Hasbro's Allspark Studio and Netflix bring Transformers back with a bang, going full Generation 1 in style, only now with 4K Dolby Vision and Atmos.
Childhood fans of the 80s cartoon were likely pretty wowed by Michael Bay's 2007 live action translation. Far from perfect, it was a pretty impressive start to a film adaptation, with effects that - notwithstanding the unnecessarily complicated changes to the robot designs and transformations - looked utterly spectacular. A succession of pretty bad sequels over the subsequent decade, however, lost Bay any good will generated by that opening salvo, with only 2018's Bumblebee - not by Bay - giving fans hope of a return to form, affording a snapshot of a very Generation 1 Cybertron, where the classic Autobots and Decepticons that 80s kids knew and loved were engaging in an all-out war. Since the 80s, the various, numerous, cartoon shows have also tried to capture that classic feel - never better than 1986's Transformers: The Movie - and Hasbro's Allspark Studio and Netflix may have finally accomplished it here, undertaking a trilogy called War for Cybertron, with the first Season (or "Arc") subtitled Siege, and consisting of six 24 minute episodes. If you grew up with Transformers, it's easily the best animated production since the 80s, and - Bumblebee flashbacks notwithstanding - easily the best Transformers we've seen full stop since '86's The Movie, and hopefully the perfect way to introduce new generations to everything the Bay movies should have been.
Easily the best animated production since the 80s
The planet Cybertron is a war zone. The civil war has divided the population, with the Decepticon war machines, led by the powerful Megatron, determined to rule the land with an iron fist. The resistance - designated Autobots - are led by Optimus Prime, finding themselves torn between just trying to survive versus following Optimus into what feels like an impossible battle against the superior Decepticons. When Megatron discovers that the hidden Allspark could prove the deciding factor in the war - allowing all Autobots to be reformatted into Decepticons - a race against time ensues, with both factions rushing to find the elusive power source, and the fate of Cybertron in the balance.
Damn, if it's not great to have some decent Generation 1 action. War for Cybertron - simply WFC (particularly useful when the kids want you to pick up the excellent toy line) - is solid and well-plotted, riding a fine line between being just simple enough for kids to engage with and not so simplistic that adults will grow bored of (which is a tough ask without rampant comedy or non-stop visual action, a la Pixar, to keep the former interested). The characters are mostly what fans will know and love, with a few twists in some cases, and added depth to the majority to give them an extra dimension.
Optimus is still the beleaguered leader, who will never win over Megatron on brute force alone, but will also never give up - his spirit helping take him that extra mile even against all odds. He's also gifted a hint of closeness with his longterm partner Elita-1, a pretty kick-ass sniper who soon graduates to Military Commander, and who likely will ultimately prove a weak spot for Prime. Bumblebee is repositioned as an Energon scavenger, who doesn't initially want to align himself with either side - he just wants to survive - whilst Prime's second in command, Ultra Magnus, doesn't believe that it's a war the Autobots can possibly win, and instead thinks that their mere survival should be paramount.
On the other side of the coin, Megatron isn't quite an outright villain - perhaps as he was portrayed in the original series - at least initially given some semblance of honour in combat, even if his tyrannical rule leaves little room for mercy, and also commanding a tribe of former slaves who actually used to do the grunt work for the elitist Autobots. You can almost sympathise with them. Soundwave's still a sneaky intelligence officer, and Shockwave a Machiavellian tactician, with Starscream - as ever - waiting in the wings for an opportunity to rise in the ranks, whatever the cost. And fan-favourite Jetfire is a Decepticon too here, although you can see the seeds being planted for a change in allegiance, particularly given how shocked he is when Megatron commits to a plan that amounts to genocide.
War for Cybertron: Siege was worth the wait, but let's just hope it's not too long to wait for the next Chapter in this strong Netflix anime
Whilst understandable that they need to spread out the release of the WFC Trilogy to retain subscriptions over a period of time, the initial 6-episode run is all too easy to binge watch in little over a couple of hours, the running length of a movie, which leaves the wait for the next chapter - Earthrise - a painful one for those who've become (re-)invested in the plight of these characters. Almost as soon as the momentum gets going, and the action starts having an impact, the show wraps up with a whopping great sense of... to be continued.
Certainly there's more than enough plotting, betrayals, deception, sacrifice, and general carnage to do justice to the plentiful source material and classic lore, and few long-time fans will be disappointed with what they've done here, and particularly with how damn good it looks in Dolby Vision (the moody, shadow-strewn wasteland of Cybertron still pops with some excellent primary tones, as do the characters themselves), and how great it sounds (the score teetering on Tron: Legacy levels of cool), but this still feels like an appetiser. A tremendous appetiser, sure, but an appetiser nonetheless. War for Cybertron: Siege was worth the wait, but let's just hope it's not too long to wait for the next Chapter in this impressive Netflix anime series.
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