Transformers! More than meets the eye! Hasbro’s resident robots in disguise have been busy over the last couple of years, appearing in multiple films, TV series and toylines. We’ve had the highs of Transformers Prime, the middling Transformers series from the 2015’s a Machinima series from a while ago that we shan’t speak of because it was more painful than watching Starscream perform karaoke.
War for Cybertron is the next big series to take the spotlight, transitioning the classic G1 saga towards a more mature and darker tone. It’s kind of good! It’s also kind of bad! Here’s what we liked and didn’t dig when we exposed the short series to our optics. Some spoilers to be found below.
What we liked
We’ve seen Transformers make ample use of 3D animation to render its large-scale conflicts, with mixed results over the years. At its worse, we get the dismal clunkiness of the series featured in the Unicron trilogy, while at its best, we’ve seen Transformers Prime use the technology to create amazingly cinematic sequences. War for Cybertron looks damn good, showing off character models that are dinged and scraped up by endless cyber-carnage.
Everyone has battle scars, and seeing that extra level of detail that the actual toyline served as inspiration for, is marvelous stuff. Cybertron itself looks splendid, a warzone of neon lights and ruined skyscrapers, while the battle sequences are hard-hitting showdowns where sparks are ripped apart and Cybertronian chasses are blown into pieces.
There’s a simplicity towards Transformers, a tale of good versus evil that has characterised the franchise for decades. War for Cybertron is a very different slice of the mythos, steeped in despair and overwhelming odds as the Autobots find themselves outgunned at every corner. This isn’t so much a war as a last minute gasp for survival, with every Autobot reeling from the relentless march of the Decepticon forces. Hope does eventually come towards the end, but it’s a brief reprieve that Optimus Prime and his comrades have to fight circuit and spark for in a war of attrition.
I mean just look at those perfect puckers, spouting lines of Autobot genocide.
Megatron as a more layered character
On a more serious note, one of the greatest villains in pop culture coming off as a sympathetic leader of a disenfranchised race is simply fascinating to watch unfold. Even though he’s Hitler armed with a fusion cannon, you can’t help but understand Megatron’s rage, even if you don’t condone. While the series only briefly references it, Megatron’s rise to power started off as a slave in the gladiatorial pits, forced to fight so that he could survive to see another day.
His is an origin of brutality and pain, inflicted on him by a corrupt Autobot regime that built an empire on the corpses of countless dead Cybertronians. Megatron’s war reflects that savagery, simply because he knows no other way to see his faction and his people rise above the oppression that they suffered through. Megatron’s still a bastard who resorts to increasingly brutal methods to win the war, but it’s not hard to see why he he’s fuelled more by his personal pain than a cube of Energon.
Shades of grey
At the same time, the Autobots aren’t much better. Having flexed their privilege for far too long, they’ve almost been wiped out in the Cybertron Civil War and they’ve begun to realise that honour does not win a war. While the Decepticons are all too willing to use torture and the equivalent of chemical warfare to clinch victory at the eleventh hour, the Autobots have become desperate to turn the tide in the battle. They’ve become sneakier, their hit and run methods have become their standard wartime operating system and they’re not adverse to shooting prisoners of war.
Or as Optimus Prime has to remind them, they’re becoming just as bad as the Decepticons, even if they’re wearing a different insignia. It’s easy to be a saint when you’re in paradise, but with Cybertron reduced to a desolate purgatory, everyone is on the verge of becoming a sinner.
That fantastic soundtrack
You can thank Alexander Bornstein for that rousing soundtrack! Part theatrical big brass ballsiness and with a mix of electronica thrown into the mix that would make Daft Punk proud, his contributions to the audio side of Transformers: War for Cybertron gives every scene an upgrade. More on that later in the week, as I spoke recently with him on how constructed a soundtrack that is more than meets the ears.
I am the lore
There are a lot of callbacks to the past of the Transformers franchise, focusing plenty on the G1 era and never getting in the way of the story. From threats to having optics ripped out to subtle Easter eggs in the background, War for Cybertron is a treat for long-time fans if they keep their eyes open for those nods to the past. There are more overt references as well between the rotating cast, but chances are that if you grew up with Transformers, there’s going to be at least one “ah-ha!” moment for you in each episode.
And like I said, it’s a stacked cast! Optimus Prime and Megatron may be the headliners, but they’re flanked by an entire toy catalogue of allies, enemies and neutral participants. From Starscream and his Seekers to Jetfire and Shockwave, the likes of Red Alert, Mirage and so many other Cybertronians make their own appearance throughout all six episodes. And dammit, I want to collect them all.
What we didn’t like
Optimus Prime is an absolute moron
Yeah look, this Optimus Prime suffers from a case of bone-headed idealism that leads him into some very obvious traps. In every other Transformers project, the idea of Optimus Prime has always been simple: A warrior with in incorruptible spark, inspiring those around him by leading from the front and opposing Megatron’s evil schemes.
While he’s still mostly the same, Prime’s also prone to blundering his way to victory and achieving victory through sheer dumb luck while his subordinates call him out on his crap. I get that this series is meant to show Prime off as an inexperienced leader who never waivers from his moral compass, but the sheer disregard that he has for following a sound battle plan even when his fellow freedom fighters attempt to show him a better and more realistic path to winning the war, is baffling.
He’s a beacon for stupidity, and if he’s going to be in part 2 of the Cybertron trilogy, he’s going to need to do some major growing up if he wants to stand a chance against Megatron when the two clash once again. Optimus Prime at his best is awe-inspiring leadership, an Autobot who never breaks his code but knows when to at least bend his own rules. This version of Optimus, needs to look to the past if he wants to save the future.
It’s like…Christopher Walken…was in charge…OF THIS SCRIPT! Fair credit to the voice actor team in War for Cybertron for ably delivering their lines, but scratching out an extra second of animation by breaking up every single line delivered in the series makes for a frustrating path towards the conclusion.
Maybe it’s a tad too grim
I get it. I just praised the dark tone of this series, but here’s the thing: It never ever stops. Darkness needs to be counter-balanced by light, otherwise the end result is simply overbearing. War for Cybertron revels in a more mature tone, but it’s suffocating at the best of times and makes a binge of the series simply too much to experience. Hope does eventually come, but its thrown at you in the last few minutes of the series and feels disingenuous in its execution. It feels like an afterthought, added in simply because someone remembered to turn on the Optimism Prime light switch.
Bumblebee’s pointless upgrade
Bumblebee is a completely different character in War for Cybertron, and I like it! Usually portrayed as a bumbling rookie needing to be saved whenever he tumbles into yet another trap, Bumblebee is now a street-smart scavenger who owes allegiance to know side and is happy to remind you that he’s not an Autobot whenever he can. Seriously, turn that phrase into a drinking game and you’ll be having your stomach pumped before episode three starts.
In the middle of War for Cybertron, Bumblebee receives the Alpha Trion protocols upon the death of Ultra Magnus. A collection of Autobot knowledge, battle plans and tactics, Bumblebee becomes one of the most important figures in the conflict due to the potential that his spark now houses. And before he can even make use of the fabled Autobot leader’s gift to his people, it’s all wiped out in an instant by a Decepticon viral wave.
What was the point of even having that plot point then, if it was going to go nowhere?
Transformers: War for Cybertron is out right now on Netflix, and yes the “Washashaweesh” transformation sound has been kept.
Last Updated: August 3, 2020