Review – Transformers: War for Cybertron

Transformers were a big part of my childhood, so every time there’s some new Transformers movie or TV series I am always intrigued and no matter what I think after watching it I’m always up for them to do another one, be it to do better next time or give me more of what I liked. So I came into this one chomping at the bit to take in some more. The Michael Bay series of live action films, which started out fine but went at off the rails, seem to be in limbo for now while the animated shows haven’t really worked for me since Transformers Prime a few years ago. So how would this one fare? The story takes place on Cybertron, which we are always promised more of than we ever get, so that alone was a hook for me. It borrows from multiple sources but mainly the 84 Generation 1 series, the Transformers Prime animated series, and the live action movies. We know who the main players likely will be and now it’s really just a matter of execution. How’d they do? Let’s find out!

With every Netflix series the are two questions I ask: the number of episodes and how long each one is. As I’ve said on Twitter many times episode length is one the major factors in doing a Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime series; keep them under 45 minutes and you’re gold, go past an hour and you’re probably gonna lose me. Here they kept it to six episodes that run around 30 minutes, which is perfect for binge watching and I was able to get it all in one sitting.

Whenever there’s a new Transformers show or movie there are always some questions:

  • Which characters outside of Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron, and Starscream are we gonna get?
  • What vehicle designs/concepts are they going to use?
  • Which previous iterations of Transformers lore are they going to borrow from (the 1984 cartoon, the more recent Transformers Prime, the live action films, the Beast Wars cartoon, the comics)?
  • What’s the overall tone gonna be like?
  • Who’s gonna get killed?
  • How long until they introduce humans to mess up everything?

The Good

First up no Earth and no humans. Too many time in Transformers lore they rush to introducing people and focusing on the interaction between species and not between the robots themselves. Here we got six episodes on Cybertron focused entirely on who we came to see, and it gave time to tweak some character’s stories and develop some personalities and details. Everyone doesn’t start out already lined up where we’re used to seeing them and instead go on a bit of a journey to get there, which is good!

Second, Bumblebee speaks! After six live action movies and a cartoon series (Transformers Prime) we finally get a version that can talk again. What started as a funny bit in the first Michael Bay-directed film went on and on and on way too long. His characterization here is a different than what we’ve seen before and it’s accentuated by him being to actually talk and not just beep and buzz and play music to communicate.

Bee isn’t the only one that gets a bit of a change up. Ratchet, normally a two dimensional side character gets some welcome depth and layers to his personality. It’s part of a much welcome move from lining up everyone on the Autobot or Decepticon side and going. Ratchet is one a few in this series who while not evil aren’t in love with the purported good guys either. And on the Decepticon side there is some detail given to their motivations beyond ‘we’re the bad guys, arrrgghhh!’ There are seeds of class division sprinkled throughout as well to explain the conflict as well as why everyone who is good isn’t so quick to join Optimus Prime and co.

Speaking of characters, the character count is always an issue particularly for the Autobots. With the Decepticons you can stick to the core (Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave), throw in Shockwave and one or two more, and satisfy most people. But the Autobots there is such a large and varied roster that it’s impossible to pick without leaving someone who has a pretty loud constituency. I think they got it right by using mostly generation 1 (the 84 series) characters with a few like Ultra Magnus thrown in, while leaving space to add in more later.

For those who care about it, the animation is excellent in my opinion. It’s not dated like the 84 series and it’s not too CGI like Transformers Prime. The vehicle models fit, no Megatron turning into a handgun or anything silly like that. The overall tone is perfect for adults who grew up with the old series but need something a little more weighty now, but adolescent kids who mainly to see robots shoot lasers and transform, with some plot added in, will be fine. This is definitely a more heavy version of the story of the war between the two sides. Megatron seeks to win people over to his cause willingly but ultimately signs off on what could only be called a mental and psychological WMD to be used against his adversaries. There are people on both sides reaching out in good faith to the opposition, with varied results, there are doubts openly placed towards Optimus like we haven’t seen before, and there are some loyalties that are earned along the way instead just being there at the beginning. And for the most part these are welcome additions to the story in my opinion.

The Bad

I don’t know if this is really that bad but Optimus Prime was a lot tougher to follow than any other time. He had all the usual traits we associate with him – brave, steadfast, loyal, strong – but here there was an element of zealotry that had me saying ‘dude, maybe you need to rethink this’ that he normally does not have. There were also a couple of spots regarding an Autobot that was taken prisoner that didn’t really line up logic wise for me, and a scene where Prime went to ask for help didn’t make much sense to me either. Other than that, pretty smooth sailing.

Final Verdict

This was right up my alley. A series with mostly Generation 1 characters, the ones I grew up on, that I can watch at 46 years old and not feel like I’m watching a silly kids’ show. They took the time to flesh out some of the characters personalities and build things for the future, instead of focusing entirely on Optimus and Megatron with a little Starscream thrown in. And with Starscream they started a slow burn in constructing his desire to one day rule instead of just dropping us right in the middle of him wanting to overthrow Megatron with little explanation. It never dragged for me and I came away ready for the next part of the trilogy. No gratuitous deaths, and unlike the Michael Bay films I never felt like the people who made it disregarded the source material. Highly recommend.

Overall Quality: 5/6, Enjoyability: 4/4

Total Score: 9/10

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