June 3, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Rebellion






         Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 3, episode 4: “Rebellion”

So, here we are again looking at the final part of the Season Three premier. This episode actually aired about a month after the first three because who the hell knows; Prime would normally take breaks between episodes occurring in the same season, probably for rendering of all that fancy animation. Anyway, it’s interesting that they took a break after the penultimate part of the first arc of the story; I’d think it would make more sense to just have all the parts come out and then take a break after that, especially because the new title sequence doesn’t appear until the next episode, and so it feels weird the way they decided to do it… but then I’m not a scheduling person, I’m just a Transformers fan with a blog.

The Autobots are all set to storm Darkmount, and that’s all that this episode is pretty much: it’s a battle episode. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a damn good battle episode, but unlike some of the other season premiers or finales we’ve had, this one just feels a little watered down, much like this arc as a whole. Ultra Magnus splits up the Autobots into teams of two to go up against Megatron’s huge castle while Fowler and the US military is put on standby so that they can strike after the Autobots have disabled the huge fusion cannons that are pointed at Washington… again on the other side of the country, but whatever.

In order to thin out the Decepticon ranks, the Autobots send Jack and Miko out to different locations and have them use their cell phones in the hopes that the Decepticons will come running. I also like the plan to make Jack pretend to be a Decepticon over the communicator and radio the base and say that one of the Energon mines is under attack. He tries to put on his macho Decepticon voice, but Ultra Magnus is unconvinced, so Ratchet says that he’ll enhance Jack’s voice with static for the real thing, and then we hear Jack over the comm with static… but it’s the same fucking bad voice imitation with like the barest hint of static! It’s great! Well, the ‘Cons buy it and Starscream sends waves of them out to destroy the faux enemy, and now they’re all over the globe. Megatron isn’t happy that his forces are scattering… though I’m not sure why because Starscream is doing exactly what Megatron ordered him to do.

Starscream is wondering how the Autobots could have set up this ruse without a base of operations, and Soundwave points out that the Harbinger is still in play. Megatron gets even angrier at the fact that Starscream left that ship just lying there unguarded, and that’s a pretty good thing to point out, especially since Starscream himself used that ship for the majority of the second season as a base. Wouldn’t it be better to have a bunch of Decepticons at that ship as like a secondary base? But no, they forgot about it until now, and Megatron orders the ship’s immediate destruction. Starscream is happy to oblige, but by this point, Darkmount is under attack. Megatron’s even less happy about that:

“Kindly redirect all efforts to ensuring that all invaders are eradicated!”

Man, Megatron’s not really making the best use of his command and influence today, is he?

Bulkhead and Wheeljack take care of the forces guarding the actual fortress in what amounts to a pretty kick-ass fight scene. Wheeljack has this whip thing that he borrowed from Ultra Magnus’ ship, and that’s really cool seeing it in action! Bulkhead meanwhile has this big rifle thing that he carries around, and interestingly enough, has no lines this whole episode. The music is what really drives this scene. Seeing the two charge into battle with this rapid-fire music going on in the strings and brass really brings the whole thing together, and I like the night setting. It lends an eerie feeling to an already tense situation.

Bumblebee and Arcee breech the entrance, and this alerts Megatron and Starscream up top. Megatron by this point is so fed up with Starscream he can’t even muster words; he just growls at the poor dope! Shockwave suggests unleashing the Predacon once more and Megatron agrees to this. I like that neither Wheeljack nor Bulkhead don’t immediately strike down the Predacon. Ultra Magnus instead again saves them from having to fight this thing by leading the beast on a chase that ends with Ratchet opening a GroundBridge right as Magnus pulls up his ship, sending the Predacon flying through and into the Arctic, and as we all know from “Scrapheap”, the Arctic is like the second circle of hell for Transformers. I do like this though. It’s like the writers said “y’know, we incorporated this half-baked studio idea into the show, now let’s kill it off and just leave it be. We have other stories to tell, screw you, studio execs!”

Well, that’s it for the Predacon, and much like the audience, Starscream is just a little too joyous about the whole thing, mocking Shockwave. Shockwave doesn’t take this too well and makes the most daring leap from the sky ever, jumping off the ledge of one of the highest points on Darkmount and just free falling to the ground! Damn! And what makes this even more badass is that Darkmount itself is, according to the Transformers Wikipedia, 5.5 miles... high! That means that Darkmount’s height reaches like two miles below where stratosphere begins! To put it another way, the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at a height of roughly half a mile. The scale of this thing is ridiculous! Because even if we assumed that the Omega Lock compensated for Earth gravity and winds when building this thing, the sheer size of the fusion cannons in comparison to the rest of the building would surely crush everything under their own weight, not to mention that the whole thing would crumble anyway due to how much mass is going into all the parts of it.

Well, Shockwave just doesn’t give a damn about physics or plausibility, and so falls from a height of five and a half miles all the way to the ground… all without a scratch. Sure, okay. And Smokescreen was worried about his fate when escaping the Decepticons back in “Inside Job”, and that was when he was falling from the Nemesis and had the Phase Shifter on him!

During all of this, we have the B plot of Optimus Prime doing what Prime do best: dying. More specifically, presenting the Matrix of Leadership to Smokescreen before going to the Cybertron Pearly Gates and chatting it up with Alpha Trion, who’s pretty much Cybertron’s Jesus, or an Apostle, or God… the analogies are all over the place with him in whatever continuity you’re going by. Optimus is worried about the fate of the Matrix (he savvy enough to have read up on what a great job Rodimus did back in G1), but Alpha Trion explains that Smokescreen will learn to become a Prime just as Optimus once did.

Back at the battle, Ultra Magnus gets a status update from Arcee: apparently she and Bumblebee are pinned down a few levels below where Magnus is, so he just says “great”, and leaps out of his ship and breaches the power core containment room, taking out the guards before aiming his big rifle at the power core itself so as to diffuse the fusion cannons. Megatron shows up though, and now it’s a fire/hand-to-hand fight between the two. Well, actually it’s more like Megatron just beats the shit out of Magnus, punching him so hard in the head that he crumples to the ground after like three blows. Megatron just loves taking out his frustration of Starscream out on other people. He ends the scene with this awesome line:

“Ultra Magnus, you are no Optimus Prime!”

Ha! Take that, every Ultra Magnus that is just an Optimus Prime palate-change!

As Shockwave subdues Bulkhead and Wheeljack with just one shot, Arcee and Bumblebee are apprehended, and Starscream sums everything up pretty nicely:

“All invaders have been taken captive, master. There was no sign of Optimus Prime.”

Incidentally, I love the lighting in this scene. It’s a literal grim dawn as the sun rises over the victory of the Decepticons; really sets the mood here and is of course gorgeous to look at in HD. Megatron’s day is starting to look up, and he questions Ultra Magnus:

“So tell me, Commander. Where might your leader be?”

In a pretty shit situation, that’s where. Alpha Trion presses Optimus to join him and the All Spark, and while this scene is pretty deadpan, I can’t help but explore what I would have loved to have seen come out of this. Look at what a great opportunity this was for an exploration of the guilt that Optimus has over dooming Cybertron! All his battles, all his preaching, all his attempts to uphold good and freedom… and he failed. And this could have and should have been the moment when he recognized that. This could have been the moment when he said “yes. I want to die. I don’t deserve to live, I don’t deserve to lead”. And then his eyes could have gone dark and his body turned grey. But it’s that moment of realizing how much of a mess he made of things that this really needed to drive everything home. And it could have been as simple as a voiceover from Ratchet from “Darkest Hour”, or even an actual conversation between Optimus and Alpha Trion about how badly Optimus screwed up. There’s no dialogue in these five second anyway, so you literally can’t lose anything by adding any of the stuff I mentioned in there.

Sadly, this didn’t happen, and we’re left with the ambiguous question of whether or not Optimus really died before Smokescreen puts the Forge in his hand. Personally, I’m inclined to think that he did. His eyes went dark, his chest opened up and presented the Matrix to Smokescreen; if Smokescreen hadn’t done what he did, Optimus would have stayed dead. So yeah, Optimus dies.

But not for long! Smokescreen, in a great twist on the trend, actually doesn’t feel that he’s ready for the type of responsibility that goes into leading an army, and just outright does everything he can to save Optimus prior to the latter’s death. I really like this, because it means that Smokescreen is thinking resourcefully, and for a guy who admired Optimus so much in the beginning, for someone eager to prove himself, this was a nice turnaround for his character, now recognizing that Optimus is not just a great Prime, but also a great leader, and to lose him would be to lose an icon. As much as this story didn’t have a good Optimus side to it, the Smokescreen side of things was very well done and really helped flesh out his character, and what’s great is that they kept this story going for the majority of the season after this. Smokescreen even mutters to himself after Optimus dies that “this isn’t how the story’s supposed to end”, and then goes and gets the Forge and places it in the hand of the dead Optimus.

There’s speculation about what happens here. The Forge obviously restores and revitalizes Optimus, draining all of the Forge's power in the process, but how much of this came from the Forge and how much came from the Matrix (not to mention how the Forge can work with the hand of a dead Prime (though it’s been seen before)), but frankly, I don’t really care. There’s a big flash and we’re brought back to the battle, where everyone is still being held captive.

Megatron has really had it and just decides to execute everyone, and orders Starscream to fire all the fusion cannons at the nearest city within their sights… which last I checked would be Washington… which is a province. Anyway, Starscream spots something coming toward them fast, and instead of firing the cannons right then and there, everyone stands and gawks at the approaching figure. Yes, it’s Optimus in his new body which I’ve railed against before so I won’t repeat it here. But he nevertheless makes a pretty awesome entrance, zooming toward the tower and then just beating the shit out of Megatron and delivering a final blow that sends Megatron crashing into his throne! Then, to continue the awesome, Optimus deploys a freaking chain gun of whoop-ass on the Vehicon drones! This weapon is awesome and it’s a shame that it’s used with such a clunky figure.

A recovering Ultra Magnus knocks out Starscream, and Optimus gets a warm welcome from his second-in-command old-body-look-alike:

“Sir, you’re looking… robust.”

The higher ups of Cybertron, ladies and gentlemen.

Ultra Magnus uses Optimus’ return as a rallying call and everyone gets into action, including Fowler. Of course, he hasn’t gotten the all-clear that the fusion cannons are actually destroyed, but who cares about the nation’s capital when we have a bigger Optimus to show off?!

Optimus and Megatron engage in a dogfight that would be dynamic if this new Optimus weren’t so clunky… man, I had no idea how much I loved the old Optimus design until this one came along. I do like that Optimus just ends the fight by tossing Megatron into the reactor core! That’s pretty dope. And then the reactor core explodes, shutting down the fusion cannons and rendering Megatron… unconscious and dazed for a little bit, because that’s what you’d expect from a person who was at ground zero of an exploding fusion reactor core (but then Megatron did survive a Space Bridge implosion; surviving this is probably like eating a couple of grapes while looking in the fridge for something to eat).

Wheeljack begins his fight with Shockwave anew, and this one is pretty awesome, because Shockwave goes all Die Hard on Wheeljack, Arcee, Bumblebee, and Bulkhead, taking them all on at the same time and managing himself very well for a guy with one eye and only one arm with a hand (though I like that he resorts to using his cannon arm as just a freaking battering ram)! The four Autobots retreat in time for Fowler and his men to destroy the rest of Darkmount. Starscream picks up Megatron before retreating himself. Megatron isn’t happy that this day just kinda sucks now, but Starscream attempts to talk sense into him:

“This battle is lost, my liege. We must retreat if we are to have any hope of winning the war.”

The tower crumbles, Shockwave escapes to safety, Fowler gives a speech, and things more or less revert back to normal.

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Rebellion” is 6/10. Some good action and nice pacing (as well as the absolutely gorgeous lighting and set design in the final act) is enough to deliver a solid conclusion to the first arc of Season Three. The resolution of everything going back to normal, albeit with both Wheeljack and Ultra Magnus staying on as official members of Team Prime and with Optimus himself in a new body, has rubbed people the wrong way. I do understand that this reverting to the norm is not particularly endearing, especially after coming off of Season Two which had a lot of reversions and resetting of the status quo. And seeing as how the Darkmount base was a formidable threat not just in stature but in symbolism, it comes off as pretty cheap that the thing gets destroyed by like ten missiles and a broken power core. Indeed, the idea that the Decepticons hold power could have been explored a whole lot more, and the writers were planning on doing that. But due to studio meddling, they had to nix that and go back to normal, which I think was a big mistake.

However, the action in this is very good, the pace is steady, and even though the scenes with Optimus just let me down so much in terms of paying off past events, Smokescreen’s character did witness and undergo something far more important than just a body upgrade like Optimus: he underwent a character change, and this would be explored in bits and pieces down the line. As a conclusion to the opening of Season Three, I think this is a good bang-for-your-buck type of episode. It has a lot of action that can carry you through and the character moments are there in the fight scenes if you look hard enough. Certainly doesn’t come close to what the “One Shall Rise/Orion Pax” arc did, but this was still a nice first act of Season Three.

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