The Transformers are in a mess, in more ways than one.
Since its inception in 1984, the toyline/cartoon series has well, transformed into a franchise behemoth, moving into comics, loose sequels, kids version, and more, with each branching off into more sub creations that are at times united in name only (Marvel US vs UK comics, Transformers G1 cartoons vs Japanese sequels, Marvel Comics vs Dreamwave vs IDW vs Devil’s Due, etc), but still creating an impressive narrative of the heroic Autobots versus the evil Decepticons across multimedia channels.
But along the way, there have been countless stories of the war for Cybertron, and the battles between Optimus Prime and his arch-nemesis, Megatron, and no resolution is in sight, because despite having both leaders kill each other in the seminal Transformers: The Movie, both these characters are always at the epicentre of the Transformers story.
Their latest battle takes place in Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy – Siege, a new 6-part animated series from toymaker Hasbro and Netflix, and it is part of a larger three-part series. In a way, this modern 3D retelling actually brings audiences back to the past on Cybertron and on the surface, audiences can enter this series with barely the base knowledge of the franchise. If you’re a fan of Paramount’s live-action movies, Siege can be seen as a loose retelling of the events in Cybertron that led to the movies, briefly seen in Bumblebee.
If you’re a fan of the original Transformers cartoon, you can treat Siege as an expansion into the background of the events that led to the Autobots escape from Cybertron to Earth millions of years ago, and you will be treated to some elements not seen in the first episode then, but canonically inserted in subsequent seasons (such as the introduction of the female Autobots, Elita-1 and Ultra Magnus).
If you happen to be a fan of the earlier Transformers: War for Cybertron video game, you’re SOL because this animated series has nothing to do with that game of the same name. Showrunner F.J. DeSanto has enough from the last almost-four decades of stories to pick from, and he clearly selected the key ones for this.
And if you’re a fan of the massive Transformers toyline, be prepared for a new wave of Transformers toys that you might have seen before, or even owned. Released as part of the Generations toyline, the toys were actually released in early 2019, before this animated series. So what can Hasbro do to coincide with the launch of this new animated series? Why, re-release the toys in new packaging and paint of course.
The toys from this new wave are the same as the earlier one, with one added advantage – they look EXACTLY like the characters from the cartoon. It seems that the animators behind the cartoon actually based their designs on the cartoons, thereby giving fans the most incredibly cartoon-accurate designs and paint job ever in the almost 40-year history of the series. It’s so accurate that the series’ characters actually sport some of the more prominently placed 5mm post and screw holes from the toys, for where toys can be combined or weapons can be mounted.
Interestingly enough, the series can be seen as an attempt to weave the rich histories of all the Transformers properties that came before, to fix plot holes and what not, but it gives rise to new ones. As noted earlier, Siege can be seen as an attempt to reconstruct the narrative of the events leading up the first episode of the original cartoon, and introduces the likes of Elita-1 (and why she didn’t travel on Teletraan 1 to Earth), the Allspark, and also Ultra Magnus, while also answering some small plot holes, such as if only Decepticons can fly, where did Jetfire come from?
(Yes, I know – Autobots and Decepticons can all fly, but in the original series, the Autobots were mainly working class ground vehicles, while the Deceptions included planes and were more militaristic in nature.)
There are some retellings here, and not entirely retcons since this is not supposed to be a sequel to any Transformers property. Still, it’s nice of Siege to retain some connective tissue to G1, such as the electronica voice that is Soundwave, Starscream’s high pitch voice that is clearly a tribute to Chris Latta’s original, iconic depiction, as well as with Bumblebee and Ultra Magnus.
Some lines from the six-episode series are also directly lifted from the original 1985 animated movies and bio card from the toyline, including ‘Till All Are One’, and ‘Freedom is right of all sentient beings’. It’s less of a cash grab, but a means of introducing the franchise to a new audience. Sadly, not all the classic Transformers are given equal airtime, and Ironhide’s presence is woefully inadequate. And, since when did Blaster look like well, that?
But it begs the question – why is Optimus Prime such a wuss? From the very first episode, Prime behaves less of a leader, and more of a stubborn robot jumping in and out of danger against an already evil Megatron. He gets baited into obvious traps, is blind to honour and loyalty and if not for the support of his fellow autobots, he would have been dead. In fact, it is more of the actions of Ultra Magnus, Elita-1 and even Bumblebee that pushes the narrative forward.
This is not a knock against Jake Foushee, who first rose to fame with his impressions of Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime, and he reprises his voice role as Prime from earlier series, but the combination of his youthful voice and mis-characterisation of Optimus has created a less than spectacular depiction of the single greatest Autobot leader in the history of the franchise. We were promised Optimus, not Rodimus.
The first few episodes are also light on the action, with plenty of talking robots and not much else. Battles are rare and if they do happen, short. You pretty much have to get to the third episode before events start to come together, towards the end-goal of escaping Cybertron.
Along the way, the depiction of Autobots and Decepticons are also placed as both technological and ideological, that independent thought, questions and justifications behind the war can be raised by both sides. It’s a nice nod against the idea that evil was purpose-built into these machines.
Animation-wise, the series does an incredible job of showing giant fighting robots, but the use of detailed movements gives rise to one aspect that Bayformers was blamed for, for overhauling the classic robot designs of iconic characters. However, it seems Michael Bay was right all along, that smaller metal pieces that shift and move allow for the greater agility of mechanical beings. Because when you see metal being with lips, and watch as they twist, turn and stretch their bodies, the very obvious reaction is that metal does not do any of these things and is not malleable enough to hold humanoid characteristics.
It’s a small thing that doesn’t register with classic cell animation, but is painfully obvious in 3D renders. That aside, it’s unfortunate that Siege is only six episodes long – there is still so much to know and explore with this series. Also, if you think you know your Cybertronian lore, there are twists here you might not see coming.
But longtime fans don’t need to watch another cartoon to rekindle our love for these robots in disguise. We can always pick up the toys and create our own adventures, until the next season drops.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Siege is a love note to Transformers G1, and an attempt to bring together long-held but not necessarily universal elements of the Transformers into one series. Showrunner F.J. DeSanto clearly has a love for things that are more than meets the eye, and his passion shines through in six short episodes.
Story - 8/10
Direction - 7.5/10
Characterisation - 7/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10