By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Ever since the Prime Wars trilogy and Cyberverse moved the action away from Earth and made the focus on the robots in disguise home world, keeping up with Hasbro’s ever changing Transformers franchise is not always worthwhile. The missing elements which made up why I loved the Generation One series and Prime (2010) are gone. In what’s missing is the idea of making a toon for kids to enjoy.
The War for Cybertron trilogy is more for the long time adult fan who always wanted that backstory told. The narrative that’s developed for part one of a three part arc is very dark and bleak. It hardly laid “siege” on my interest. Bumblebee is not the same fun loving bot that we know of. Megatron’s agenda to dominate gets a bigger development arc which suggests Rooster Teeth, Allspark Animation and Polygon Pictures were looking at some of IDW’s published works and going further with it.
Thus, we find a gruff Optimus Prime and a zealous Megatron ready to be the next Caesar. When the warriors from the gladiatorial pits feel like they’ve earned the right to be an oligarchy of their own, a civil war will no doubt ravage much of the country.
All we have so far in the Netflix program is with Optimus Prime blamed for this ongoing war, and why he’s the leader in this resistance. The only mythology here are mild references to the Matrix of Leadership and the Allspark–the well of souls to which every Cybertronian is born from. More attention is paid to the fact that these living machines can die, and the narrative is not as exciting as the novels–Transformers: Exodus, Exiles and Retribution (to which was the first detailed account of the War for Cybertron)–I think this series also takes a few notes from.
The production is not without its faults too. Instead of bringing back the beloved voices of Peter Cullen and Frank Welker to this take, the studio (or Netflix) made the controversial decision to hire other (non-union) talents. It’s weird that the chiefs don’t want to hire the standbys who made the franchise great. Jake Foushee is almost dead on in having that vocal drawl that is Optimus. Sadly Jason Marnocha will never come close to being the Megatron that I love. Key to what makes this series cool is who can give us a Starscream to remember. Frank Todaro is no Chris Latta and it’s tough to follow up on how crazy the Cyberverse series went with this jet who lost his head and seeing it became something much worse. To send him back to being a grunt before rising up the ranks just doesn’t gel.
Hearing Joe Zieja play a belligerent Bumblebee equally feels out of place. He hasn’t allied with anyone yet, but it’s easy to tell he’ll side with the Autobots.
Though the producers say this series is not related to the video game of the same name, I think a few ideas are taken from it. The character designs are similar, but I suspect the decision to announce this fact is to avoid continuity problems. Plus, the texture mapping of all those scratches and dings all over the bots is overkill. Surely before the Great War, somewhere on Cybertron once existed a lake of turtle wax.
While curiosity will kill this cat, I’m hoping the next arc be better. Part One sees the fight all on Cybertron, and we witness Optimus toss the Allspark to be lost somewhere in the universe. We know where it’ll end up, and that’s where the transport, The Ark, is headed. As for whether the story is going to follow down a similar path as the novels, that will be a detail I’ll be keenly keeping my eye on.