Thursday, 4 May 2017

A Movie Decade

- Ben Watson

With The Last Knight beginning its comprehensive merchandising offensive before the film's opening next month, I've taken the time to consider just what ten years(!) of movie toys have given us. While it's the most divisive topic in the Transformers fandom, and the very concept of a fifth film from Michael Bay may make you spit, by the law of averages there has to be at least one figure from the movies' associated toylines that you like. The 2007 film was an event of titanic proportions, let's face it, but of course almost everything it had to offer has since been improved upon. A lot has changed in ten years and while the general fan approach is to lump the movie figures together and push them all into a corner, this last decade has provided a wide variety of forms and expressions that stretch from the most unorthodox ridiculous to the more classical sublime. Here (in no particular order) I'll run down my favourite ten figures of this vintage that I managed to get my hands on over the last 3650 days. 

1. Age of Extinction Evasion Mode Optimus Prime

Might as well start with the star of the show (gives a nice thumbnail image for Facebook...). Optimus is the one on-screen design I truly love. The mix of angles, alien touches, heroic proportions and lustrous truck surfaces combine to make him look - quite rightfully - the best of the Transformers on film. There's a sense that more care was taken to evoke what people already knew as Optimus Prime, compared to say Ironhide but all of this version's more unique touches are not without merit. (Those knees!) Sadly it took four films and seven years to render this in plastic to a truly satisfactory standard. Evasion Mode Optimus achieves this (mostly) and goes that one step further towards the Optimus of old with his square cab alt mode, colour layout and wheel placement. If someone only casually versed in Transformers were to pick a most iconic version of Optimus, it could easily be this one. 

Of course to say this figure is successful for its G1 homages is detrimental to its status as an excellent movie figure but it provides a sense of "What If" that quiets the infinitesimal part of my mind that still questions why Optimus Prime has flames on him. But there are a great number of alternate decoes which run the gamut from the rust and decay this body was portrayed in in the Age of Extinction film to a more buffed and shiny look all the way to even more G1 than this version. I own one of them which is on the whole more accurate to this body's general appearance but I keep coming back to this one. The simple colour layout adds an almost cartoonish sense of dynamism which the figure's excellent suite of joints easily furnish. Of course if you've handled this you might attest to the testing transformation but I'll be honest, the alt mode concerns me little. As a robot, this is to date the best representation of the one Autobot leader that's possibly had more failed attempts at than any other. Proportions and presence are all on point aided by the reduced mass of the vehicle mode leading to virtually no kibble. Spot on detail coats every surface including Prime's dour faceplateless visage. His body's glass is suitably provided with clear plastic and his slits of optics glow with healthy if colourless light piping. The elbows and forearms are cack though, I guess the wizard who designed this figure had some limit to his powers after all.

2. Hunt for the Decepticons Breacher

The Scout class could easily provide ten of the best figures to grace store shelves in the past decade but for the sake of the rest of this list, I'm relegating myself to choosing only one. Breacher is clearly the bot for the job. One of the seemingly huge number of original and excellent designs made for what used to be the sub £10 impulse buy size class, Breacher is a figure the likes of which we've not seen again. Barely hitting the 4 inch mark, this figure packs more engineering into its diminutive frame than any current Leader figure. Complexity of this level at this scale was never seen before and hasn't been revisited since. Maybe that's a good thing, but to have a figure this small be so involved and articulate (ball jointed neck, wrists and ankles!) is a tiny event in and of itself. Few movie figures are must haves, but Breacher is a firm exception to that rule and if that really doesn't agree with your palette, he has a "regular" face so you can't complain. 

3. Allspark Power Stockade

One of the first non-screen characters to grace the movie line, Stockade takes a lot of the 
design premises of pre movie figures. A solid build, intrinsic gimmickry and more classical features make him look a little more Cybertron than Movie but his realistic alt mode and high level of detail bring him into focus as a decent addition to the then growing roster of movie Decepticons. He may be missing a couple of joints but this is more than made up for with a satisfying conversion and the fun factor of his  - admittedly stunted - power punch action. Plus he's just got attitude, you know? If the Decepticons ever needed a bouncer, it feels like Stockade is the bot for the job. 

4. Dark of the Moon Ratchet

The Autobot medic has always been one of my favourite characters and I've had to make do with the beaky green version of him for most of my life as a collector. When it comes to choosing the best of that bunch (Surgery? General Practice? Name a group of Ratchets...) the DOTM version comes out on top. An intelligent use of ambulance mass leads to the robot actually carrying the same proportions as you'll see on screen. The white stripe helps break up his hi-vis medical green and all detail is present and accounted for. A nicely chunky and posable robot smoothly gives way to a similarly solid and well realised ambulance with a suite of not so obvious weapon connection points. Of course MechTech was the gimmick for DOTM and Ratchet fared a little better than most with his particular sidearm. A rounded machine gun looking device extends a spinning saw blade in a giddily enchanting motion to give you movie Ratchet's signature surgical weapon. Then you stick it on the ambulance and everything goes a bit Fury Road. I just love it. I'll let you in on a secret, I sit this guy next to my bed when I'm feeling particularly ill. The power of perceived object connotations and all that...

5. Revenge of The Fallen Dead End (Deluxe)

This is a bit of an unexpected choice for me. It's only recently that I've come to realise the majesty of this creature. I never picked up this figure while ROTF was on shelves, being perfectly happy with the Scout Dead End and his Morbius hand-mouths while also owning the Deluxe Sideways. This Dead End just didn't hit the radar of bots I should look at, but give it a couple of years and I realised my error. First off the bat (ha, vampire pun) he's so much better looking than drab grey Sideways. Then you look closer and realise just how much is going on with this deco. Movie Dead End is a shambling zombie / energonthirsty vampire character and while the Scout version conveyed this is in the snarling Nosferatu sense, Deluxe Dead End goes for the Christopher Lee Dracula vibe. At least I'm pretty sure this car mode is exactly what Dracula would drive. The glossy black bisected with the blood red stripes ending is sharp points is certainly "slam in the back of my dragula" material. But it doesn't stop there, the collared and winged robot mode continues to radiate vibes of the suave undead. Ok, his head isn't very vampy at all, wearing G1 Dead End's roof as a hat but look at that piping. Compound eye light piping. Magnifique. And with that you realise the real achievement of this figure, it's packing three different colours of clear plastic. Normally a bot's eyes match the clear plastic used in the car's windows but here Dead End gets pink eyes, a simply sexual shade of purple for his windows and then colourless clear parts for his lights. I couldn't name another figure that does this, and that's before his general plastic / paint layout or articulation or frankly bogglingly involved conversion. This guy was a statement. 

6. Hunt for the Decepticons Ironhide

Despite the fact he wasn't red I found Ironhide to be one of the stronger movie designs. Maybe it was just his huge cannons or his pug face or the fact he had RID Ironhide's alt mode. Whatever the case, it lead to me really enjoying this relatively annoying deluxe iteration. Much like Ratchet and evidenced by Takara's choice of the mold for their current "Movie Za Best" line, this was the best figure of Ironhide you could get before he was spocksidized in DOTM (Spoilers!). It's a little short but provides an incredibly detailed and characterful rendition of the character. He's got one of his cannons that looks like an extreme lemon juicer and on the other arm, the little pop out turret drone he had when you pressed triangle in the quite excellent ROTF game. I also really like his huge feet and the versatile 5mm compatible fists. I'll just try to ignore the fact I almost broke it having forgotten the proper order of motions when transforming him for this photo. A panel centric conversion with little room to maneuver should really take some points off his overall score but once again I have to commend the level of engineering on show here. 

7. Dark of the Moon Space Case

A lot of people were treated to this excellent original design through the HFTD Terradive figure. I wasn't one of them as that wave never appeared at retail for me, so the Tesco exclusive mostly light piping G2 homage repaint was a must have. I got Terradive later but simply didn't like it anywhere near as much as this oddity. There's a lot to be said for a selection of movie figures which represent the first toys of those characters since their originals which thus stray into Classics territory. Space Case is one of these. An ingenious and totally unorthodox transformation for a jet leads from a beautifully decorated alt mode to a distinct and dynamic robot. Translucent plastic abounds but glows most brightly in his odd 80's stress toy shaped head. The extending trident and the joints to properly use it tip this figure over into the Timeless Legend category. All that and he came with a comic! Something not seen since 2004. 

8. Revenge of The Fallen Lockdown

It's pretty much gospel truth that ROTF was simply terribad but once the cinemas had shaken it off like a monkey on their backs the toyline seemed to shift into maximum overdrive. The NEST Alliance subline meant to refresh things a little for 2010 delivered a smorgasbord of top tier fun and strong design. Lockdown was one of the bots that hit the zenith, both creatively and physically as you essentially got a Voyager sized robot for your Deluxe car money. This figure is of course an exercise in taking a stylised abstracted model and slamming it into the other end of the design spectrum. As a vastly more complex and realistic look, the originally Animated bounty hunter seems to step from the Cartoon Network screen and into a dark alley near your house. Any menace the design already had is dialled to eleven with extra spikes, sharp angles and a sullen Man With No Name expression glowing with hellfire eyes atop the most articulate TF neck ever made. Really all that's missing is a tattered poncho. The alt mode is equally worthy to follow a foe across the desert but in much more the George Miller sense. Somehow the bright green stripes, ridiculous level of spikes and huge exposed engine don't cry Wacky Races but rather Mad Max. There's a heavy sense of a vintage automobile being given a massive tune up and the ability to wreck others on the road and man, have you ever seen another car mode that looks as fierce?

9. Hunt for the Decepticons Battle Blade Bumblebee

You may have already noticed that I quite like 2010's HFTD offerings. In my mind it was the golden age of figure design and when a line can make even Bumblebee a must have, you have to sit up and pay attention. It's no secret that there are literally scores of different movie Bumblebees to choose from at the Deluxe pricepoint, but this one stands atop all of them like the junkpile they are. Much like Lockdown, the first impression is that you're getting a hell of a lot for your £13 (ah remember the days...). Battle Blade Bee is a large robot for a Deluxe and while this just nudges him out of proper scale with anyone else you might want to stick on an Autobot shelf, it creates the impression of a definitive standalone action figure. Bee is packing all the necessary screen accurate detail, excellent articulation and not one but three different gimmicks into his frame. First off you get what too few movie Bees feature: the battlemask that forms from the top of his head to let you hide his harrowing skull face. Next is a clever reconfiguration of his right hand into his arm cannon. Sadly it's unpainted but again, at least it lets you recreate an on screen motion to some degree. Finally the eponymous battle blade is a spring loaded axe that swings out from his left arm to ape his melee attack from the ROTF game. All in all, while Bumblebee is far from most people's favourite, this figure delivers the proper treatment such a prominent character in the films deserves and gave kids who might have actually liked him an incredible one stop shop of yellow goodness. 

10. Hunt for the Decepticons Battle Blade Optimus Prime

The Battle Blade moniker seems to be the movie hallmark of quality, as much like Bee above, this Optimus provided - for a time - a definitive representation at an affordable pricepoint. While the Evasion Mode version now delivers the design in an effortlessly succinct manner, until that appeared this was the go-to movie Voyager Optimus. Essentially a smaller version of the ROTF Leader that became the all-but-Masterpiece figure for Optimus, this is an incredible example of packing extensive engineering into a toy that may seem like it can't accommodate it. A fully posable and detailed robot replete with twin blades, gas tank cannons and a tiny removable Matrix becomes  - with small effort - a nicely accurate if lacklustre truck. Much like BB Bee, this Optimus did it all and for half the price of the bloated Leader version. Now, with the Evasion Mode version and the advent of a true Masterpiece Movie Prime, this figure may seem redundant but I feel it's well worth a mention here as it remains a truly impressive experience in-hand and gave me the Movie Prime I really wanted for a good four years.

There you have it, folks. That's my top ten for this first decade of Movie product. Who's to say what the next ten years will bring, but sadly I'd say we may already be over the peak of film figures. With the trend towards simplification and if not design cost cutting, deco cost cutting apparent with the last two films it's hard to believe we may ever regain the glory of the offerings of 2009-2011. But I'll be here to see if that chance comes along, just so long as I retain enough IQ after another decade of sitting through 180 minute celluloid C4. Gotta keep it #Refined. 

Follow Ben on Twitter @Waspshot23

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