COLLECTING THOUGHTS: WFC Kingdom – what worked & what didn’t (part 2)

We’re back for the second half of a walk-through of the recent Transformers War For Cybertron: Kingdom series that dropped on Netflix! The six-part show wrapped up the WFC trilogy by introducing a whole host of fan-favourite Beast Wars ‘bots, but still managed to divide opinion on certain elements. Having already examined how specific characters were handled in part 1, today it’s time to assess some of the plot elements that worked… and those that didn’t!

 

WARNING! Major spoilers ahead for the whole of the War For Cybertron trilogy, obvs!

 

DID WORK: nods to the past

One thing I certainly found a fair dose of fun during Kingdom was spotting all of the many Easter eggs thrown in! This kind of thing is nothing new for Transformers, although there were some surprisingly subtle references at times, not to mention some real blink-and-you-miss-them moments. The most obvious examples are in the first episode where Optimus Prime starts having visions, as we’re treated to numerous snippets all referencing Transformers media from the 1980s. You can clearly see a huge nod to the 1986 animated movie with the scene of Optimus on his death bed (which even appears to feature characters such as Hot Rod and Perceptor, although it’s very hard to make out!), a glimpse of the cartoon pilot episode’s iconic battle on Sherman Dam scene, flashes of giants such as Menasor and even a reference to Bumblebee first meeting his human friend, Spike.

It doesn’t stop there, mind, as through the rest of the show there were elements such as Starscream’s crown from the ’86 film, a potential nod to Blackarachnia’s relationship with Silverbolt in the original Beast Wars cartoon, plenty of references to classic moments such as Dinobot’s journey in Code of Hero and many more. It may be a bit of random fan service in many respects, but it’s still fun to see.

 

DID WORK: Unicron’s presence

I have to admit that I’m sort of over the idea of Unicron being a constant threat in Transformers media now. There was a time when it felt epic just to see the most tenuous passing reference to the Chaos Bringer, but between his inclusion in so many cartoons and films over the years now, it feels a little too obvious whenever he’s wheeled out to provide a bit of epic-level threat yet again. That said, I did enjoy his foreboding presence on the fringe of the Kingdom storyline and keeping him very much as a shadowy suggestion of ultimate evil rather than as the show’s big bad made him all the more menacing somehow. The scenes he featured in were appropriately sparse and whilst his dialogue may have lacked the sheer weight of his classic Orson Welles depiction, it was still suitably grand in its way. Besides, at least this time there’s a rather cool toy to back up his appearance, eh?

 

DID WORK: the Golden Disk


The golden disk was a huge part of the 1990s Beast Wars series and its purpose is essentially lifted from that storyline to Kingdom, in that it can be used to predict events from the future. In this case, it’s Galvatron who uses the disk to communicate with Megatron in his past, as seen at the end of Earthrise, though the premise around it all is much the same, as it ends up in the hands of beast Megatron, only to be used as an attempt to change the timeline. The implied timey-whiney shenanigans perhaps weren’t quite the major plot point they turned out to be in the original cartoon (not least because in this case, changing the timeline was in pretty much everyone’s favour except Unicron’s!) but still it made for an intriguing enough story. I also appreciated the nod of having Megatron’s face reflected in the disk as shown, a clear reference to the Mainframe animation from the ’90s.

 

DIDN’T WORK: too many MacGuffins

Despite what I said about the golden disk above, I will add that it should either have been made more important in terms of the overall plot, or it should have been shelved entirely in favour of any of the other stuff already going on, in my opinion. This show was already a bit MacGuffin heavy with stuff like the Matrix and the Allspark at play, so adding a third item to the roster definitely wasn’t needed! If anything, it became hard to distinguish what the purpose of all these artefacts was at any point, leading me to think that either the Matrix or the Allspark could have been written in a way that would have satisfied the plot purposes all round. Transformers media often has a habit of cramming in too much stuff in this way, and so it turned out with the WFC trilogy overall.

 

DID WORK: Dinobot’s sacrifice

Code of Hero remains one of the most solid parts of Transformers fiction history, in my opinion, so when it became clear this show was going to attempt to call back to that, I did wonder how well they would pull it off. To be fair, it’s a tall order to establish a character like Dinobot and then after just three short episodes deliver a sacrificial storyline that can rival the pay-off that two season’s worth of build-up called for in the original cartoon, but taking Kingdom on its own merit, I think a good job was done. I’ve already mentioned in part 1 how this Dinobot felt very different to his ’90s counterpart in some senses, and I think that helped to allow this cartoon to feel like its own thing too, despite the very clear references to the past. His battle against the Decepticons maybe wasn’t nearly as epic as the odds facing his predecessor and ultimately, I doubt this will go down in Transformers history with quite the same glory as the iconic episode it homages, but at the very least I thought it stuck the landing on the whole.

 

DID WORK: Starscream’s treachery

Starscream is treacherous. That’s a trope that has been consistent since the beginning of Transformers and will continue for a long time to come, I’m sure. Yet the motivation for that treachery took a bit of a twist in Kingdom as suddenly the Decepticon air commander realised the scope of the stakes and grew something approaching a sense of conscience. Maybe it was just a need for self-preservation but still, I thought Starscream’s revelations about Unicron’s presence worked well to give him a sense of purpose beyond just being out for his own glory and at least one or two standout moments along the way, not least of which was him standing up to Megatron. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a Starscream attempt to convince his master about the Chaos Bringer’s impending arrival (intended or not, this felt like a clear Transformers: Armada callback in its way) but it worked to add a bit of character development here.

 

DID WORK: Megatron’s dilemma

Megatron and Galvatron sharing the screen isn’t something that happens all that often, despite all the potential that comes from such a scenario. It was a regular part of the drama in the original Marvel UK storyline and in many ways, a lot of what we saw in Kingdom felt in theme with that. More than ever, the nature of Galvatron’s servitude is played up, as Megatron realises his fate is to become a pawn in much the way he was before rising up to begin the Cybertronian war in the first place. Seeing him finally reject that path and make his own decision to side with the Autobots and Maximals in the fight for a better future was somewhat triumphant and actually worked for the character, in my opinion. I might say I thought that more could have been made of it overall, but for what it’s worth I enjoyed what we got.

 

DIDN’T WORK: Allspark oddities

I mentioned the Allspark already above but it’s worth saying again how much I felt this particular part of the plot dragged down the overall proceedings in Kingdom. Despite a fairly brisk pace in episodes 1-3, I found the fourth story to be a total drag, and it’s little surprise that it was the one centred around this more mystical part of the overall plot. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen mysticism done well (and not so well!) in Transformers many times before, but something about the way the Allspark is presented in this show feels very overcooked at times, and I’m not sure what the pacing needed at this point was another deep existential exploration of Optimus’ inner demons. It just meant a lot more philosophical exposition at a time when the show should be cracking on with the characters actually doing stuff, in my opinion.

 

DID WORK: The Ark

By comparison to the Allspark, one element that was hard not to enjoy was the surprise(?) appearance of the Ark’s robot mode form in episode 5. In truth, I’m sure anyone with a passing knowledge of the accompanying toyline could have predicted this might come to pass, but even then it was great fun to witness! I’m a huge fan of The Last Autobot from the Marvel G1 comic so seeing something in a modern cartoon that so clearly references it in some way is a bit of a dream come true, but even besides that, this big lad provided some real epic thrills of his own. The look on Megatron’s face as he stared up at him was priceless.

 

DID WORK: the beasts save the day

I’ve already had my say on several of the individual characters but one thing I really enjoyed in Kingdom was seeing the Maximals being the ones to band together and make the big push when it came to stopping Megatron’s attack on the Ark. There was a real sense of Optimus Primal’s warriors embracing their destiny as they teamed up alongside Blackarachnia for what could have been one last Hail Mary, and witnessing them going toe-to-toe with the Decepticons aboard the Nemesis felt very triumphant indeed. Maximise!

 

DID WORK: a frozen Cybertron

We hadn’t seen the state of Cybertron since the very end of Earthrise but we’d been told that the planet was potentially not faring well without the presence of the Allspark. Still, I thought the grim presentation of the wasteland it had become worked well and definitely helped elevate the sense of stakes for the finale. I have no idea where the snow was coming from but still, the image of the frozen horizon was suitably foreboding, even if we could have done with seeing a bit more of it somehow.

 

DIDN’T WORK: Elita’s fate

Where to begin with this one? We last saw Elita-1 struggling to evade Shockwave at the end of Earthrise before she was seemingly caught in a massive explosion along with a number of her troops. Whilst we’d perhaps guessed her fate, it wasn’t until the end of Kingdom that we finally learn the exact truth, as Optimus uncovers her remains in the snow on Cybertron. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of her meeting a noble end in the throes of battle, but the way her death was used as a plot device simply to motivate the Autobot leader here felt off and not entirely dissimilar from the so-called ‘fridging’ trope first associated with a Green Lantern comic storyline from 1994. To say it came off as sparse to revolve her storyline in such a fashion is an understatement, especially having left it unresolved since the end of the last chapter, and that’s not to mention it rendered a lot of the Cybertron-set events in Earthrise a bit retrospectively pointless to the overall plot of the trilogy.

 

DID WORK: Enemies teaming up

Optimus Prime and Megatron have teamed up before and no doubt they will again, but it was still enjoyable to see these two joining forces come the end of Kingdom. I felt it worked well for both characters in terms of their storylines and perhaps my only small complaint is that it would have been good to make a bit more of it! Still, after three seasons of grim opposition, it was great to see Auotbots, Maximals, Decepticons and Predacons all lining up together, not to mention partnering to try and bring down Unicon’s dual heralds, despite how fruitless that turned out to be!

 

DID WORK: A shaky alliance

With the battle done, the WFC left the storyline at a real crossroads in many respects. There is now seemingly peace on Cybertron once again, as the Autobots and Decepticons have accepted their need to work together for the better of Cybertron. Or have they? Despite Optimus offering a handshake, Megatron’s wry smirk and his parting words that Cybertron is large enough for them all “for now” seem to suggest that there may be further troubles ahead, and honestly, if that’s all we ever see of this saga again, I enjoyed the ambiguity of how it wrapped up.

 

DID WORK: The final moments

Similarly, I appreciated how the very last scene of the trilogy felt like it could be teasing more to come… or maybe it isn’t, and that’s fine too. Unicron’s ominous announcement that the dead universe had given him ideas was tantalising enough but contemplating just what he intended on reformatting both Galvatron and Nemesis Prime into this time was downright intriguing. I had thought his final line was, “I shall begin again“, although the subtitles for the show tell me it’s, “I shall be king again” which… doesn’t make as much sense? Either way though, a very sinister way to leave the proceedings.

 

DIDN’T WORK: The final battle

Despite having enjoyed the final two episodes of Kingdom quite a bit, one element that I desperately didn’t care for was how the Allspark (yes, again) returned to save the day by essentially just hand-waving the baddies away. It’s a common fault of storylines to build the stakes to a point where only something as convenient as this can resolve them, and the sight of Unicron’s heralds being magicked out of the way was one that made me groan even as it was happening! It’s a shame everything was wrapped up in such an unearned fashion where a more simplified plot might have allowed more time for a better solution.

 

In any case, those are my thoughts on Kingdom as a whole! For what it’s worth, I enjoyed a lot of what this show had to offer despite its faults, and it’s definitely the part of the trilogy I enjoyed the most overall. What did you think?

TTFN

About Sixo

Transformers collector from the UK, collecting vintage G1/G2, CR/RID, UT & Masterpiece/3P. Find me at twitter.com/SixoTF or on YouTube at youtube.com/SixoTF

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