If you haven’t seen Netflix’s TRANSFORMERS: WAR FOR CYBERTRON series yet, stop reading this right now as I’m going to get into some full on spoilers. If you aren’t sure if you want to watch it, you can read my spoiler free review of the pilot here.
Last chance to avoid spoilers, I’m serious!
With that out of the way, let’s talk Transformers. There have been many iterations of the transforming robots over the years, from the 1980s cartoon (known as Generation One or G1), to the Michael Bay live action movies, to a thriving comic book universe. Your age will probably determine what is your version of Transformers. For me, the baseline will always be the original cartoon and everything coming out is inevitably compared to that.
Through that lens, War for Cybertron compares favorably. The character designs look like the original characters, which was a welcome decision for me given my overall dissatisfaction with the Bay movie interpretations. This series takes place before the Autobots and Decepticons brought their war to Earth. It is set on Cybertron, of which only glimpses are given in the original series (more being fleshed out in the comic books, particularly the current IDW series). In my review of the pilot, I wrote that it was possible this series was a prequel to that original series. Having watched the whole season, I have concluded that while it takes many elements from the 1980s show, this is a new interpretation/reboot of the series. Here’s why: ok, for reals, last warning, I’m about to get into some spoilers.
The Ark: In the cartoon, the Autobots flee Cybertron on a ship. It crashes on Earth and they lay dormant for millions of years before they are awakened, starting the series. War for Cybertron: Siege is basically about their efforts to get the Ark going, with the main difference being who is on the ship when it takes off. I wish Netflix had included more bots in the series, as there really didn’t seem to be that many Autobots boarding the Ark. Of course, we could always be told that more boarded without us seeing it.
Elita-1: Elita-1 had a very small part in the Transformers cartoon, where it is revealed that she and Optimus were a couple, but she was unfortunately left behind when the Ark escaped. War for Cybertron also has Prime and Elita-1 together, and leaves Elita-1 behind only to return when she gets captured. In this case, she makes the choice to stay behind to fight for Cybertron, making her less of a damsel in distress. Hopefully, the series continues to show what she and her crew is up to on Cybertron as well as following those who made it onto the Ark.
Energon/AllSpark: The cartoon is all about the quest for Energon, which is basically energy that is formed into cubes that powers the Transformers. For some reason, the Bay movies abandoned this concept and replaced it with the “Allspark” which is a force that gives life to Transformers. Interestingly, War for Cybertron incorporates both elements, creating a spiritual linkage between the show and movies. The Transformers (particularly the Autobots) are desperate for Energon, but they also go on a quest to find the Allspark.
Ultra Magnus: Ultra Magnus is an interesting case because he was one of the characters who was introduced in Transformers the Movie, the animated movie that killed off most of the original Transformers to make way for new ones (for toy sales purposes). Ultra Magnus is present at the start of this series, but is killed off fairly early. His death is another break in the possible chain connecting this show with the original series, as he can’t show up later if he’s already dead. With that said, it is always possible he comes back somehow – it’s been done before! Both approaches to Ultra Magnus were interesting, but I think his arc in this show is an improvement over his arc in the animated movie (I’ll avoid spoiling that in case you haven’t seen it yet).
Jetfire: In the cartoon, Jetfire and Starscream were buddies and explorers back in the day. Jetfire got stuck in ice on Earth for millions of years. When he got thawed out by the Decepticons, he realized the Decepticons were bad dudes and switched sides. War for Cybertron keeps the spirit of Jetfire’s evolution, but plays out the entire arc on Cybertron. Having the switch occur on Cybertron means no ice for Jetfire!
Why these bots don’t like each other: In the original cartoon, Decepticons are bad and Autobots are good. You don’t really need to think any deeper than that. This show seems to take its cue from the IDW comics series, with the Decepticons starting out fighting against oppression. This gives the Decepticons a little more motivation for their actions, and Megatron definitely becomes more nuanced. People may dislike this approach, but at least it attempts to answer the question 10 year old me would ask: Why do the Decepticons hate the Autobots so much? It also is similar thematically to where the Transformers animated movie and later seasons of the show went, revealing the Quintessons created the Transformers to be their servants, who rose up against them.
As you can see, War for Cybertron keeps many elements from the original series, but gives its own twist on them. I really like this approach because it triggers my fond memories of Transformers while creating something new. This makes the series very fun to watch, but rules it out as a direct prequel to the Transformers cartoon from the 1980s. While I really enjoyed the series, part of me wishes the writers approached this as a direct prequel. It takes skill to tell an original prequel story that fits in with established timelines and canon, and it would have been fun to see the writers try to pull this off. With that said, the group of people my age who would really appreciate the effort is a small subset of potential viewers, so I can understand wanting to go in a different direction (and of course, they have take toy sales into account). Nothing can capture the pure goofy fun of the original, but anyone who has a passing interest in Transformers should give this show a chance.
Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy: Chapter 1: “Siege” is now available on Netflix.
Are you going to watch the series? If you already have, what did you think? Feel free to chat with me on Twitter or leave a comment below!