Announced in 2019 by Netflix and Allspark, Transformers: War for Cybertron follows the conclusion of the Prime Wars Trilogy. Distributed by Netflix and executive produced by Hasbro’s Allspark, Rooster Teeth and Polygon Pictures joined were brought in as well on the production side of things, although the addition of Rooster Teeth to the production effort raised eyebrows at the time.
Originally of YouTube fame, War for Cybertron marks Rooster Teeth’s debut endeavor. F. J. DeSanto returns to the Transformers trilogy as showrunner for War for Cybertron.
Originally scheduled for release in June 2020, complications from the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the release date back to July 30, 2020.
War for Cybertron was received well, with a 100% critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Reviews praised the series for its visuals, storytelling depth, and entertainment. However, Rooster Teeth has received criticism for casting choices. Many longstanding voice actors for the Transformers franchise were left off, including Garry Chalk who is known for voicing Optimus Primal. Furthermore, Rooster Teeth hired non-union voice talent, which Garry Chalk described as low energy.
In a series such as this, it is a huge blow to not have the same quality of voice actors. With production costs on fight scenes being so much higher, many of these animated scenes are comprised of a majority of dialogue exposition scenes. In War for Cybertron, this is painfully hard to escape, as much of the show is comprised of flat and drawn-out dialogue exchanges.
Transformers: War for Cybertron’s plot focuses on Cybertron, whereas the theatrical feature-length films told the story of the Transformers on Earth. As such, the series naturally chronicles the civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons. At the center of this conflict is the all-powerful AllSpark, Megatron views the AllSpark as a viable last resort whereas Optimus Prime will do anything in his power to prevent that, including destroying Cybertron.
The series begins with Bumblebee scavenging for resources on a desolate Cybertron. The Autobots are introduced as a persecuted people with a sense of justice, fighting for survival against the Decepticons on their tail. In the first episode, Bumblebee is offered a place within Decepticons ranks, but he, of course, rejects because he is righteous—he ends up being courted by the Autobots shortly after. As the Autobots maneuver behind the scenes, under the guidance of Optimus Prime’s superior, Ultra Magnus, the Decepticons cope with dissent in their ranks. This is primarily at the hands of Starscream, who constantly attempts to undermine leader Jetfire.
Episode two begins as Ultra Magnus approaches Megatron to surrender, in a shocking turn. At a summit between Megatron, Jetfire, and Optimus Prime, Optimus Prime pleads for peace. He claims that there is no need for conflict and that the Autobots and Decepticons can realistically coexist. In a thrilling masterclass showcase of the show’s writing depth and character development, Megatron responds by locking up Optimus Prime. At this point he delivers the chilling lines which will undoubtedly go down in television’s Canton, saying, “He can contemplate his peace from there”. Of course, from there the Decepticons lay a trap, using Optimus Prime as bait, and the Autobots fall for it. But, believe it or not, the Autobots succeeded and pull off the rescue.
Despite the odds stacked against them, the Autobots manage to overcome the Decepticons through courage and bravado. It all goes to show that you can never count out the morally driven chivalrous—one of the many reasons children have found inspiration in the Transformers series.
In episode 3, Optimus Prime Recruits Ratchet’s help for a plan. Optimus Prime ultimately succeeds in both, but not after Elita casts doubt. Meanwhile, Autobot leader Ultra Magnus is tortured for information. Starscream continues to sow the wretched seed of dissent and doubt amongst Decepticon ranks, akin to Lucifer in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Episode 4 sees Optimus Prime’s plan continue to unfold, which includes fixing a Spacebridge. Optimus Prime finds himself in over his head with this ambitious plan, so he appeals to the Guardians for help. Meanwhile, Bumblebee continues to climb Autobot ranks.
In episode 5, Jetfire approaches Optimus Prime and offers to help him retrieve the AllSpark. Bumblebee, Cog, and Arcee go on a mission for Energon and Wheeljack try to get the Ark to fly. With one episode left in the 6-episode series, allegiances are starting to change and characters seem to question their beliefs when faced with the finality of their choices. The meddling Starscream pushed Jetfire to betray the Decepticons and offer Optimus Prime help in what would be a killing blow.
In the finale, Optimus Prime goes for it all, the AllSpark. Unfortunately, Megatron catches wind of this plan and orders an attack on all the Autobots. As Bumblebee, Elita, and Optimus Prime attempt to escape, Bumblebee unexpectedly powers down, and Elita is killed. Jetfire helps by giving covering fire to an escaping Optimus Prime, as he is overpowered and overrun by Sparkless. His sacrifice bought Optimus Prime the time he needed to get out unharmed. As Jetfire explains before he is overwhelmed, Sparkless are zombie bots of sorts, eternally looking for an AllSpark. Right before Jetfire is killed, Optimus Prime grabs the AllSpark, and the Sparkless disappear. It is also revealed that Elita survived. Jetfire then goes on a Decepticon killing spree, as Megatron realizes that Optimus Prime fooled him and he has taken the AllSpark to the Spacebridge for the sake of taking it off-world. When it looks like all is lost for the Autobot cause, the Guardians show up and help Optimus Prime, for the sake of “the good of Cybertron”. Optimus Supreme then wipes out the Decepticons. Elita elects to stay behind with Cybertron as she fights with Optimus Supreme against the remaining Decepticons.
Combined, Elita and Optimus Supreme work together to finish things off, with Optimus Supreme working to defeat most of the Decepticons. The episode ends with Jetfire reuniting with Elita as he claims she will not have to defend Cybertron on her own.
Presumably, the second season explores Optimus Prime’s intergalactic Mayflower and Elita’s domestic resistance but only time will tell. More important though is the characters present in the series, as no plot synopsis article is complete without a broad list of the characters involved.
Of course, the series features Megatron, as he is presented more or less the same way as he is in every single Transformers story. Megatron is the big, bad guy, with generally evil actions and dialogue. In War for Cybertron, Megatron’s character does lack depth and is a relatively one-dimensional villain. But that holds true for everything Megatron has been in since his inception.
Opposing Megatron, is, of course, Optimus Prime. He is also portrayed very consistently to his other Transformers portrayals. A good guy, one with values, morals, and a sense of justice; but perpetually on the run. A great figure who sacrifices himself for a greater good. These are the general stakes of the show, as epitomized by the two opposing leads.
Bumblebee here is portrayed as a sort of average civilian, but a standup one. He is recognized as a remarkable individual and is thus recruited by both the Autobots and Decepticons. Of course, he ends up with the Autobots, as he does in every Transformers entry. But Bumblee is an interesting character in the context of this show. There is not a shred of nuance to Megatron and Optimus Prime, they represent the totality of good and the totality of evil. But Bumblebee is relatable, we see how the civil war afflicts those without the status of one like Optimus Prime. He is vulnerable and empathetic, which gives the show a much-needed sense of humanity.
Elita plays a love interest of Optimus Prime, as well as a second in command of sorts. She is pretty new to the franchise, but that makes sense considering she elected to stay behind on Cybertron, thus she is not introduced in stories involving Transformers on Earth.
Ultra Magnus also plays an interesting role in the series, as he is heralded as the sort of Autobot sage. He is not directly a leader and tries not to involve himself too much in the action against the Decepticons. But, seeing as Optimus Prime highly values the opinion of Magnus Prime, Magnus Prime naturally falls into an Oracle role of sorts for the Autobots.
Starscream is also portrayed consistently, as the sower of dissent amongst Decepticons, but also as a rabid killer of Autobots. Starscream is almost always the most unhinged, unpredictable Decepticon, with his signature high pitched voice and impulsive decision making. There has been speculation that more trouble than he is worth for Megatron, but Megatron likely overlooks such disturbances out of begrudging respect for Starscream’s tactics and planning skills.
Soundwave also plays a role as a Decepticon general and overall goon. He acts as an arm of Megatron of sorts, carrying out Megatron’s bidding along with a squad of Decepticon lackeys. He gets his name from his Transformed form which is a cassette player, reflective of the Transformers series’ roots from the 1980s. Soundwave is eventually gunned down in the last episode as Optimus Prime escapes.
Ironhide also gets a shout, as Optimus Prime’s general. Ironhide is present in much of the combat and pilots the Ark for the Autobots. He is the one who piloted the ship off-world with the AllSpark in tow, leaving Elita behind.
Season 2 and Beyond
The War for Cybertron story is intended as a trilogy, with three chapters. The first, titled Siege, is covered in the first season of the Netflix series, following the quest for the AllSpark. Chapter 2 follows the Transformers civil war as it migrates to Earth along with the AllSpark. Chapter 3 then introduces two new factions, the Maximals, and the Predacons. These two new factions align themselves with the Autobots and Decepticons, leading to a massive all-out war. This war will determine the future of these two factions.
For a storied and successful story like the Transformers, War for Cybertron has provided an exciting twist and modern spark to the storied franchise. There is certainly plenty of material for RoosterTeeth to build with, and with two more 6 episode seasons, there should be plenty of Transformers action in the near future. Off to a very strong start, only time will tell if they can continue producing such well-received seasons going forward.