March 30, 2015

Shadowcon Reviews- Project Predacon

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime Season 3, episode 5, “Project Predacon”

Hi! It’s been like six months since I’ve done a Prime review, and the gap hasn’t been helped by the fact that the show was recently taken off of Netflix for god knows what reason. But, I’ve managed to get my Season Three DVD here with me, so that problem’s rectified now! Yay!

Season Three is probably Prime at its most consistent. Unlike Season Two, which had a weird habit of fluctuating between awesome and piss awful, this season has a good stretch of solid if relatively unremarkable episodes before closing with a bang. The relic hunt formula is back, but as I’ve mentioned previously, this season tries to switch things up and actually make the show more about the characters than about the plot. It succeeds to varying degrees, and this episode offers our first look at how this season attempts to redo its relic hunt from Season Two.

The episode opens up with Fowler introducing Optimus to his new vehicle mode:

“Prime, what we have here is an experimental, all-terrain expeditionary fighting vehicle, designed by the finest engineers in our M.A.S.K. division.”

Wow. I could be wrong, but considering the origins of what M.A.S.K. actually is about, I think Fowler just insulted Optimus in one of the most meta ways possible! Anyway, this is Optimus’ new vehicle mode, which- okay, slight tangent (and I know, we’re not even past the teaser, but this has always bugged me). I really don’t like it when the robots already have their vehicle shit plastered onto them prior to getting an Earth mode. I know, the models for this series are expensive so you can’t have two of everything; it’s actually quite a wonder that they managed to get the new Optimus model mostly cleaned up in time for the end of “Rebellion”. But just from a story standpoint, it’s weird. And this is made weirder by the fact that this new vehicle seems to be about as Earth friendly as the Bat-wing vehicle in The Dark Knight Rises- humans were supposed to have built this? Come on, this has the least road-legal parameters possible, you’ve got a bunch of headlights on the thing for no reason, and oh yeah, a giant rocket pack on the back just because! And it’s not like Optimus can fly in this mode either- we never see him deploy his wingpack here, so what the hell?

Anyway, that out of the way (and after the badass new title sequence), we’re introduced to the new Autobot base, and I admit I do like this. While it’s got similar stuff from the old one (the various levels of floor for better human/transformer interaction is the most obvious), this one is less flashy and far more utilitarian. Ratchet’s workstation is reduced considerably, lacking the giant screens from the old lair. This makes sense considering how they’re working out of a military stronghold instead of a missile silo and have only just gotten back on their feet so they’re resources are lower. I also find the fact that they’re testing out their new GroundBridge by having Ultra Magnus come through, and carrying a single Energon cube pretty funny- we’ve seen how wonky the GroundBridge can be, having a person travel through the thing after having fixed a bug instead of sending something non-living through just to make sure it worked seems kinda reckless. Though I suppose it’s a good thing Magnus was only carrying one Energon cube- that stuff’ll explode if someone looks at it wrong never mind transports it through a space-time bending machine.

Magnus and Wheeljack are back from scavenging what they could find from the wreckage of their old base, and Jackie brings back his and Bulkhead’s old lobbing ball, much to the chagrin of Magnus, Ratchet, and Miko, who nearly gets nailed after Bulkhead misses Jackie’s hard toss. Ultra Magnus is less than pleased.

“Allow me to make myself clear: as Optimus Prime’s second in command, I have no intention of tolerating Wrecker behavior…. Need I remind you that it was Optimus Prime himself who assigned me to command your Wreckers back on Cybertron, and get you loose cannons under control. An effective combat unit begins with discipline. If you can’t accept that, feel free to choose the path of least resistance, as you did before.”

We’ll see more of that relationship next episode, but for now this reinforces Ultra Magnus’ command style seen in the previous arc, and now is able to be contrasted with Optimus’ own. I like how this progresses too- here, Magnus is only berating Wheeljack over something that was obviously harmful to other people on their team (Ratchet too spoke up about that lobb that Jackie threw), and Ultra Magnus isn’t made out to be a bad guy- he’s wound a little tight, sure, but that isn’t really a bad thing. Indeed, he proved quite a good commander in the previous arc, but now that the dust has settled, he might need to loosen up. Again, we’ll see more of this next episode, but I like the establishing of it here in the post-immediate-crisis mindset that the others have.

After this, we get another fairly good scene with Smokescreen entering the base. He’s got a new flashy paint job, this time blue with gold and white accents. I admit, I’m in the minority who actually loved his original color scheme- it just appealed to me more. But this does show Smokescreen’s progression as a character. Like Bumblebee, he’s matured over the course of the show, and this change in appearance might be trivial, but it’s a growth nonetheless. Also, I read a comment that mentioned his blue tone is very similar to Arcee’s, which is true. That comment then went on to discuss how Smokescreen might consider Arcee a role model and was consciously or subconsciously homaging her. It’s helped by this quick frame of Arcee taking in Smokescreen’s new look for herself. It’s a small thing, sure, but I like the idea that Smokescreen is taking cues from other Autobots besides Optimus and Bumblebee, one of whom has a new form, and the other a new paint job. This gets across that the team is more of a unit or family now than it had been when things began back in “Darkness Rising”. Smokescreen’s not too happy about Ultra Magnus and the others still looking at him as though he were a rookie, reflecting that he was almost a Prime, but managed to lampshade that particular trope by, well, not being a complete idiot and accepting the role. Here, we see that decision gnaw at him as he has to do remedial work for the rest of the team, having to stack empty boxes against a wall! The horror! Ratchet’s and Arcee’s discussion merely back up the team’s apparent views of Smokescreen as a rookie, with Ratchet commending him… by saying that he’s inexperienced. Wow, be glad the dude wasn’t in earshot of that, buddy; the man saw Optimus die and then go all Jesus on top of turning down the chance to be leader of an army! He’s had it kinda rough.

Meanwhile, Optimus is investigating a Decepticon Energon mine, taking out the Insecticon miners- hang on, don’t the Decepticons have their own mining-class Vehicons? Why exactly are the brute nigh-invulnerable troops reduced to mining? Must be a shit shift rotation. They’ve uncovered what looks to be a bone instead of Energon, lodged into the rock. Optimus shows up, and I like too that he doesn’t even bother engaging them in robot mode at first, and to demonstrate how powerful he is just in vehicle form, he has missiles that can kill Insecticons with one shot! Of course, they’ve been known to die in all sorts of contradicting ways- Bumblebee, Arcee, and Bulkhead all were shown to take them down in Season Two with their normal weapons, hell, one was taken out by a fucking tree! Yeah, we’ll be getting to that episode eventually!

Optimus puts up a… rather mediocre fight all things considered. I mentioned this in my Overview of Season Three, but I just don’t like this new Optimus Prime model. It’s too clunky and it makes most of the fights that we now see him in less exciting to me. Anyway, the last Insecticon grabs a chunk of the bone and flies away. And Optimus just lets him go. And why not? It’s not like he can fly too or anything. I suppose taking the larger piece of bone back to base is more important, but still, really?

Taking it back to base, Optimus and the rest of the team discuss what this is and what Megatron and the Decepticons would want with it, and this is conversation is very by-the-numbers exposition dump. This nettles some, myself included, especially because most of the Autobots already know about what they’re discussing. It could be for the humans’ benefit, but if so this portion of the script is pretty poor. It’s less like conversation and more like, well, a script. Basically, this thing Optimus uncovered is a Predacon skull, something that shouldn’t be here on Earth, and it’s even more disconcerting considering that Shockwave, who is known for cloning and other evil science things, is back amongst the Decepticon ranks, which now also include a living Predacon. Optimus surmises that Shockwave just needs a single strand of CNA (that’s the Cybertronian equivalent of DNA in case you’ve forgotten- it has been half a year since I’ve covered any of this, sorry) to create more Predacon clones. Wheeljack wonders if Megatron might try to make an army from the cloning process, and Bulkhead drops a very forced easter egg:

“We could have beast wars on our hands.”

Sigh. But that delivery is Patrick Stewart compared to Optimus’ drop of this season’s tagline:

“Autobots, we must become beast hunters.”

There’s this pause after he says that that’s just about a millisecond too long to feel natural, making this declaration unintentionally hilarious. The rest of the Autobots stare at him like he’s an idiot, before Smokescreen asks the logical question of why the Predacon bones are here on Earth.

Well, we finally get to see some Decepticons we care about, midway through the episode, thanks a lot. Starscream asks that question of Megatron, and we get even more exposition. Megatron reveals that these bones are the remains of previous Predacon clones that he stationed here on Earth eons ago, and then I guess he forgot about them because they just stayed there until they died. Damn, and you thought your office job was boring. Megatron says that their reunion was much delayed- probably didn’t help that you went crazy and looked for the blood of the anti-christ there, big guy. Shockwave outlines his plan of extracting the CNA from all the bones to create clones… of clones.

Couple problems with this. First, why don’t you just extract the CNA from the Predacon that you already have? I know he’s in the Arctic, but Shockwave himself says that he’s put tracking devices on the dead clones, so why wouldn’t he put one on the one who’s not completely bone? After all, we know that the CNA is able to be extracted from the bones, so thawing out the Predacon they already have and then extracting CNA then isn’t a problem. Second, why do they need multiple bones? Why not just use the one they have and breed multiple clones from that bone? It could be argued that Shockwave wants diversity amongst the troops, which is a valid point. But come on, this is Shockwave- he’s surely able to mess around with a little CNA to make the beasts all a bit different right? Or is he so lazy that he can’t do anything beyond copy-pasting the data from the bone into a new clone? And wouldn’t that be more work anyway, since now he’s wasting valuable time waiting around for others to scour the planet to round up every bone? This is such a Doctor Evil plot!

Anyway, to round out this stupidity, it’s revealed that Predacons were actually the basis for a lot of our own mythology, thus providing the weakest link between Cybertron and Earth yet. Ratchet is working on refining his Synthetic Energon formula so that the Autobots don’t end up running out of fuel. This again demonstrates how Season Three really wanted to weave past plots back into the story, which is a good thing. It helps the sense of continuity. Of course, coming after a lengthy section of expository dialogue, most of which we already knew or could at least deduce… y’know, that kinda makes this a little bit out of left field.

Luckily, Fowler’s on hand to assign the Autobots a mission to get our obligatory fight in for the episode. Two Decepticon hotspots have been picked up by satellites, one in Scotland and the other in Texas, so Optimus orders Ultra Magnus lead the Wreckers to Scotland while he, Bumblebee, and Smokescreen go to Texas. Magnus takes the depleted Forge of Solus Prime with him, knowing that a melee weapon is probably a good idea, and will likely lead to better action in the next episode.

For now, though, we’re stuck watching team not-Wreckers scout oil country This is a nice refinement to Season Two’s relic-hunt scenes. Instead of this being about the plot, we get some good “dialogue” between Bumblebee and Smokescreen, the latter asking the former about if he ever might want to be a Prime, though since ‘Bee can’t speak, things are a little stilted.

“‘Warrior.’ You and me both. But I’ve seen you in action. Optimus knows you can scrap with the best of ‘em. Why won’t he just promote you from scout already? Your choice? So why wait? Guess it would be more meaningful to graduate back home, on Cybertron. You’re one patient guy. I should take a cue”

I like this exchange (I know it doesn’t look like it- ‘Bee does his bleep-bloop thing after Smokescreen’s questions). This serves to contrast Bumblebee with Smokescreen in terms of how they see themselves in relation to the team, but also shows how Smokescreen’s decision is again weighing on him. He’s now forced to wonder if he made the right call, and how he should deal with it now that he’s turned down the position of Prime. It’s neat that he’s talking about this with Bumblebee, whom we last saw with his wounded pride back in “Operation Bumblebee” being conflicted and angered over being less than the rest of the team. Now, Smokescreen is feeling less than adequate, and his probing of Bumblebee for advice and answers serves as subtle but effective character growth for both characters.

But we can’t have too much of that. A short firefight breaks out between the two Autobots and some Vehicons, and this one’s slightly better than Optimus’ battle from before. Once again, I find myself invested in the action if only to marvel at the visuals- the lighting and overall environment was what caught my attention this time.

After a brief reprieve, Shockwave shows up, and the fight eventually ends up on this really thin bridge. Optimus shows up, and the fight from here on out, I’m sorry to say, it drags. Shockwave has the bone, then he doesn’t have the bone; even with Soundwave showing up, things don’t really improve much on the action front. Smokescreen’s phase shifter doesn’t even abide by its own rules anymore, phasing through Shockwave, but not letting the bone, which Smokescreen has a hold of, pass through Shockwave’s grip, despite Knockout saying in a previous episode that the phase shifter was supposed to be intuitive. Much of this fight is dictated by the plot, at least more so than any previous fight seen on this show, which is kind of a shame. Anyway, the bone ends up in the hands of Megatron (literally falling into his hand as Soundwave opens a Bridge horizontally as the bone is falling from the sky- that’s actually a pretty epic shot).

Incidentally, Shockwave found a pretty hefty piece of Predacon bone, but he only really needed like a tiny chunk of it- that’s what they ended up with anyway. So, why didn’t he just chop off a tiny portion and then leave? This whole fight gets more silly the more you think about it. Anyway, Megatron orders Shockwave not to go out into the field again on the grounds that, y’know, he’s kind of important, and you’d never want to lose such a valuable member of your team. That’s why the Insecticons are out there doing remedial mining where they can be easily dispatched instead of safe within the base. Shockwave agrees to Megatron’s order, pleasing his boss:

“Excellent. For I am rather impatient to witness my army of beasts trample human kind under foot.”

Yeah, y’know what would speed up the process even more? Not searching the Earth for individual bones!

Post episode follow-up: Final score for “Project Predacon” is 5/10. It’s a very average Prime episode, hampered by long tracks of exposition, battles that run the gamut from mundane to anemic, and being a bit slow overall. There’s some good setup here, especially for Ultra Magnus come next episode, and Smokescreen’s character is fleshed out a bit more now that he has the baggage from last episode hanging over him. It’s not as solid as some of the other average episodes out there, its score mostly coming from shortcomings instead of being tight and solid. Next episode will prove to be a better adventure, trust me.

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