In 1986 a film known as Transformers: The Movie was released world wide. Part of the plot involved the then current Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, dying in combat and passing his job onto another Autobot; Ultra Magnus. Ultra Magnus’ performance as Autobot leader is often mocked and labelled as ineffective and full of mistakes… however, maybe Ultra Magnus did a better job than anyone realised.
On Earth, Autobot City falls under surprise attack from Megatron and his force of Decepticons; the early warning systems failing entirely thanks to the hi-jacking of an Autobot shuttle. Ultra Magnus gives standard, but effective, orders to set up the necessary defences. The City defences are activated, Autobots commence fighting while a call is sent out for reinforcements – despite being badly outnumbered (Perceptor notes as such), the Autobots manage to hold out through the entire night.
Optimus Prime died in combat againt Megatron and passed the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus, designating him the new Autobot Leader. Autobot City laid in ruins, it’s defences rendered more or less non-existant. The surviving Autobots receive a distress call from Cybertron’s second Moon, which promptly gets devoured by Unicron – realised the proverbial has hit the fan, the Autobots ready for a trip back home to try to stop Unicron with the Matrix.
However, Galvatron and his newly constructed Sweeps attack the remnants of the Autobot forces where Ultra Magnus has to give his first order as overall Autobot commander. The order was for the Autobots to get onboard shuttles as fast as possible and leave Earth, fleeing from the Decepticon attack. Was this the right decision? At this point, the Autobots had received a distress call and knew they had to get to Cybertron as quickly as possible, Autobot City was in ruins, the Autobots were outnumbered and outgunned. Therefore, it can be concluded that if the Autobots had stayed to fight then chances are that not only would they have been inevitably delayed, they would have also all been killed.
On the journey back to Cybertron the two Autobot shuttles fell under attack once more; Galvatron’s forces (including a large Battleship) managing to critically damage Hot Rod and Kup’s ship forcing it to plummet to the planet Quintessa. Once that shuttle was out of commision, Galvatron turned his attention to the second shuttle (containing by Ultra Magnus, Springer and others) and unleashed missiles. It is at this point that Ultra Magnus says the oft-derided line “I can’t deal with that now” but that adequetely describes his situation. He was unable to aid Kup’s shuttle without presenting his own crew as an even easier target, while Autobot shuttles were clearly no match for Galvatron’s ship (especially combined with Cyclonus’ straffing runs). The only option left was to perform evasive manouvers and then trick Galvatron into believing that Ultra Magnus’ shuttle had also been destroyed – a ruse that worked and let Magnus and his colleagues escape that confrontation.
Ultra Magnus’ shuttle, however, was forced to crash land on the planet Junk for repairs. As the crew started repairs, Galvatron once again attacked from the air. In an impossible tactical position, outnumbered and outgunned the Autobots fled yet the Decepticons followed. Finally, Ultra Magnus sealed his comrades in a cave (collapsing the entrance) and attempted to open the Autobot Matrix of Leadership (as per the Autobot prophecy ‘it would open in the Autobot’s darkest hour’). The Matrix fails to open and Galvatron blasts the Autobot Commander into pieces… So did Magnus do anything wrong? The combat situation was unwinnable, few would argue on that point, so retreat was the only viable option. Yet the Decepticons had the advantage of greater speed and manouverability due to their aerial nature so retreat could only buy a small amount of time. Magnus may have apparently died but if he had not sealed his comrades in the cave, then it was inevitable that the rest of the Autobots would have died as well. It would seem that Ultra Magnus had only one option available; save the lives of his comrades and attempt to play the only trump card he had left.
Ultra Magnus gets revived by the inhabitants of the planet Junk soon enough and from that point the focus of the movie moves away from the Autobot warrior, he certainly made no more combat decisions for the duration of the film. So how can Ultra Magnus’ actions as Autobot Commander be described? The situations he found himself in were often impossible with few to no viable options available but he was never-the-less able to hold his own ground, robbing the Decepticons of victory multiple times. In short, Ultra Magnus was not a Commander in the league of Optimus Prime but his short reign was certainly not the failure many make it out to be.