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Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy – Earthrise Review

December 30, 2020 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
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Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy – Earthrise Review  

Author’s Note: This is a spoiler-free review for Transformers: War for Cybertron, based on screeners for the entire season provided by Netflix.

The Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy animated series continues with its second chapter, “Earthrise,” debuting on Netflix this week. At the end of the first chapter, “Siege,” the Autobots were in a desperate struggle in the ruins of their dying planet Cybertron. The Decepticon leader, Megatron, wanting to put a swift end to the war, sought a strategy to utilize the Allspark to forcibly convert all Autobots into Decepticons. The battle-weary Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, managed to obtain the Allspark first. Prime was able to send the Allspark through a Space Bridge across the universe. He and a number of loyal Autobots followed in the Ark, and they were believed dead. However, Optimus and his team were very much alive but lost and drifting in space.

“Earthrise” picks up shortly after the events of the end of the first season. The Autobots have been splintered. Elita-1 leads what remains of just a few Autobots on Cybertron. Meanwhile, it appears events on Cybertron have grown even more dire. Megatron has begun a secret project that has grave implications, even for his loyal subjects.

The Autobots on the Ark did manage to survive, but they only might have just jumped out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fryer. They’re soon abducted by Cybertronian mercenaries and encounter an entity with a longstanding history with Cybertron.

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With a season that’s subtitled as “Earthrise”, fans likely assumed this meant the Autobots were going to present-day Earth. It is understandable that fans would be confused when this season doesn’t go in that direction. That’s considering the Earthrise sub-series for the War for Cybertron toy line was specifically themed around giving the Autobots and Decepticons more Earth-like vehicle modes. However, “Lost Cybertronians in Space” would be a more appropriate subtitle for this season, even if it’s already taken.

Instead, Season 2 has far more in common with Lost in Space and partially with 2001: A Space Odyssey than the G1 animated series or any Earth-based Transformers cartoon. The space bridge has essentially marooned the Autobots and the Ark, and they’re desperate to find the Allspark. Season 2 is clearly more thematically ambitious than the first season. It plays around with some interesting and grand ideas for the Transformers mythos. However, the confines of this limited series format hold the series back from exploring them in greater detail. As a result, the plot comes off as rushed.

Specifically, fans who have watched the trailers will know there are appearances from major figures in Transformers mythology in this season. Unfortunately, they aren’t really present enough to make much of an impact. The Quintessons are introduced, but they’re a lacking presence this season.

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While War for Cybertron clearly had its limits in the first season, they became more prevalent in Earthrise. Unfortunately, the animation team is limited with the amount of character models that can actually transform. So, while the CG models and movement of the Cybertronians look fairly good, only a handful of them can actually transform, which is part of the whole appeal of this franchise.

It’s somewhat disappointing when Optimus orders the Autobots to transform and roll out, and then Wheeljack and Arcee are forced to hitch a ride on his truck bed because they can’t transform for unknown reasons. As a result, it definitely comes off as if the production team has been handcuffed in what they’re capable of animating and depicting in a given season.

Some visually interesting new characters do appear this season. However, the animation is again severely limited in their ability to depict the actions of these characters. Hopefully in Season 3, the handcuffs will be removed in terms of budget.

Unfortunately, Optimus became a less believable and likable character in Season 2. In terms of the storyline, he’s becoming more and more of a liability to his soldiers. Optimus can’t seem to make up his mind or make a strong leadership choice. While it’s good for strong characters and leaders to have flaws, but this version of Optimus is stretching the lines of credulity.

In the first season, Optimus was a reluctant leader in a desperate struggle. Although he made mistakes, his choices and decisions were understandable. In Season 2, his choices are starting to become confusing and borderline ridiculous. At one point in the season, Optimus has an encounter with one of his former rivals. Some of this sequence is actually quite thoughtful and well written. However, the conclusions that Optimus reaches and the decisions he makes in the aftermath are a letdown.

Optimus should have his low-points and be capable of mistakes, but he should be able to competently lead the Autobots as well. This season just leans too far in the spectrum of Optimus as more of an incompetent, reluctant leader. Yes, a good leader should be humble and look out for the needs of his people over himself; but a good leader should also have a stronger spine than what Optimus exhibits in Earthrise.

Issues with Optimus Prime aside, Jason Marnocha’s Megatron is the standout character this season. The show demonstrates a sort of pragmatic reasoning behind Megatron’s actions incredibly well. This Megatron is a despot, yet for Megatron, there’s a calculated reasoning behind all his actions.

The writers of this show at least understand how to give Cybertronians character development and world-building. There’s a very interesting sequence early in the season where Megatron visits a Decepticon factory. Megatron is a tyrant, but the show does flesh out what motivates Megatron. He was a gladiator and a slave fighting for his freedom. However, the drawback is that Megatron only knows how to respond to force with an equal or greater amount of force.

At the very least, Season 2 features one of the strongest depictions of Megatron to date in any type of Transformers media.

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The better subplot this season actually involved the subplots???? or characters who remained on Cybertron with Elita-1, Jetfire, Red Alert and Chromia. Things were desperate with the Autobots on Cybertron beforehand, and now they are barely hanging on by mere threads. Elita-1, continuing to lead the fight little remaining hope, is one of the more exceptional ideas this season. Frankly, Elita-1 and Bumblebee came off as better defacto leaders for the Autobots than Optimus Prime.

In defense of the writers, what happened with Optimus Prime was probably the result of trying to make him a more interesting character and not a flawless leader. As a result, Optimus Prime became a bit too flawed this season. Hopefully, that’s walked back a few steps in Season 3. Additionally, the show incorporates a very exciting location from the IDW comics that fans will likely appreciate and enjoy.

Overall, Season 2 leaves the series on somewhat shaky ground. The War for Cybertron Trilogy started strong, but “Earthrise” meanders around too much with the Optimus Prime and Ark crew lost in space. It fails to really reinforce Optimus Prime as a strong leader his teammates would follow into any battle and makes Optimus look weak and ineffectual.

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This season of Transformers: War for Cybertron does at least set things up for an interesting finale. The theme of Season 3 has already been confirmed as Kingdom, mixing G1 characters with those from Beast Wars. It’s definitely an intriguing premise the mythos has never explored before, so hopefully the writers and production team will be able to stick the landing.

The final score: review Good
The 411
Unfortunately, Transformers: War for Cybertron - Earthrise feels like it took a few steps back in terms of storytelling. The plot meanders quite a bit. Optimus Prime comes off like a rather incompetent and ineffectual leader who can't make up his mind. Also, the edges of the budget are really starting to show. This season really could have used a few more episodes to better establish the more interesting ideas that this season gets to explore.