Review: Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy - Siege
Updated: Aug 22, 2020
So just to put my cards on the table, what you should know before we get into this is that I'm a fairly big Transformers fan. I'm a big fan of robots in general and am eagerly awaiting when the Singularity rises and ends the mockery of our society, but that's another topic for a different time.
I was probably put in front of a TV too many times with Optimus Prime as my babysitter, but regardless of the reason I truly enjoy these walking testimonies to the deregulation of children's programming and Reaganomics. So with that in mind, of course I had to watch this, and of course I have some things to say about it. Things that I will now inflict upon you, just as the animators inflected those sexy lips on Megatron.
A super quick aside on the topic of lips and infliction, Tumblr user flareflickerfade created images of a past incarnation of Megatron with the same lips and now I must pass it along to you. You're welcome?
Lips aside, overall the show is ok. It's way better than the Prime Wars trilogy, but nowhere near the quality of Transformers Prime (2010). I haven't made it through much of Cyberverse because I hate Bumblebee's radio talk with a passion, so I can't really draw a comparison yet. If all of this is gibberish to you because you're not a Transformers fan, I get it. What you need to take into account is that roughly every few years, brands like Transformers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles relaunch. There's a cyclical nature to these toy media franchises, and I would say it's usually about every three years but it feels like it's moving faster.
This time around it's supposed to be an origin type of story, but it basically just rewinds to right before they leave Cybertron and land on Earth. It's basically a remix of a lot of the basic story beats of previous iterations, with the benefit of no humans. And trust me, that's always a benefit.
The main takeaway though is that this is possibly the most toyetic version of the media, and that's saying something considering the original comics and cartoon were created solely to sell toys. What I mean by this is that the animation models are designed to look like near exact replicas of the Siege Transformers toy lines, down to even the little nubbins and blast ports that you can attach blast effects and weapons to.
I'm of two minds on this decision. Half of me is a little put off by the blatant nature of the corporate synergy at play here, and how that also altered the style of the show. Seriously, there are moments that look like this is a Robot Chicken episode or as if I was watching a Toy Story movie that was populated only with Transformer toys.
On the other hand, I suppose there's a certain honesty to it. And damn if it doesn't create an additional mental connection to the toys that I have already bought (because of course I've bought most of this line already). It's damn effective. There's a minor character that pops up that's basically just a repaint of another character that I was fine with not owning, but now that I've seen him in the show.....
Still, there's something sad about the forced synching between animation and plastic. Chris McFeely did a fabulous study on The Art of Transformers, pointing out the inconsistencies of translations from toy design to cartoons. There's a certain magic that can happen where you get something completely different and new simply because an animator looked at a reference photo and said, "....Nah."
Moving on from the toys, the story is decent if drawn out. There's not too much room for any clever twists as they are stretching out the plot points and dialogue in service of showing all these toys off. It's a very by the books approach to the core Transformers mythology, and that's understandable because it's meant to be a new jump on point for people who aren't me.
Since there's not too many interesting things plot wise, the more important focus for me was on characters. They did a decent job of capturing most of the basic tones of the characters, while also adding some interesting flair to others. Megatron is certainly the star of the show, and voice actor Jason Marnocha made the character resonate. This version was an interesting balance that portrayed a genocidal tyrant who also had a history where you almost can't blame him too much? It had more nuance and I appreciated that.
Ratchet's background was more engaging as he really didn't want anything to do with the war, Bumblebee is depicted as a mercenary scavenger instead of scrappy bff for Optimus. Jetfire had an actual arc where he was wrestling with his loyalties. While I want to see certain familiar elements, it's nice to see some new takes as well.
On the flipside, it's very easy for me to be disappointed in some of the basic choices of voice direction. Jake Foushee's turn on Optimus Prime was....well, it wasn't the worst but it distracted me at times. Likewise, the voice choices for Shockwave and Soundwave were oddly bland, which is sad considering they have two of the most unique voices in the franchise. Seriously, if this Youtuber can do a better Shockwave, what's your excuse?
A lot of that is just nitpicking fanboy stuff though. The core concern for the series is the pretty basic plot structure and plodding dialogue. None of it is terrible, but it drags down the entire presentation a bit. On the flipside, it doesn't use explosions as a means of communication like the Michael Bay films did, instantly making it a much more complex piece of work.
All in all I would say it was decent fun, and should be enjoyable for a new viewer. It offers a more nuanced view of the core story than the original 80's material, but it oversimplifies the major gains in storytelling that were made with later incarnations. What we do need to keep in mind though is that it's the first chapter of a trilogy, so we'll have to wait and see on any improvements (or pitfalls) that may yet come.
Quick final sidenote, Thew Adams did an in depth review on Youtube and it's well worth watching. He's one of my favorite Youtube personalities so I highly recommend checking him out!