31 January 2000 | Lunchbox-3
It's NOT the Beast Wars, but has merit of its own
Having seen probably every episode of the original Transformers, Beast Wars, and now Beast Machines, I feel I can comment on this series with some authority. I loved the Beast Wars even though it was a very different show from the Transformers. They took liberties and played with elements from the original Transformers, starting with the guest appearance from original Transformer Starscream, and culminating with the discovery of the Ark and the "guest appearances" of Optimus Prime and Megatron. The Beast Wars combined old and new, wonderful CGI with great voice talent and fun scripts. I was sad to see it end.
So then came the previews for Beast Machines. Sure, it was still animated by Mainframe, who did Beast Wars, so we knew it would look good. But what about the story? From the beginning there were questions. They were taking the surviving characters from Beast Wars and putting them in a new environment. This would be our first in-depth CGI look at Cybertron. I had no problem with this. We had done the "Beast Planet" thing, so a new setting was promising. Next was the idea of the mindless transformer drones, to provide "cannon fodder" as we hadn't seen before in the Transformers. No problem. New characters, new bodies for our survivors, this was all okay. We had grown accustomed to that in the Beast Wars. Most characters had changed appearance two or three times by the end of that series.
The problems I had were with the changes they made in the fundamentals of the mythos, and the characters. I don't remember much from previous series about the organic beginnings of Cybertron. Personally, I don't really see the point in them pushing it as the main element in this Beast Machines story arc. I would think they would have enough to do with a return to Cybertron, a new fight, new characters and such. Second, the characters change for the worse in my opinion. As established in Beast Wars, Optimus was rational, kind and a strong leader. Here he becomes angry, argumentative, and indecisive. Rattrap was a complainer in Beast Wars but not a coward or an idiot as he was in Beast Machines. It's only halfway through the series that he even figures out how to transform, something the others accomplish by episode 1 or 2! Cheetor becomes bull-headed and arrogant, a trait he was often scolded for in Beast Wars, but here he is rewarded and promoted for it. I understand that they probably wanted to show his progress to leadership, and bring in Nightscream as the new 'kid' of the team, but it still seems out of place. I guess what I'm saying is, the characters have all become kind of unpleasant and I don't really care about seeing any them succeed anymore. About the only one who is still 'in character' is Blackarachnia, who wisely spends much of the Beast Machines series following her own agenda away from the other Maximals. Megatron's obsession with eliminating the 'organic element' seemed odd to me since he was the one so obsessed with experimenting on organics in the Beast Wars. He cloned, he tampered, and he was awfully proud of the power of his newly acquired body each time he got one, half-organic or no. I don't understand the point of using established characters if you plan to change all of their personalities. Just create some new ones, at least the Beast Wars team had the respect to do that.
Having said my piece about the treatment of the surviving Beast Wars characters, let me say that I enjoyed the 3 Vehicons. This makes me think that the writers know how to write, they just don't know how to write the specific characters that carried over from before. The use of the Maximal personalities within the Vehicons lead to interesting speculation about who was who and what this would mean; but in the end, I hope we don't see that as an excuse to bury the characters of the Vehicons in favor of our "returning favorites." I would favor a story that finds a way to segregate the two sets of characters so they can live on their own.
All in all, although my review is very critical, I think there's a lot of potential here. The CGI is great. The voice actors are too and I'm glad that they didn't make any replacements, that they got the Beast Wars actors back to resume their roles. A lot of the visions of Cybertron are very chilling ... like somewhere between Blade Runner and Tron. Although there are characters I despise, I think they still have strong voices in Blackarachnia, Megatron, Rhinox-Tankorr, and I think Jetstorm is a hoot! I just hope they find a way to write their own ideas without just swiping a lot of stuff from the past and then bending the stories to fit their revisionist history. If season 2 is as good as the first I'll keep watching... but I think they can do better.