When Megatron, the feared leader of the evil sentient robot faction devastating the once serene planet of Cybertron, isn’t walking in and out of shadows (which he does a lot), you’d think of him as a swell, upstanding guy.
That is, when he isn’t blowing holes in fan-favourite characters.
The Megatron one sees in the new Netflix series Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy, isn’t the growling, one-dimensional mad villain viewers are familiar with; here he’s a solemn leader, drowning in pathos and passionate for his cause — to return his war-ravaged home world Cybertron to its former glory. His Plan-A is simple: convince the Autobots (for the unversed, they are the good guys) to agree to his terms, and join them in a planet-wide political reform; or Plan-B — mind-wipe them all into his faction.
Don’t for one second think he’s enjoying his job. Megatron applauds his enemies’ valour, values their sense of conviction, and talks to them as equals… before ordering one of his lackeys to execute them. This is war, after all.
Despite a couple of things going for it, War for Cybertron is a trite endeavour, screenwriting-wise
War, though, isn’t a newfangled concept for any iteration of Transformers, be it the landmark cartoon series from 1984 (The Transformers aka Generation 1), its excessively violent, plot-hole riddled, cult-favourite follow-up movie (The Transformers: The Movie), or the throngs of cartoons, videogames and feature film retellings across mediums. No matter the era or the target audience, war it seems, is inevitable.
War for Cybertron (not to be confused with its totally dissimilar, namesake videogame), is a little different than the rest of the fodder. Set primarily in Cybertron, the setting is the near-end days of the collapse of their civilisation. Two principal factors help War for Cybertron. First, the mature storytelling stance delves deep into the backstory and the political upheaval that ruined a once peaceful race. Second, since the setting is millions of years in the past, there are no pesky humans whimpering and cowering about, ruining the action and the scenes (the second argument is primarily reserved for Michael Bay’s movies).
Despite the praise, this new series isn’t perfect, not by a long shot.
Coming in behind the unconnected, critically- and audience-panned Prime Wars Trilogy (I liked it), the animation quality, in comparison, is horrendous. Bodies of hard-metal robots twist and turn with the bendy flexibility of a marshmallow (those of you who plan to see the series, notice the torsos). Rendering and texturing — which contribute to the grimy, grungy overall look of the product — isn’t far off from a video-game from five years ago. To top things off, the lip-sync is off, no matter if one switches the series’ audio to English, Japanese or Hindi (the last one had the closest sync in lip movements).
Oh and, lest I forget, the robots, without any plausible reason, transform into Earth-vehicles on a planet hundreds of millions of miles from Earth, which would be going through its dinosaur era then. This particular decision, lacking in any semblance of logic, I wager, has to do with the sale of the toy line connected to the series.
Storytelling-wise, fans of the franchise have a better alternative with comic book publisher IDW’s reboot of the series — not only does the comic series explore the ideological differences of the two factions with sensitivity and concentrates solely on characters, convictions and internal conflicts, most importantly it shies away from action sequences for months on end (the first few issues deal with the first murder in Cybertron in eons).
War for Cybertron, despite its inclination to include elements similar to IDW’s comic, is a trite endeavour screenwriting-wise. Characters — especially the Autobot leader Optimus Prime — are badly written, or have fickle motives and reasoning.
Still, there is a lot of potential in the series, especially since this is Part 1 of a planned trilogy. Maybe things will get better over time. Until then, however, I’d side with the man-with-the-plan: Megatron. At least he knows what he’s doing.
Streaming on Netflix, Transformers: War for Cybertron (Chapter 1: Siege) comprises six, 25-minute-long episodes.
The series is rated 7+ for cartoon violence — though I’d personally recommend it for 13 years and older. It’s grim, gruesome, promotes violence and features scenes featuring a dismantled rubble of characters that were alive barely minutes before.
Published in Dawn, ICON, August 9th, 2020