Friday, September 6, 2013

'Transformers: Prime' Season 3 (2013)

Starring Peter Cullen, Frank Welker and Steven Blum
Developed by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Jeff Kline and Duane Capizzi
Trailer

Following the destruction of their secret base by the Decepticons, the Autobots find themselves scattered and in hiding across the United States. Rookie teammember Smokescreen (Nolan North) has hauled a mortally-wounded Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) to safety beneath the mountain's wreckage. Arcee (Sumalee Montano) and her human ward Jack (Josh Keaton), Bumblebee and his friend Rafael (Andy Pessoa), and Bulkhead (Kevin Michael Richardson) and the energetic Miko (Tania Gunadi) are spread out elsewhere and unable or unwilling to contact each other as the Decepticons are monitoring all Earth communications.

From his new palace built over the ruins of the Autobots' base, now dubbed "Darkmount," Megatron (Frank Welker), Starscream (Steven Blum) and Shockwave (David Sobolov) use their advanced weaponry to ward off human military forces. Megatron attempts to convince the humans, through federal agent Fowler (Ernie Hudson) that he means to leave humanity in peace, but Fowler and the others know that's a lie and that Megatron will stop at nothing to conquer the Earth.

Soon, the Autobots are joined by allies Wheeljack (James Horan) and Ultra Magnus (Michael Ironside) to launch a new offensive against Megatron. But even with the return of Optimus Prime, Megatron unveils his next deadly plan to destroy the Autobots and enslave the Earth: the Predacons, an ancient race of Cybertronian dragons resurrected in the modern age... and nearly indestructible.

There's a definite pattern to how each season of "Transformers: Prime" has played out. They each start out rather strong, sag in the middle and then pick up considerably at the end. Season 3 follows the pattern of Season 2, which featured a lengthy and not amazingly interesting series of "scavenger hunt" episodes involving the characters scouring the globe for ancient Cybertronian relics of great power. Season 3 pulls this same trick with a batch of episodes in the middle that put the characters once again on a hunt for ancient relics on Earth - this time, fossilized remains of long-extinct Predacons that Megatron hopes to clone for a new army of vicious warriors.

Sadly, these are the episodes that prove the least interesting. After the initial arc involving wounded Optimus Prime and Megatron's near-conquering of Earth, the season sags considerably. The season's worst episodes are in this batch, including a plodding effort that sends a team of Autobots to Scotland, another in which Fowler and Jack's mom are kidnapped by Knockout (Daran Norris).

Thankfully, as the season is only 13 episodes, this segment of the season is over quickly and we get into the truly excellent final arc. Alas, this arc will also be the finale for the series (though a direct-to-video movie will be released next month) and closes out the show's ongoing storylines. It does so in fine fashion, with big, well-directed action sequences and fine dramatic resolutions.

The animation is fairly uneven. Some episodes are fairly uninspired, though the show really knows how to put on a rollicking action sequence at the right moments. The robots continue to be more detailed and intriguingly designed than the humans, though in this season several characters undergo physical changes - for Bumblebee and Smokescreen that merely means new paintjobs, but Optimus Prime himself gets an entirely new body that is, frankly, kind of dumb and ugly. Perhaps in a nod to the Michael Bay movie continuity, Optimus gets himself a jetpack in this season, and a massive chaingun... but that appears to be the limits of the creativity of his gadgets.

With its ever-expanding cast, it feels like some characters get the short shrift in this season - and sadly, that includes Optimus Prime. Peter Cullen's power in the role is sorely missed, as Prime takes a back seat in a number of episodes. Thankfully, Michael Ironside comes into play as Ultra Magnus to pick up some of the slack. Steven Blum is still my favorite version of Starscream, and Frank Welker has really created an excellent meld of his own iconic Megatron and the deeper-voied Hugo Weaving version from the Michael Bay movies.

Though it stumbles, especially in regards to trying to repeat the format of Season 2, the high points this year are quite high - and the whole thing comes to a rollicking close that should leave Transformers fans pleased.