Transformers: Kingdom Review

Transformers Kingdom dropped this week, so we’re taking a look at the series and how it fits in the animated War For Cybertron Trilogy. Come with us, won’t you, as we peek in on the CGI robots from one era mixing it up with the CGI robots from another. Anderson, take it away…

In a lot of ways, Kingdom, the third and final part of the War for Cybertron Trilogy, was my favorite of the series. I genuinely enjoyed seeing the G1 characters interact with the Beast Wars ones. They’re not quite the same characters from the 1996 Beast Wars: Transformers Mainframe series, of course – just as the OG Transformers characters are similar to yet not exactly the same as any previous versions – but it was still satisfying to see the two generations meet. New viewers might be challenged of what to make of the characters and the settings, but it’s seemed evident from the start that the show was made for long-time fans, those who know all the characters and material and who can hit the ground running to fill in the gaps.

Those new viewers might have a lot of questions about what’s going on, who the factions are and what they’re fighting about. If this is indeed a show made for long-time fans, it should do more to give those fans the voices and characterizations that better match expectations, so it’s a sometimes uncomfortable mix of “looks right, sounds and acts wrong” that was a challenge to get used to — notably, we do get with a few characters like Optimus Prime or Starscream that work harder to close that gap. Visually, the series is excellent for a budget CGI animated series, while the music is forgettable (I seriously remember none of it other than the opening theme), and the voice acting should have made many of the characters more distinctive, the voice directing working harder to make the actors sound different from each other.

The character models for the Beast Wars cast are all recognizable, but as someone who is very familiar with the old show, the small visual differences always distracted as I was watching. That’s not meant as criticism, there is no reason for the characters to be visually identical to the old models and I didn’t expect them to be, it’s just a detail that stood out almost subconsciously.

If the looks stood out for their differences, the voice acting far outpaced that, especially Beast Wars Megatron in particular. Again, I don’t expect the voice work to be identical, most fit the characters adequately enough, but the changes still take a little getting used to. The one that seemed way off was the aforementioned Beast Wars Megatron, who sounds somewhat like Saw Garrera from Star Wars Rebels, or the original Beast Wars Scorponok rather than using original actor David Kaye’s iconic deep-voiced interpretation.

Optimus Prime takes aim.

Part of the fun was watching the Generations mix it up, so we get Laserbeak vs. Airrazor, or Ravage vs. Cheetor and Tigatron, or even the big names like Optimus Prime vs. Optimus Primal. We have Blackarachnia and Starscream scheming, Cheetor racing some Autobots, these are fun moments sprinkled throughout the six episodes. In a series full of personality differences, BW Megatron stood out the most as a complete fanboy of the original Megatron, loyal and fawning. It was an interesting choice for the character, I’ll admit. I don’t know that it quite worked, but there’s no reason not to write the character that way since this is a new continuity, so it was fine.

In a show focused on fans, there are of course lines and references back to the original Beast Wars series. Megatron calling the original “my namesake,” Dinobot talking about “having no choice at all,” Blackarachnia and Starscream teaming up, and more that waits to be discovered. Again, these are things that a new viewer would not necessarily recognize as touchstones, but are clearly nods to the experienced fan.

With War for Cybertron Siege, one of the problems I had was that not enough of the status quo and backstory was explained as a foundation for what was going on; it seemed like the writers assuming that the viewer was a fan who knew what they needed to know. That was less of a problem in Kingdom – the time-displaced Maximals and Predacons were clearly explained, as was the need to recover the Allspark – the who and the what all spelled out. Part of that was exposition, part of it was that so much of what happened here was based on what we had seen in Siege and Earthrise, so we got to see the cause and effect — unlike Siege where too often it relied strictly on dialogue that didn’t always give all the context.

“The only thing worse than one Megatron is two Megatrons….”

The final episodes of Kingdom make it clear that these 18 episodes of the War for Cybertron Trilogy are mainly one long story broken up into somewhat arbitrary chapters. This hasn’t exactly been an episodic series, it’s a movie broken up into 24 minute segments, grouped under three umbrella titles. It’s not quite the “novel for television” that Beast Machines was, where each episode had its own story and its own beginning, middle and end; but it’s closer to that than the usual episodic format of G1, Beast Wars or Prime.

In terms of noteworthy specific characters, Dinobot was well-handled here, even compressing his story arc down to just a few episodes. He went from reluctant Predacon who was still loyal to his side, to making the same choices the original did in embracing his own chosen path in life, surrounded by Maximals and Autobots. It didn’t have the same emotional weight as the original, but there’s no way it could in such a short span of episodes with so many characters introduced all at once. Yet it worked well for what it was.

Everything he’s ever wanted.

As well, Starscream gets something different to do here and a far different motivation for his attempts to overthrow Megatron. He watches the entire account on the golden disk, realizes that everyone is being manipulated, and is trying his best to stop the fighting, realizing where it will all lead. A nice character arc, Starscream’s a familiar character: ambitious, treacherous and thinks too highly of himself and his abilities, but here he’s shown to be intelligent enough to know when to set that aside for the greater good (and his own survival of course), something we don’t always see with other versions.

Overall, Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy: Kingdom offered our first real crossover between G1 and Beast Wars, and it wrapped up many of the dangling plot threads from the earlier portions of the trilogy, yet still left the door open for future stories. If I had to give a score from 1 to 10, I’ll go with an 8 for Kingdom, and probably somewhere between a 6 and 7 for the trilogy overall. There’s a lot that is good, some weaker elements, some good ideas and some pacing problems. It’s a mix of quality, but overall a decent effort with plenty of room for improvement in several areas.

Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy: Kingdom is available now on Netflix.