Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Transformers: Prime" Season One (2010)

Starring Peter Cullen, Frank Welker and Kevin Michael Richardson
Developed by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Duane Capizzi and Jeff Kline

I previously reviewed "Transformers: Prime - Darkness Rising," which was the first five episodes of the series edited together into a movie.  Those first five episodes present the opening arc of the season.

After the defeat of Megatron's (Frank Welker) undead army and the destruction of the Decepticon space bridge, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and his small squad of Autobots turn their sights toward cleaning up the rest of Megatron's disciples on Earth.  Joining Optimus are Ratchet (Jeffrey Combs), Bumblebee, Bulkhead (Kevin Michael Richardson) and Arcee (Sumalee Montano), and their human allies young Rafael (Andy Pessoa), Miko (Tania Gunadi), Jack (Josh Keaton) and Agent Fowler (Ernie Hudson).

The Decepticons, under the leadership of Starscream (Steven Blum), continue to mine all possible sources of Energon from the planet Earth.  When Starscream and Soundwave manage to locate the body of Megatron drifting in space, they are shocked to discover he is still alive.  The Dark Energon he used to create his army of the undead now fused with his body, Megatron will rise again to be more powerful than ever.  And when his ultimate plan is revealed, to awaken the slumbering titan Unicron, Optimus realizes that an ancient Cybertronian prophecy is coming to bear... and that he may have to give his life to stop his arch enemy once and for all.

While it has its problems, "Transformers: Prime" is probably the best "Transformers" show I've seen.  While I hold a great nostalgic love for the original 80s animated series, having watched it again in adulthood I've found it to be a rather terrible show.  "Prime" on the other hand, is not.

The season has three basic segments to it: the opening mini-series, a middle section of mostly standalone episodes, and then a final arc.  The middle section is mostly where the show falters, as each episode starts to feel a little rote.  They focus a bit too much on the cutesy human children characters learning some kind of moral or lesson, and the storyline of the season inches forward only incrementally.  Once the show begins to steamroll toward the end, though, it really picks up once more.

The story has a few turns that I found quite entertaining.  The show delves deeply into the mythology of the Transformers, even eventually revealing the origins of Megatron and Optimus and how the war between the Autobots and Decepticons began.  The episodes that deal with these stories, or with furthering the arc of the show, are the ones that stand out.

The final few episodes of the season are fantastic, with mythic confrontations between the characters. Optimus' confronting Megatron at the base of an erupting volcano is a great sequence, the kind of slam-bang fight between these two characters that fans love to see.  And later, when the two are forced to team up... well, there's something very wrong but very awesome about seeing Optimus and Megatron fighting a common enemy back-to-back.

The animation is pretty good, though it occasionally gets too gamey.  Many of the locations are in the desert, occasionally a forest.  They're nice and detailed, but they also aren't particularly dynamic or populated.  This is likely for budgetary reasons.  Even the lone human town we see seems sparsely populated.  The human characters aren't as finely detailed as the robot characters, who become more dinged up and scuffed as the season progresses.

The cast, including returning favorites Peter Cullen and Frank Welker in their iconic roles, is pretty excellent.  Jeffrey Combs is great as Ratchet, constantly belittling the humans for their "fleshy inferiority" despite being rather fond of the children themselves.  Starscream is wonderfully characterized, a slimy, sleazy weasel of a robot who will squirm his way out of any bad situation.  Other voices include Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Cliffjumper, and Gina Torres in a recurring role as Airachnid, Arcee's arch nemesis, and Adam Baldwin as Bulkhead's enemy Breakdown, and Clancy Brown as Silas, the leader of a human terrorist group obsessed with obtaining Cybertron technology.

So while it stumbles a bit in the middle, the first season of "Transformers: Prime" is probably one of the best adaptations of the "Transformers" toy line.  It really shines when it sticks to its major story arcs.