Binge 'n' Purge: Netflix's Transformers: War For Cybertron - Siege
I’ve already written this review.
Back when Transformers – War For Cybertron: Siege first arrived on Netflix, I was like many other Transformers fans at the time: excited for a more mature take on the G1 origins. The trailers had looked halfway decent…as trailers usually do. And, as I’m sure I wasn’t the only case, I binged the whole damn thing in one sitting. When the three hour, six episode season had wrapped up…well, it wasn’t like I wanted my time back, but I would’ve liked…more. Of course, in entertainment, there’s the leave ‘em wanting more that’s good…and then there’s the other kind, where you leave the audience unfulfilled.
Siege was not the first kind.
After that initial viewing, I sat down to write a review and, as has gotten to be my habit these days, left it running in the background as I typed…that way I could refer back to it as needed. Once my review was finished, I saved it, shut off Netflix, and went about the madness that was 2020. So you could say that up to this point, I’d seen it about 1 and a half times.
That laptop then died, taking my review with it.
So, I finally sat myself down to give it another watch. Perhaps I’d been too harsh? I mean, not like you’d know, again, that review is lost to the ether…and it’s not all that negative. In fact, I think maybe I’d been playing the role of the optimist at best, the apologist at worst. But now, having sat through Siege a second time, as well as putting the series in context with writer/story editor F. J. DeSanto’s previous attempts at writing Transformers series, the Prime Wars trilogy…well, it’s time to sharpen the knives and maybe get a little eviscerating done.
There’s so much here that’s not good it’s difficult where to begin…but as someone that fancies himself a writer [We know better, don’t we? – Ed.] let’s start there. As I mentioned before, DeSanto has played in the Transformers Universe before having penned the Prime Wars Trilogy for the now defunct Machinima. (These episodes, however, can still be found on Rooster Teeth’s app.) While the writing there was panned, deservedly so, some of that could be attributed to the micro-episode format that Machinima had embraced…most episodes didn’t last any longer than 10 minutes tops, except for the finales which were allowed a little more breathing room. Not exactly the best format for storytelling. But now, DeSanto had been given a full 30 minutes per episode, granted, it was only 6 episodes, but still, that’s a solid three hours of storytelling. Now, an important aspect of writing is working within your constraints. For example, the writing staff on Beast Wars knew that the technology of the show had to keep a fair number of things limited, including cast, but they had the wherewithal to adjust their storytelling accordingly and as such, that series continues to serve as a high point in Transformers media to this day. Sadly, DeSanto and his staff do not do this, breaking the golden rule of storytelling: show, don’t tell. This will dovetail into the major problems I had with this series.
First, to give DeSanto and his team credit, there are a lot of good ideas here. There are hints of a revolt against the Quintessons, the rise of Autobot control, Functionalism, slave camps/mines and how this spawned the Decepticons. But none of this is really elaborated upon. If there were a new fan catching this series, I can understand why they’d be lost and possibly intimidated by the lore, because practically nothing here is elaborated upon. There seems like there’d be at the very least a great story about Optimus, Ultra Magnus and Megatron all under the tutelage of Alpha Trion, but nope…nothing. Just hints…and vague ones at that. We’re introduced to the Guardians, among whose number is Omega Supreme…but why are they called Guardians? Why is Omega breaking ranks with them at the end of the series such a big deal? And while I get that the number of identical Autobots and Decepticons running around in the background is strictly due to technology limitations, there’s also a great story behind that…are they all clones? Why? How did that happen? What are the impacts to not only Cybertronian society, but the mindset of the individual bots? To boil this all down, this series is a complete and utter failure at world building and because of this, not only will newcomers to the franchise be either confused or just tuned out to it, but not a single one of the more dramatic beats has any meaning being rooted in an exposition dump a couple of episodes ago…if anything.
This also ends up impacting character development. In the first episode, while Megatron is frustrated with the seeming stalemate in the war, he’s not willing to take the genocidal approach Shockwave suggests…but by the next episode, he’s completely down with it and ready to do more. Something similar happens to Jetfire. I mean, yeah, anyone that has been with the franchise for a while knows that Jetfire’s an Autobot, so his time wearing the purple badge is gonna be limited but, again, from the perspective of a newcomer…or even just someone interested in a decent story…Jetfire’s turn to the light is rushed. And then there’s Bumblebee. And yeah, ever since about 3 years ago, that name is usually accompanied by a profanity…because I am just sick and tired of this little yellow shit being the end all and be all of the frigging franchise. And here he is, doing his best Han Solo impression. Insert face-palm here. And just when I think I can’t be more pissed at this little what-have-you…he gets elevated to ‘chosen one’ status by the middle of the series. But I’ll bitch more about that in the next paragraph because this leads to another complaint.
When you’ve already got one McGuffin in play, don’t bring in a second one. You see, Siege is all focused on the race for the Allspark. Megatron wants to use it to overwrite Autobot programming to turn them all into Decepticons. Optimus wants to get the object off-planet to…well…um…keep it away from Megs? I dunno…Prime’s motivation to get the Allspark, except for the keep-away aspect, isn’t really explained. Of course, when trying to prevent genocide, maybe it doesn’t need to be. However, as a long-time TF fan, naturally he needs to get it off planet so that the Ark can take off so that the rest of the mythology can occur (Ark takes off, Nemesis follows, fight ensues, crash land on Earth, blammo…G1). But, as a tool to help speed things up, DeSanto introduces the Alpha Trion Protocols, handed down from said bot to Ultra Magnus and, upon his death, they find their way to our super-special little yellow uber-bot. [Sure, you could’ve squeezed more sarcasm into that sentence…maybe. – Ed.] And really, all these protocols are is just a shortcut plot device to speed up the search for said Allspark. Of course, then the Decepticons have to create a virus to destroy it. How? I dunno…the story’s logic eludes me. The ‘Cons send it through the Autobot network, but if Bee’s not connected to the network, how does he get infected? I mean, yeah, he’s gotta catch it so that he’s not terribly overpowered (too late). And to be honest, with the way everything’s going with the franchise, why on earth did they NOT want him overpowered. Fuck…seems like the only place left for these idiots to go, isn’t it? Again, maybe…MAYBE a little background might have helped me buy into the significance of these Protocols…but lacking that, they become even more blatantly a cheap plot device.
Lastly, and thankfully this has nothing to do with the writing…but it sure doesn’t help it either, we have to talk about the voice-acting. Ugh. Look, I get it that you’re looking for a younger Prime and Megatron, so going back to Cullen and Welker is out…but could you at least find a group that can act? Or a voice director that can actually draw out performances? I mean, this cast is bad-anime-bad when it comes to voice-acting. [You’re not getting paid by the hyphen. Knock it off. – Ed.] The best way I can describe it, and this didn’t occur to me until my most recent viewing, is that you know how there are times in Godzilla movies where there’s actually an American on screen…and he is indeed speaking English? But…he…speaks…so…slow…and…so…monotonous. I mean, it makes William Shatner look like the ultimate thespian. Yes, in context, I know that in the Godzilla movies that they speak that way so that what he or she is saying is easily understood by those in the audience that understand English…but acting it is not. It is, at best, narration and at worst…reading from the goddamn phone book. Practically EVERY SINGLE PERFORMANCE is like this. I make an exception for Impactor. That actor made an effort. Might be why the character got killed.
So yeah, essentially nothing pertaining to words, written and spoken, is worth a damn in this series.
Damn good thing that Polygon Pictures and their top-notch animators brought their A game. Yes, from the folks that brought us Transformers Prime (and no, we don’t speak of the follow up series, thank you very much) comes another gorgeous looking animation. Now, for the nitpickers, yes there is a bit of a flaw, as Polygon simply used the same CAD files that Has/Tak used in developing the toys…so where there isn’t a designed point of articulation, there are some moments of stretching, smearing or just overall fudging as opposed to as if the animation house had created their own models…but, meh, it didn’t bother me. To be fair though, the fact that so much of this production was crap did leave me reaching for something…ANYTHING positive. So here we are.
Boy…with all that bitching, I just sound like a bitter, jaded TransFan, huh? Like I’ve got frequent poster status on the TFW2005 boards. But if I’m honest, after my first viewing, I actually felt optimistic about the next chapter: Earthrise. You see, since the world had been…cough…”established”…cough…now the writers were free to tell the story they wanted to. And we’ll take a look at how successful, or unsuccessful, they were next time.
So, is it worth the watch? Boy, that’s a hard one to answer. If you’re a Transformers neophyte, I’d recommend watching it with someone that’s versed in the lore…you’re gonna need ‘em to explain some stuff. If you’re a salty dog like me, look, you’re gonna have to plow through this if for no other reason than to check out Doubledealer’s first American animation appearance…to say nothing of the Beast Wars slant of the third chapter, Kingdom. But ultimately…no. I really can’t recommend it right now. Maybe that’ll change after we get through the other two chapters…