The bite-sized first episode of Machinima and Hasbro’s “Transformers: Combiner Wars” clocks in just under five minutes and 30 seconds. It delivers hard-hitting action, and doesn’t shy away from showing the casualties of war.
Fans of the G1 series and IDW comics will be pleased to know that the series isn’t all just rock ‘em sock ‘em robot action. Yes, there is plenty of action to go around, but the story is a lot more complex than the recent animated series. Four episodes in, and overall I’m pretty optimistic about the series. The strength of “Transformers: Combiner Wars” is found in its ability to deconstruct characters. Optimus Prime (Jon Bailey) has for the most part been depicted as a squeaky clean hero, but he gets a bit of an edge when he reveals, “The Autobots fought for freedom. We never killed for spite or without provocation.” Windblade (Abby Trott) frustratedly replies, “That’s what they all say! Everyone’s got a noble reason to keep the war going.”
The original “Transformers” television series portrayed the quarrel between the Autobots and the Decepticons in a cartoonish manner – with the exception of the 1986 “Transformers Movie” – but “Transformers: Combiner Wars” adds weight to the Cybertronian war.
Windblade is a “Cityspeaker” – someone who has the ability to communicate with dormant Titans, essentially giant city-sized Transformers – on a warpath to destroy any and every combiner after their war left her home world of Caminus in ruins and disarray. When Windblade discovers that the council of Cyberton has the Enigma of Combination – a magical artifact that possess the ability to create new combiners – she decides the relic must be destroyed.
I’d say the first episode is the weakest of the bunch when compared to Windblade’s prelude, which does a far better job presenting her motivations in about two minutes. But to be fair, the show only has five minutes to set up a story and pay it off while also needing to deliver some sort of action.
However, it’s the second episode that really grabbed my attention since Starscream (Frank Todaro) is so much more mature than his G1 counterpart. It’s an interesting idea that plays well with the other council members – Mistress of Flame (Lana McKissack) and Rodimus Prime (Ben Pronsky) – who have varying opinions on how the combiner war should be fought, which provides a great juxtaposition to Windblade’s extreme methodology.
In Starscreams’ prologue, Todaro delivers a monologue that adds a layer of rationality to the former Decepticon. Todaro in the show remains true to the characters’ tendency to disagree with whoever’s in charge but this time in a more likable/sympatric way.
Epic would be the word I’d choose to describe Bailey’s performance as the iconic Autobot leader Optimus Prime. And man does he nail it, being able to channel the spirit of Peter Cullen’s iconic voice with a little more dirt to it, something this vetted version of Optimus needs.
Trott pours herself into the performance of Windblade, but the five minute format hinders her from being able to plunge the full depths of her character, which makes Windblade seem more like a kid lashing out rather than a warrior hell-bent on getting revenge. At one point she wants to kill everyone regardless of whether they are Autobots, Decepticons or combiners, yet the next she’s asking for help from someone she just tried to murder.
Moving on, I absolutely love the aesthetic of this show! It’s a cross between the original ‘80s cel animation and modern CGI. Think the “Transformers: Devastation” video game or even Netflix’s “Voltron: Legendary Defender” except with less anime.
Eric Calderon, George Krstic and FJ Desanto have created a series that could live in the original G1 universe, but they have also managed to make a show that appeals to both modern and classic audiences, which should translate to a hit. As I’m waiting to see if the rest of the “Prime Wars” get the animated treatment or even a full length movie. Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy “Transformers: Combiner Wars.”
Catch “Transformers: Combiner Wars” exclusively on Go90 (in the US only) starting August 2 at 9:00 am est.
The writer of this piece is: Laurence Almalvez
Laurence tweets from @IL1511