was great, but the last few Michael Bay movies were appallingly bad to the point of incoherence (I went to see Age of Extinction as my first event after being in hospital with glandular fever for a week and started pining for being back on the ward) and the TV shows since Prime have aimed far too low, with bad writing, bad acting and poor characterisation. So, a lot of people have been looking forward to the new War For Cybertron show, with Siege being the first chapter of three, to be followed by Earthrise and Kingdom, which promised to be a bit more complex and gritty. Let’s see how.

This mini-series is set on Cybertron, so visually has the same darkness that was depicted by Livio Ramondelli in a lot of the IDW comics. Bumblebee is one of the first characters presented, this time bizarrely as an independent, streetwise, almost “You’re not the boss of me!” type compared to the entry level/audience surrogate character that he normally is. There are lots of homages to older shows and lore, like Bumblebee and Wheeljack searching for energy as they did in the original G1 mini-series More Than Meets the Eye, and Jetfire starting off as a Decepticon alongside Starscream, but if you were a new viewer it’s not so over-familiar that you can’t access it. Starscream is still the undermining whiner that he’s always best as, getting a funny moment in the first episode where he gets his arm cut off by Jetfire and THEN accusing him of weakness.

Of note is the character designs, taken directly from the toys, so everyone looks incredibly accurate to them. This does give us stuff like Optimus Prime carrying a big panel on his back of folded up truck cab parts, but on the whole looks good. They have to take some creative liberties for movement, so arms are connected to bodies on flexible strands, which does look a bit weird when arms are folded forward. A disappointment I had is the lack of times that Transformers actually transform in the show. Guys like Prime and Hound and the seekers get to slam into one another, but no moments for oddities like Refraktor (previously Reflector) to show off their alternate modes.

A lot of familiar characters are presented as per their inclusion in the toyline, but also some lesser-known characters as well, such as Cog and Spinister. The Transformers brand has tried to bring female characters to the forefront in an admirable move for a line that is predominantly male, with the likes of Arcee and Windblade, but in this show the main female character is Elita-1, who has not seen a massive amount of usage since her first appearance in the original cartoon. Unfortunately, it is as a tutting and head shaking complainer who makes a “sacrifice” at the end of the last episode that has little emotional resonance because she hadn’t built up a lot of goodwill to begin with.

Another character that is presented in a very disappointing way is the great Autobot warrior Ultra Magnus. His original incarnation was as the ultimate soldier, someone who would follow orders to the letter and fought for the right reasons, someone who could be leader and had the ability but did not desire it. In this show he is the military commander of the Autobots. His military strategy here is to fret and worry about the consequences of carrying on fighting, then he walks into the Decepticon stronghold in a very halfhearted attempt to talk sense into Megatron, practically putting the handcuffs on himself and bending over ready to take it. It’s a depiction that doesn’t do him justice. A part of me hopes that they plan to take advantage of the fact that he is a robot within a suit of armour formed from his trailer, so he may reappear again having shed that and escaped, but I’m very doubtful.

Although the look is mostly Generation 1, references are taken from a lot of other places. Movie Decepticon police car has been fully integrated into this new canon. Autobot security officer Red Alert becomes a medic as per the Red Alert of the Armada series. Hound, a fairly easy going Autobot in the original series, is closer to the John Goodman depiction in the later Michael Bay movies. Some work, some don’t as well, but nothing is too jarring.

The movie influence as well is evident with the battle for the Allspark, which Megatron would use to reformat all Cybertronians into Decepticons. That’s a fine plot, but it gets a little bit muddied with an additional spacebridge subplot as well as preparations by the Autobots to move off world. One of these needed to be dropped in my opinion and another needed to be pared back. I can see where it’s going (Autobots escape Cybertron, land on Earth and use the Allspark to take Earth modes and see new life created), but it didn’t seem so well balanced here.

On the audio side, the music for the show is great, a combination of the grandiose movie score and creepy Stranger Things synths. The voices are mixed. A lot are not distinctive. I would dare many to close their eyes and work out who a character is by their voice and manner of speaking. Ratchet gets a rich, deep voice, Starscream gets a sibilant whine, and the usually impassive and monotone Shockwave gets a strangely high voice. Megatron roars. The effects on Soundwave’s voice are far too tinny. The young actor playing Optimus Prime avoids a total Peter Cullen impression, but lacks a bit of the heart and angst that Prime normally carries.

Discussions I have had so far with fellow fans have taken in enjoyment of the show, but also acknowledgement that it’s been so long that we’ve been delivered shit for that we’re actually enjoying real chocolate now, whatever the quality. To me, this was a quick, easy watch with a few problems and need of editing down to be leaner and more to the point. For the first time in years, a massive cast has been utilised instead of about five key Autobots and five key Decepticons. This becomes problematic in one way, but also presents a far greater impression of scale too. I probably appreciate that they’ve been too ambitious more than them being reserved. And I can’t deny a feeling of excitement for what is to come next. I think ultimately that the upcoming He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: Revelation show is going to be a bit better, as long as Kevin Smith doesn’t try to be too clever, but I’ll also be really looking forward to the next chapter too.