The first chapter of three has landed on Netflix, and it explores the origins of the bitter war between the Autobots and Decepticons.
I'm a lapsed Transformers fan but I don't mind admitting, right here and right now, that growing up, it was my second favourite franchise (after Star Wars, naturally). In my younger days, I collected the toys, watched the early TV episodes again and again on VHS until the tapes wore out, and I replayed the movie so many times that the script is etched deep in my memory banks. Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bong to you too, dear reader.
All that being the case, when I was browsing Netflix and I saw the first part of a new series, Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy, I was intrigued. Now, having watched Siege (otherwise known as Chapter 1 of the eponymous trilogy), I'm looking forward to the second, although there are a couple of areas where I think the Netflix show could be a bit better and improve upon this solid first chapter.
By now, in 2020, Transformers lore is a bit of a tangle. Over the years the franchise has sprawled all over the place, with the original cartoons setting the scene, live-action movies taking the narrative in a new direction, various refreshes and spin-offs, graphic novels, and everything else in between. With so much going on, it's hard to know what is important to know and what is not, and I came in wondering exactly where this sits in the grand scheme of things.
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First things first: this is not based on the 2010 video game by High Moon Studios, Transformers: War for Cybertron. Another confusing thing, at least from my perspective, is the number of different generations and timelines there are, and how they link to each other (or not, as the case may be). Despite this being the case, you can stop worrying about continuity and just enjoy Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy - Siege for what it is. No, not a glorified advert for a bunch of toys (although it is that), but rather as a prequel story that examines the origins of the age-old feud between the Autobots and Decepticons.
What's most interesting here is the relationship between Prime and Megatron. In Siege, we get to watch Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons, unravel from a moral point of view as he looks to wrestle control of Cybertron. We're given important story beats about the rise of the Decepticons and their struggle to overthrow their former masters, for whom they worked for over countless generations. The war between the two factions is portrayed as a Decepticon rebellion and Megatron starts the series with his honour relatively intact. However, you can see the last of the good in him ebb away as power and purpose corrupts his moral compass.
The designs for all the Transformers are inspired by their Gen1 originals, so Prime, Megatron, and Bumblebee all look like they did back in the day, and that makes a huge difference to a pair of eyes as old as mine. The original designs helped me connect with the source material in a way I'm not sure I would have otherwise. There are plenty of fan-servant nods in there, and the depth added to the origins of the war between Decepticons and Autobots makes it well worth a watch if you fondly remember the original series.
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The mini-series runs over six episodes, and during that time we see Prime, Ultra Magnus, and a bunch of similarly familiar robotic faces, take on the might of the Decepticons, who look like they're about to win the war and take over Cybertron. I'm not going to dive into the story in too much detail, but I will say that it quickly becomes clear that the Autobots are on the back foot and need to take drastic steps if they're to survive. If you know your Transformers then you've already got a fairly good idea about how things turn out, but just in case you're relatively new to the series, I'll stop there for fear of spoilers.
In terms of the audio-visual presentation, War for Cybertron looks good with decent CGI graphics and some solid effects. Just as important, however, is the voice work, which is strong and reminiscent of the originals, so Prime and Megatron both having booming voices, and Starscream still screeches away like an irritating fly. Of course, this is a series that needs the catchphrases and sound effects that we've all come to love over the years, and they're present and accounted for. In fact, the only real flaw I noted was a minor one, as the pacing is a bit off and sometimes the dialogue can feel a bit laboured and drawn out. In short, it would have benefited from being a bit snappier at times.
Perhaps the story could have been a bit more emotionally charged, especially considering the stakes, although doing so might have dragged it further away from its core audience. Similarly, the characters aren't given enough time to really grow and our connection to them is mostly forged through nostalgia, and that seems like a missed opportunity as well. That said, the series does a great job of building a bridge between the past and the present, and with so much fan service in there, it wasn't a hardship to push through the whole first chapter in one sitting due to the relatively short length of each episode (they're only 20-25 minutes long) and the instant connection I felt to the material. Is it perfect? No, it's not and there's certainly room for improvement. Will I watch Chapter 2 anyway? Absolutely.