July 28, 2013

Shadowcon Reviews- Darkness Rising, Part 1


Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1 episode 1: “Darkness Rising, Part 1”

With the finale of Prime having aired last Friday, I thought it would be nice to take a look at where everything started… well, for the series, at least; I suppose the continuity started with War for Cybertron and Exodus, but for Transformers Prime, this is the beginning. “Darkness Rising” kicked off the show in the most badass way possible, yes: Dwayne Johnson being awesome. The opening shot of Cliffjumper speeding down a dusty road is accompanied by banter between he and Arcee, establishing continuity and solidifying the objective Tumblr shippers out there for the next four years. Anyway, things are quickly laid out: the Decepticons have been inactive for quite a while, the Autobots believing that they’re alone on Earth, and apparently resources are slim.

Cliffjumper finds a huge crater full of Energon (as we’ll see throughout the series, despite the supposed energy crisis the Transformers face, Energon mines are about as frequent as Wal Mart), and goes to investigate. He’s greeted by a horde of Decepticon troopers, which shockingly, actually present a threat, though I do like the idea that if you look at the rest of the series and see how easily the Vehicons are taken out, it begs the idea that Cliffjumper was… well, just kind of a weak guy, because these Vehicons just start being the shit out poor red here! Cliff gets in a few shots before the whole Energon deposit just up and explodes right behind him. Energon likes to make Autobots’ days just miserable, see; that’s probably why the Autobots have so little of it around! This is when we’re introduced to Starscream. Cliff is brought to the bridge of the Decepticon ship and after a bit of back-and-forth, Starscream just up and kills one of our supposed main characters. Damn, this is just not Cliff’s day. To make this worse, the writers wanted to make sure that he was really dead, so they just killed him over and over in the next couple episodes. Still, the death is effective, and establishes the series’ dark tone, or at least, more mature tone.

As this is going on, Arcee radios Optimus about the Decepticons’ return, and Optimus orders everyone back to base so they can then GroundBridge to Cliffjumper’s coordinates. Anyway they all meet up at the Energon mine, but no one’s home. Optimus is concerned that now that the Decepticons are active again, they may be preparing for a certain someone’s return, though given the end of the episode, it’s more likely that the ‘Cons are just really hungry… I don’t know; there are a lot of little pieces of dialogue in this episode that don’t add up when put next to the rest of the series. As the team scouts the wreckage, Arcee spots one of Cliffjumper’s horns (from his helmet, you dirty, dirty Tumblr shippers), and Ratchet tries to get a fix on Cliff’s signal… something that shouldn’t be possible given that later in the show, the Decepticons’ warship should be cloaked, though I suppose one could argue that they hadn’t needed to be cloaked since they were keeping a low profile anyway. But, this gives Ratchet the important job of reporting that Cliffjumper… well, “he’s dead, Jim” will suffice. On the Decepticon warship, Starscream plots to take out the Autobots using the element of surprise.

Optimus gives an impassioned speech mourning the death of Cliffjumper and telling the rest of his team to stand strong, that now more than ever they must be vigilant. Arcee’s not really on board with the whole teamwork thing, and I for one can’t blame her. It’s gotta suck when the only thing to burry of your boyfriend’s is a piece of phalli-shaped armor. Optimus’ speech is pretty good, though. I like that he more or less outlines how dire the situation is:

“We must not allow our anger over the loss of Cliffjumper to impair our judgment. As of today, only we five Autobots remain on this Earth.”

With only five Autobots left, they need to be very careful and supportive of both each other, and anyone else who might magically fall from the sky.

So, naturally, that brings us to our human companions; those suckers never screw things up, right… right? Anyway, we’re introduced to Jack in the most relatable way possible: seeing him working at a fast-food restaurant. And its not even on par with Sonic or anything like that: the uniforms are literally just a hat, and even then, because CGI modeling is so expensive, the hat just rests on the top of Jacks hair. After getting punked by some bullies (we can assume one of them is Vincent, as the voice is similar), Jack spots Arcee in bike form out in the parking lot. She’s attempting to lie low after being spotted by two Decepticon drones, though Jack’s touching and rubbing and mounting her… ahem in bike form, you dirty, dirty Tumblr shippers, isn’t really helping her out (though I’m sure Jack would like to think otherwise). Dirty jokes aside, I like that Arcee is just not caring about Jack at the moment; she just wants him to leave so she can get away from the ‘Cons. It doesn’t help that two of Jack’s classmates, one of whom never gets a name in the entire series, show up, and he and Sierra, the one that does get a name and is kind of a half-assed attempt at a human romance thing… sort of, they start mixing it up until finally the ‘Cons show up and Arcee’s forced to flee, Jack still onboard.

The chase scene is pretty good, though this is the part that irritates me: human and Transformer interaction in vehicle mode. Now, when being pursued by cars that look as menacing as the Batmobile, I wouldn’t really think to say anything, with the exception of screaming, because my body would be far too concerned with telling me to breathe and hold on like hell to those handlebars while my ride is going 80+ mph. Yet, in (almost) every TF series, we see the humans wonder aloud what’s going on, even in the midst of life-and-death battles. Now, I know this is a kid’s show, and I’m aware that maybe little kids won’t get the finer points of not talking (I know I didn’t), but this is Prime, which not 10 minutes ago showed us a main character die in a very real and gruesome manner, so having it followed up by weird out-loud thinking doesn’t really jive with me. Nevertheless, the chase scene is good. I particularly like that Arcee may be emotionally compromised right now, but she is still an Autobot, so when she lets Jack off and subsequently sees one of the pair of ‘Con cars veer off for Jack (as Starscream commanded over comm), she goes back for him… Jack, not the Decepticon, though I suppose Arcee’s willing to beat the hell out of anything right now and will use any excuse to do so. After a few flashy moves in bike form (vehicle fighting is always cool to see in Transformers), Jack and Arcee get out on the freeway and… hey, look, actual human cars!

Because of the budget of making a fully-realized CG landscape and around thirty models or so just for the pilot, this first season of Prime looks very bland when the Transformers are out doing stuff in populated areas. The city looks abandoned because the animators just didn’t have enough to make background characters to fill the spaces. That’s why at Jack’s school it looks as though he, Raf, and Miko are the only attendees. Anyway, this is when Bumblebee shows up in vehicle mode, of course, and starts to just ram the ‘Cons head-on!

“Friend of yours?”

“Family.”

Cute. While this big chase is going on, we cut over to our next human character, Raf, who’s playing with some RC cars… wow, way to break the pace of that chase-scene, guys. Raf’s toy car incidentally looks a little like Bumblebee, a supposedly subtle hint that the yellow robot will soon become his partner. Arcee and Jack jump a barrier and land right in front of Raf after just doing a wheelie over his head (I particularly like that Raf just drops his controller in amazement), and the two are followed by the ‘Cons who finally transform. Not sure why Raf’s scared of them when they first show up in car form though: he hasn’t been through what Jack has, so why does he look so worried? Well, there’s reason enough to be worried now, isn’t there?! Arcee follows the ‘Cons’ lead and transformers herself, in all her mass-shifting, size-changing glory! As TFWiki so eloquently put it, “the motorcycle transformers into her leg and then the rest of her robot mode hops over and attaches to it.” Obviously not, but seriously, her head is about as big as Raf’s backpack that he has on there! Arcee engages in battle and she’s pretty spry… like, really spry, doing backflips and high kicks, all while the rage of losing Cliffjumper just bubbles out like a bad can of shaving cream:

“This! Is! For! Cliff!”

Yeah, she’s joining Abrams’ Spock in the “Holy Shit Storm” category of rage. Raf and Jack just stand there, stunned:

“What are they?”

“Talking cars that turn into robots… or the other way around.”

These Decepticon drones are ridiculously powerful that one kick from Arcee doesn’t do anything! Amazing! In fact, after Bumblebee shows up, in a really badass manner too, transforming and then landing on one drone while punching the second one, the two ‘Cons get up again and blast ‘Bee! Poor guy. He gets in one landing and a punch before being taken out by two guys who have already had the crap beaten out of them by a chick who’s primary goal in life right now is to hit something and yell at things. Raf gets one of the ‘Cons off of ‘Bee’s case, though it means he and Jack are now in trouble. ‘Bee makes up for his lackluster intro by saving their necks and Jack and Raf run off.

Back at the battle of Holy Shit Arcee’s Pissed, Arcee and ‘Bee get up for round two, the ‘Cons only too happy to oblige. In fact, it takes the arrival of Bulkhead (we can infer that Arcee radioed for backup off-screen during the first leg of the chase scene) for the two ‘Cons to leave, realizing that they’re outnumbered. Could you imagine if the Vehicon strength level had been consistent throughout the show? The Autobots would have died within the first two episodes! Coupled with the Insecticons, the Decepticons should be running this planet based on how powerful their cannon fodder troops are!

Back at Autobot HQ, Arcee, whom we’ve established is now on a mission to yell at things, complains to Optimus about their encounter with both the Decepticons and the humans.

“I guess a second one caught us in action? I don’t know. Was a little busy at the time!”

Yelling and beating people up with intent to kill tends to occupy an emotionally damaged mind, y’know.

Optimus orders that the humans be brought in under the Autobots’ protection, on the grounds that if the Decepticons are targeting the Autobots, then those who associate with them might be targeted as well.

The next day, Jack confronts Raf on the whole robot thing, and he wants it to just be forgotten about. The Autobots aren’t really onboard with that though, as Bumblebee and Arcee show up. I like that Raf just up and gets in ‘Bee’s car mode with a casual “How’s it goin’?” Jack eyes Arcee skeptically before walking away, making him the most believable human ever. I like that he doesn’t go up to Arcee immediately; it takes the blue ‘Bot a few tries before getting Jack to listen to her, which is good. Too often, we’ll see our human characters way too accepting of the world they’re in, and admittedly, Jack’s a little too accepting here as well, but I think that his decision not to talk to Arcee at first, and later on in the arc hi decision not to have anything to do with the Autobots (which I’ll touch upon in an upcoming review), is very natural and relatable.

We’re briefly introduced to our third human companion, Miko, who gets a call from her host parents and ignores it… again, relatable introductions! She goes after Arcee, who instead of talking to Jack in bike form like one would think, she transforms and talks to him, telling him of why he needs to come with her, because he’s in danger… not that having her in robot mode is helping, as Miko eavesdrops on their conversation. Arcee’s less than thrilled about having her cover blown… after she blew it herself by transforming next to a school full of people. Sorry, ‘Cee, the joke’s on you. Miko comes along as she’s now seen one robot and the three humans are taken to the Autobot base. Y’know, with the Decepticons targeting them, you’d think the Autobots would want to use a GroundBridge (and yes, it is one word, according to TFWiki), since we later see the kids have little trouble crossing through it, and it serves as a means of them getting back to base without the ‘Cons following them. But no, instead they use the service entrance embedded on the side of the huge mountain in which their base is housed.

It’s admittedly an impressive sight, the music making the scene all the more grand. Seeing the kids’ expressions as they first see Ratchet and Bulkhead for the first time makes you feel like this is something really special. The camera angles are all pointing up at the ‘Bots, not down on the humans, to give it a huge scale feel. I also like the panning shot of their base from above, in contrast to the human-level upward camera angle, as it shows more or less the entire main floor of the base, complete with Autobot insignia. Ratchet’s and Arcee’s follow-up lines in regards to the humans are nice icebreakers:

“I thought there were two.”

“Haven’t you heard? Humans multiply.”

Yeah, the only reason Miko’s here at all is because you blew your cover and yelled at Jack in robot mode… and to think Arcee would become the best character on the show…

Miko’s pretty excited! She’s annoying, but as TJOmega points out, who wouldn’t be excited in this situation? She’s curious, over energized, and full of questions. I like that she just runs up to Bulkhead and bombards him with questions! Irritating? Sure, but I think that for right now, she has the right of the situation, as she’s just so overcome with shock and awe and wonder that she can’t help herself! I do like Bulkhead’s just glazed look on his face as this mouse of a person squeaks at him about things that he just doesn’t get… kinda like the Windows Tech Support people.

Optimus comes in and spills the Transformers’ whole backstory on the kids. In this version of events, Optimus and Megatron started out fighting on the same side of a war… what war we don’t know. It couldn’t have been the Autobot/Decepticon war, because we later find out in “One Shall Rise, Part 3” that Megatron started that war, so this could be something having to do with the senate, or as many have come to accept, its just a mistaken history the writers made which they then fixed in “One Shall Rise, Part 3” so as to better line up with Exodus. In either case, this version of history told by Optimus is wrong. Reading between the lines a bit: it’s a long shot, but perhaps this is intentional. Optimus thought of Megatronus as his mentor, after all, and perhaps Optimus mapped out a history where the two were still on the same side in the beginning, perhaps to reconcile his guilt over unintentionally taking the power of Prime away from Megatron. Flimsy, perhaps, but people make up excuses for why “B.O.T” is written out of G1 continuity, and people want to believe thatwell, probably need to believe that… so I do think that this backstory is a mistake, but it’s still a neat backstory nonetheless, as it’s the first where Megatron has started out on the side of good, or maybe Optimus has started out on the side of evil, and there’s potential in here for another series to fully explore that.

Optimus says that if Megatron returns, humankind is most assuredly in danger, and on the Decepticon warship, Soundwave does detect transmissions… and they’re not coming from Earth. Starscream grudgingly orders that the Space Bridge (two words!) be opened, and out in space, Megatron makes his triumphant return, announcing that… well, he’s returned, that’s kinda what that means!


Post episode follow-up: Final Score for “Darkness Rising, Part 1” is 7/10: as a pilot, it’s great! It establishes backstory quickly though without making you feel like you’re overflowing in continuity. The characters are all very real, something that the show will continue to push… mostly, and the art is absolutely stunning. The pilot really wow’s you, and does an impressive job of setting things up in terms of character, atmosphere, and tone. The loss of Cliffjumper does come as a genuine shock the first couple times you watch it, and the sprinkled appearances of the Decepticons is a nice change to the all-too-frequent bombardment of robots thrown on the screen inthe first episode. Having only a year to come up with a five-part mini-series introduction, the writing and animation staff did an outstanding job, as the “Darkness Rising” five-parter is still one of the stronger arcs seen in the series. Overall, a very good start to one of the best Transformers shows out there!

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