Title: Transformers: War for Cybertron: Kingdom
Release Date: July 29, 2021 (US)
Disclaimer: Ben's World of Transformers was provided screeners of "Kingdom" to review. BWTF offers its thanks to Netflix and Hasbro for this opportunity to review these episodes in advance.
Official Series Description
About ‘Transformers: War for Cybertron: Kingdom’: Having crash-landed on Earth, the Autobots and Decepticons are confronted by two rival Cybertronian factions from a future that their conflict has inadvertently created, as the heroes and villains of the classic BEAST WARS: TRANSFORMERS series make their WAR FOR CYBERTRON debut. Now the Autobots must team up with the Maximals to confront the Decepticons, who have joined forces with the Predacons, in the race to find the missing AllSpark. However, the Predacons are in control of the Golden Disk, a mysterious artifact which has a personal connection to Megatron and gives him an untold advantage over his enemy, Optimus Prime. Which faction will triumph in the final battle that will decide the fate of Cybertron’s future?
Minor Spoiler Alert: This review will cover the entire Kingdom show and include some minor spoilers. I will be avoiding major spoilers (partly at Netflix's request). For the most part, much of what I reveal here is given away in the trailer above.
The War for Cybertron trilogy comes to a close in July 2021 as the third part of the series known as Kingdom debuts on Netflix. Last we saw our heroes and villains their ships were diving into the atmosphere of an organic planet as a very familiar looking Raptor dinosaur watched their descent. This 6 episode series picks up immediately from where last season left off as the two ships crash onto the planet that is never named (but looks an awful lot like Earth so let's go with just calling it that).
The end of last season really ended on a high, with the very obvious appearance of Dinobot watching the ships crash acting as a teaser for the mash up of G1 and Beast Wars characters in this show. It is very important to go into this series with the understanding that this group of Beast Wars characters are not the characters from the 90's cartoon. This group of Maximals and Predacons are from a different continuity and in order to enjoy this show you have to jettison a lot of your preconceived notions about the Maximals and Predacons. One simple example: in this story the Maximals and Predacons are all the same size as the Autobots and Decepticons. That removes the thematic idea of the Autobots and Decepticons having a Titan like status in the eyes of their descendents (with one notable exception). The Maximals and Predacons are still descendents of the Autobots and Decepticons, but the back story is different and rather tragic than the 90's show.
This review is going to talk a lot about Beast Wars partly because of the Maximals and Predacons joining the cast, but also because of my strong emotional attachment to the original show. For those not in the know, I had some involvement in the Beast Wars cartoon series as a "Transformers Consultant", basically working with Story Editors Bob Forward and Larry DiTillio to work in G1 elements into the show. The high points of this collaboration include the two part "The Agenda" episodes and the last episode of the series. I have watched and rewatched the 90's series multiple times and I have developed a strong attachment to the stories and characters.
From that perspective this show was extremelly jarring at first. None of the original Beast Wars voice actors are in this show, so fans will need to become accustomed to new voices coming out of familiar looking characters. In the case of some characters like Blackarachnia, Cheetor and Rattrap this is not hard at all as the voice actors are clearly doing their renditions of the characters from the original show. Jeanne Carr's Blackarachnia is a worthy successor to Venus Terzo's iconic portrayal, playing the role with a raspy and playful voice. Frank Todaro (who also play Starscream) throws his native New York City voice into the role of the smart mouthed Rattrap. Joe Hernandez gives Cheetor a youthful and impulsive voice that works perfectly for the role. For the most part, the voice cast for the Maximals and Predacons does a lot more right than wrong, but there are two glaring exceptions.
One of the more dramatic entrances among the Beast Wars characters is Megatron. His Jurassic Park inspired intro in T-Rex mode is visually dynamic and powerful, and if one can imagine David Kaye's booming voice following up the beast mode introduction it would be grand indeed. Instead, Marqus Bobesich appears to have been directed to do a very specific voice (that is quite different than his regular speaking/acting voice) that brings the power and gravitas of the Predacon Megatron character down several notches and it really took the wind out of the sails for the character. It was hard to feel like he was menacing when his voice sounded (for lack of a better term) more like a henchman than a leader. Having heard Bobesich's voice in live action roles, I am sure he could have done a more powerful voice, but due to some character choices made in the writing I think he was asked to not do that.
The other character that really threw me for a loop (and continued to do so until the end) is Optimus Primal. The best known actors who have voiced Primal before were the original actor Garry Chalk and later Ron Perlman in the Power of the Primes series (and interestingly, Perlman was recently cast as the upcoming live action version of Primal). This time out he is voiced by Justin Pierce and well...I cannot honestly tell if the voice processing was off or the character choices being made in the voice work were off. There are times where it sounds like Primal's voice is muffled, as if there is too much bass or something. Being the Maximal leader, Optimus Primal should be clear and commanding with a sense of humor, but very little of that comes out in this show until towards the end. Initially he is just a very angry character, which was not something I was accustomed to seeing. The show is ultimately better with Primal in it, but he does not quite take a lead spot in the show that I had hoped he would.
All that said, there are some really cool uses of the Maximals and Predacons in this mash up show. Did you ever want to see Laserbeak and Airazor in an aerial battle? Check! Cheetor running alongside Sideswipe who is roaring along in vehicle mode? Check! Or how about Optimus Primal attacking a Seeker jet with his swords? Check! The writers do a great job of showing us how this world is the territory of Maximals and Predacons down to showing how the Autobots have trouble traversing the terrain of the planet when the beasts have no problem at all. It is very clear the writers wanted to celebrate Beast Wars and have a deep affection for it.
Speaking of affection for the past, I feel that Kingdom displays this in spades. From the very beginning where we see the Ark and Nemesis falling through the atmosphere, there are bits of scrap that are around the ships burning up in the atmosphere and the visual is a clear callback to the falling of Stasis Pods from Beast Wars. There are also some lines borrowed right from Beast Wars episodes that make their way into the show (sadly, "Sometimes crazy works." isn't one of them). There are also a few (somewhat) subtle scene homages to Beast Wars as well. There is one huge missed homage opportunity between a Maximal and Autobot that I kept waiting for but never happened, but overall I was happy with the various callbacks.
Of course, Kingdom is not just a Beast Wars nostalgia trip. The tale that began with Siege reaches a conclusion (of sorts) by the end of this series. Megatron's hubris continues to carry him on a path that could not only lead to the destruction of others aorund him, but ironically his own enslavement to Unicron. The writers found a very clever way of tying together the Maximals, Predacons and Galvatron together into a cohesive narrative that offers a very different take on how the characters relate to each other. The Maximals and Predacons both have a huge stake with the likes of Optimus Prime and Galvatron, but it is not necesarily one of reverance. One outstanding character is (not surprisingly) Dinobot. Musician Krizz Kaliko voices the role and while there are shades of Scott McNeil's legendary performance, he manages to make the role his own and bring to it a gravity that the character really needs. Dinobot also serves as a very important connective tissue between the various factions fighting in this story. I am very happy with how they used the character.
The conclusion of this show leaves doors wide open for potential future stories set in this universe. I actually appreciated the nuanced ending which does not come down to a definitive "end" like say, the 1986 animated movie. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to Kingdom is to say that I would happily watch the story that would follow this one if the threads were every picked up again.
Kingdom takes an episode or two before you can really "settle" into the storyline. I would argue if you have little attachment to Beast Wars as a whole, you may enjoy this more right off the bat. Overall, the story is a strong conclusion to a series that has been uneven. I feel Kingdom is the most cohesive and fun out of all three shows and well worth a watch or two.
Kingdom debuts on Netflix on July 29, 2021.