Decently-successful establishing experiment that Siege was, the following part of the Transformers War For Cybertron Trilogy catapults much of the cast into space to watch the Earth rise! Eventually. By the end anyway, as the titular planet just comes into view for our favorite robots in disguise as everything’s going to hell in Part 2’s own cliffhanger ending. But they say that the journey is more important than the destination, so how does the road trip across the galaxy work out for Optimus Prime, Megatron, and the others? And what does that mean for Earthrise in terms of entertainment value for a show saddled with the unenviable middle-child placement of a nominal trilogy? Like the characters in the show, we spend a lot of time watching it trying to figure that out.
I can start by noting one key upshot Earthrise already seems to have on Siege: The structure of the story is significantly more episodic this go-around. There’s still plenty of connective tissue between the episodes making clear this is telling one full story (particularly in the space-station plot covered by episodes 3 and 4), but it’s all blocked off into easily-observable segmented story chunks. It means that even as a lot of the plodding ‘Netflix Pacing’ is still in place for how not-so-quickly these stories seem to go by, it still ‘feels’ more effective in terms of the episodes not running together the way Siege‘s stretched-out movie format did. You can immediately mentally classify what you’re watching as “This is the one with the Quintesson” or “This is the one with Sky Lynx”. It’s a simple shift, but noticeable.
Whether that structural update means Earthrise is actually better than Siege is going to very much come down to personal preference. As much as Earthrise‘s more episodic focus bucks a lot of the more lethargic elements of its predecessor, it does lend it its own particular issues. For one thing, cordoning off several of the plot elements in their own little episode-shaped boxes means those points can arrive and escalate to their conclusions often more quickly than feels natural. We barely get a few minutes to take in this show’s introduction of a multi-faced Quintesson character before they’ve just gone and sawed off the extraneous noggins. A conceptually-interesting alliance between Optimus and Megatron at a key point is formed and then broken after only a few moments. The series is rife with bits like this, plot points dropped in seemingly to satisfy some quota (or likely in several cases, to make sure all of Hasbro‘s new toys get turns to be shown off).
The stuttered, staggered nature of these story segments also raises the question of how well some of these points might work for non-Transformers obsessives who don’t already at least have a passing familiarity with the continuity concepts they’re referencing. That aforementioned Quintesson works as an example of that as well. These jacked-up alien judges are actually a cornerstone of the Autobots’ and Decepticons’ backstory that was alluded to in the previous part of the War For Cybertron Trilogy. However, the adjoining explanation of that role is barely glossed over in a couple sentences before the whole face-slicing incident occurs. Similarly, snippets trying to contextualize things like Scorponok’s appearance in this story, or a mysterious Galvatron guest-appearance, whisk by with the writing seemingly hoping the audience can piece together the reasoning for these roles, or simply won’t care all that much.
When these chopped-around chapters work, they work. The fifth episode’s use of the character of Sky Lynx is a good example of Earthrise finding a functional time and place to deploy an element in an interesting way, which grows things like Optimus Prime’s character and the narrative’s understanding of how to use its universe. But even that’s punctuated by snippets of lore, deep cuts for the sake of deep cuts like Megatron’s use of a ‘Hate Plague’ attack, or an allusion to the future plot point of the Golden Disk which exists seemingly to go nowhere at this point in time. And speaking of going nowhere, you have the entire chunk of the show’s plot that still takes place on Cybertron. It’s a back-and-forth story of subterfuge following leftover Autobots like Elita-1 and Jetfire, which goes through overt efforts in detailing itself only to seemingly end in an abrupt, explosive way which renders the entire experience moot in terms of connection to the main plot. Points to the showrunners for seemingly wanting to tie up all their loose ends, but it ends up feeling like wasted effort for how much it drags the audience through to end on seemingly cynical meaninglessness. Perhaps it’s supposed to represent the ultimate realization of the ‘War is Hell’ tone that Siege was previously trying to sell itself so hard on.
Another consequence of some of Earthrise‘s expansion of ambition is how much more some of the production cracks are starting to show. The homogenized nature of Siege‘s tone and setting made it easier to gloss over, but here we see more of the limitations in Polygon Pictures‘s work. You’ll pick up on things like characters who obviously lack CGI models for alternate modes, so scenes have to be animated around them not transforming even when it would make sense. Characters who sport repainted bodies for established characters should have different defining details, but don’t. It gnaws at you in terms of observing things occur, questioning if aspects like the Quintesson Judge’s defacing of themselves happens so suddenly in order to cut down on animation complexity. It’s distracting, taking a lot of the shine off of the style that Siege seemed to wear pretty successfully. The sound side of things, meanwhile, carries over most of the issues from the previous part: The voice acting is still directed to overly-homogenized gritty tones, with Optimus and Megatron in particular seemingly stuck speaking at half the speed that would actually sound natural. As well, Optimus’s voice actor chafes under the needs of more dramatic delivery, straining his impression of the Generation One character at some critically key moments.
All this means that while some of Earthrise‘s pacing and delivery of its material can seem more brisk and lively than its predecessor, it comes at the cost of feeling more slapdash than that one as well. Siege worked in spite of itself because there was a level of polish on top of the whole thing, but Earthrise exposes a lot of the weaknesses that were already there. We’re left with a show that I would say has higher highs than Part One of this Trilogy, but the lows are lower, and it feels like there are significantly more of them to take notice of.
#Transformers #War #Cybertron #Trilogy #Earthrise