Ultra Magnus: Under-rated Leader

Posted: September 1, 2006 in Animation, Movies, Reviews, Television

ultramagnus.jpgIn 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.

um002.jpgOptimus 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.

um003.jpgHowever, 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.

um001.jpgOn 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.

um004.jpgUltra 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.

1119402777624.jpgUltra 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.

  1. Xenedar says:

    Definitely agree. I like both Ultra Magnus and Rodimus Prime, and both have had to live with comparisons to Mr Perfect, Optimus Prime.

    Prior to Hot Rod’s “ascension” to Rodimus Prime, Ultra Magnus had to contend with multiple attacks, failing defense systems (including a seemingly malfunctioning Matrix uber-weapon, that was like “geez, Prime, why did you even give this to me if it won’t work?”; like being imminently blasted to pieces is still not enough reason for the Matrix to boot up and do its thang), and do it all without the benefit of being The Chosen One. I really couldn’t fault any of his decisions, and would challenge anyone to come up with a better strategy. It’s just unfortunate that for the Autobots, everything at that time was spiralling downwards, and Magnus gets the blame for it, when it was basically inevitable. And, let’s face it, when pushed to the wall, Magnus sacrificed himself to protect everyone else. Nobody else either died or “died” in the movie after Optimus did. Sure, it wasn’t a stellar reign, but I don’t think he would have anything to be ashamed of. Indeed, even as advisor/second-in-command in Season 3, he demonstrated sound leadership skills in several instances when he was the most senior ‘Bot in the vicinity.

    Rodimus has also had to deal with similar comparisons, and I have to say I was a bit bothered when they resurrected Optimus, because it seemed a bit cheap and shark-jumpy. It was a shock that they killed of Optimus off in the movie, but when you bite a bullet as big as that one, you commit to it. Once we’d accepted it and moved on, we had the opportunity to see both Magnus and Rodimus struggle with leadership (Magnus in an advisory capacity). And that was interesting. Flawless, untarnished, white-knight heroes aren’t that interesting (not that Optimus didn’t have his own flaws, or that he wasn’t interesting), and I thought that Rodimus was a particularly good metaphor for all the kids who had been into Transformers in the preceding couple of years and who were likely to be in their early-ish teen years and discovering both responsibility and freedom.

    And they didn’t really seem to “buy back” (or justify) the resurrection anyway – it resulted in the Plague being destroyed, and then only 3 other (US) episodes (and not many more in the Japanese continuity either). It seemed a bit harsh, that Rodimus was apparently not up to the job of saving the world, and they had to call on “Daddy” to fix things.

  2. Autobot-69 says:

    I would like to express my understanding of the whole “Ultra Magnus was a dissappointment with the Matrix of Leadership” view that many may have.

    Consider this…. Compare Ultra Magnus to Hot Rod prior to any exposure to the Matrix. Who would you have considered to have better Leadership qualities? For me it’s easy… Ultra Magnus.

    If you watch Season 3 and Season 4 of Transformers it appears that Ultra Magnus had more confidence and was more of a Leader than Rodimus Prime… in my opinion. Due in fact mainly to Rodimus Prime’s self doubt. Magnus did more for Autobot self confidence in battle than Rodimus did.

    However, I believe that we have never truly seen Ultra Magnus as a leader with the Matrix. When the Matrix is passed on to a new Leader by the previous host, the new Leader undergoes a transformation. Essentially becoming bigger, stronger and wiser. This happened to Hot Rod. He became Rodimus Prime. Why didn’t anything happen to Ultra Magnus? Because of one event that happened in the movie.

    When the Matrix is transferred from Optimus to Ultra Magnus with Optimus Prime’s intention of Ultra receiving it to become the new leader…. the Matrix becomes charged… sensing it’s leaders intentions for the new receiver.

    However, in the movie Optimus dropped it and Hot Rod caught it before giving it to Ultra Magnus. This is why when Ultra Magnus put it in his chest.. no transformation happened. Because the Matrix did not consider him the rightful new bearer of it. The Matrix was inteneded to be passed to the new bearer hand to hand from the old leader.

    Hot Rod was the first to touch it after Optimus therefore it recognized him as it’s new bearer. So I would like to point out that I truly believe that we have never seen Ultra Magnus…. as the bigger, stronger, wiser leader that he could have been.

    Could you imagine him bigger, stronger, and wiser?!!!! For sure it would be the end of the decepticons. What would his name be? Magnus Prime? Ultra Prime? That poses another question… if all new leaders receive a new body, mind, and name… then why didn’t Ultra Magnus’s name change. Because of what was described above.

    Oh and for the hardcore.. you’re probably saying… then why did Scourge transform when Rodimus Prime lost the matrix to him if it wasn’t Rodimus Prime’s intention to pass it to him for Leader ship? I couldn’t tell you… but perhaps it reacts different if the host is a decepticon.


  3. Dan says:

    For whatever it’s worth, I didn’t realize Ultra Magnus was supposed to be a poor leader until I listened to the commentary on the DVD. Compare that to Rodimus Prime’s constant second-guessing himself and soul searching (giving up the Matrix at least twice), and Ultra Magnus did a fine job.

    At the same time, some leaders are better suited to the number 2 slot, finding themselves a stronger leader in that position. This seems to be Ultra Magnus’ role.

  4. Gary Wintle says:

    If we are talking about the comics, Optimus Prime’s only rival in terms of leadership talents was Grimlock (self-confident, determined, and with added ruthlessness).

    In both the cartoon and the comics, Ultra Magnus was certainly brave, an amazing soldier, but he lacked the self-confidence to truly lead. He was plagued by self-doubt.

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