Monday, 26 May 2014

Age of Extinction/Generations Crosshairs

Considering the rich history of TransFormers and the vast back catalogue of characters, the live action movie franchise has been quite a strange experience. Well-known names are used, but the characters they're applied to all too frequently bear little or no relation to their historical counterparts. The choices of names, too, have been rather haphazard. The lineup for the first movie sounded good, the additions for Revenge of the Fallen sounded good, Dark of the Moon got a little bit more random (Brains? Dino?) and Age of Extinction... Well, it's messed up the names of the Dinobots for starters... 'Slug'? Really? And supposedly because Hasbro realised, relatively recently, that 'Slag' is used as a pejorative in the UK? I mean, come on, it still means "the more or less completely fused and vitrified matter separated during the reduction of a metal from its ore", which is very appropriate for the Dinobot flamethrower.

But I digress. The original Crosshairs was a brick of an Autobot TargetMaster who was very keen on conserving ammunition. Movie Crosshairs is described as a 'paratrooper' and is seen in the trailer dual-wielding handguns, destroying things on either side of him as he very dramatically swoops backward on his dual parachutes. In slo-mo.

How will this ever translate into a small, plastic toy? Well... let's find out!

Vehicle Mode:
While the original Crosshairs transformed into an ugly box of a 'futuristic van/buggy', movie Crosshairs becomes the 2014 iteration of the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. It's a very different car to the 2003/2004 Corvette that became Binaltech/Alternators Tracks, not to mention looking unlike any Stingray that has gone before. It lacks just about all the defining features of older Corvettes, let alone a Stingray, particularly in comparison to the Concept Stingray used for Sideswipe since Revenge of the Fallen - and this particular version - with its 'tattoo' paint job and honking great spoiler - looks like the kind of street racer that should be appearing in a Fast & Furious movie rather than a TransFormers sequel.

The paint job is deceptively simple. At first glance, the matching of the green paint to the green plastic is excellent, and it takes a fairly close inspection (or the wonders of digital cameras and their strange perception of colour) to discern a difference. That same close inspection, however, reveals an incredibly subtle sparkly component - too fine, almost, to be called 'metallic flake'. A huge amount of the car shell is molded in clear, colourless plastic and painted over with green and/or black, and it's a good, dense covering with very little sign of the fading or spatter that has plagued other lines. It's a shame the Chevrolet flags on the bonnet aren't painted, but the lack of colouring for the rear lights, etc, is forgivable considering this kind of car would frequently have them tinted anyway. Thing is, at the back, he not only has the Chevrolet flags, but the word 'Corvette' is molded just below. Some of that detail is lost under the heavy black and green paintwork, so it would have been good to give them a subtle coat of another colour. It's nice to see that a coating of silver paint has been applied to the hubcaps - it's surprising what a difference that makes to the look of the car.

The details of the car are curious - on the whole, it's quite smooth and curvy, but some of the side panels are broken up into angular parts with those sort-of-vent things (you can tell I know nothing about cars, right?) behind the front wheels and another one in the bonnet, right at the front of the black section. There are no door handles in the traditional sense, but there indentations behind each door, near the top, which must serve that purpose. The headlights are in two parts - a transparent plastic 'case' which is attached to the car's sides and an inner part which, for some reason, is painted black. Strange... but it works. it's also strange that they're not strictly accurate to the look of the real car - for no readily apparent reason, they're angled and extended too far back over the front wheels.

One of the coolest aspects of this model, coming a few years after Hasbro gave us cumbersome, massively oversized spring-loaded Mechtech weapons, is that Crosshairs' three handguns can all stow inside his vehicle mode. I hope this system continues for the rest of the toyline.

Robot Mode:
The art for movie Crosshairs immediately makes me think of some 1940s RAF pilot, spouting lots of 'Tally ho!" and Monty Python-esque pilot's banter. He's being voiced by John DiMaggio, so he should turn out pretty cool however he's played... but that look pretty much screams 'daring British fighter pilot'.

When I first saw photos of Crosshairs' robot mode, I thought he looked completely daft. Large chunks of car shell hanging off his back and dangling down around his legs? What was that about? When I saw the trailer, it all started to make sense, but then I couldn't understand how these rigid toy car panels were supposed to simulate his sweeping 'trench coat'. In hand, it's actually surprisingly effective. Granted, you're faced with three separate pieces rather than one flowing part... but plastic isn't as adaptable as CGI. The 'coat tails' are surprisingly poseable, too - the rear part can be hinged back quite far, with the windscreen hinged separately to allow the 'tail' for flow back further and higher. The sides get pulled back along with the back section, but then each side can be angled forwards separately and independently. The rubber pieces that plug into his chest are perhaps a little bit too thick to move precisely as intended, but they work well enough. Crosshairs has a completely unique silhouette and, while I'd question why a giant alien robot would need something looking like a trench coat, it's certainly stylish and makes for an intriguing character... Let's hope the writing lives up to the style...

Just like the vehicle mode, Crosshairs is largely black and green, with only a few additional touches of silver. The paint job overall is a little lacking and, in a couple of places, outright wrong. the green paint on his collar is right, but it extends onto the panels directly below when they should have been left bare black and the shallow 'v' panel running across his chest should have been painted instead. The head is also extremely shoddily painted - excessive silver over and beyond the face, green for the goggles and black for his 'flight cap', with none of the details picked out. The Japanese version corrects most of these issues, and adds black details to his forearms, red to his torso and silver to his feet.

The head sculpt is excellent - packed with much of the details that's visible on the CGI model (though possibly not quite the same extent of chin?) and features clear blue light piping for his eyes. Shame it wasn't also applied to his goggles...

Crosshairs comes armed with two identical pistols with what appear to be digital readouts on the sides, and a single, larger, two-handled gun which has been described elsewhere on the interwebs as a MAC10, though that gun looks nothing like Crosshairs' main weapon. Cleverly, all of the guns peg inside the sides of his 'coat', either by the grips of the smaller guns or the small peg on the top of the larger one, but the latter can also peg into Crosshairs' legs at the knee via a smaller peg on one side (the same way that gun attaches to the underside of his vehicle mode). On the downside, due to the fact that their grips need to be small to allow them to attach inside the 'coat' the two smaller guns don't stay in his hands very well.

Given the odd design of Crosshairs, I'd expected him to be a nightmare to transform. Certainly, those rubber flaps that make up his 'trench coat' are awkward to stow for vehicle mode and fiddly to install for robot mode but, other than that, he's incredibly easy. He is something of a shell-former, but that has to be expected considering the increasingly humanoid designs of the movie robots. In some respects, Crosshairs feels like a super-articulated G1 toy, with a very familiar, simple transformation, but lots of additional joints where an equivalent from the 1980's would be rigid.

The 'coat' has little effect on his poseability, because it can be moved out of the way of his legs and arms. The only annoyingly limiting factors he seems to have is the mass of car parts on his shoulders - which can clash with the car shell folded down on his back - and the collar restricting the movement of the ball-jointed head. The design of the groin area also puts a slight limit on the movement of his hips, but he's well-able to adopt some cool gun-toting, coat-sweeping stances.

The toy is certainly an interesting one. The look of Age of Extinction's robots is very different from those of the previous movies. One of the features I've always liked about TransFormers is the presence of some recognisable vehicle parts on the robot and, while I can understand the movie design team's enthusiasm for showing off the complexity of their designs, it makes them less believable, not more so, as transforming robots... and, as a direct result, much harder to turn into worthwhile toys. Crosshairs, for my money, is an excellent compromise.  The paint job is fairly basic, but the overall toy is great fun to transform, very poseable, and quite true to the CGI design, albeit with large chunks of car hanging off his shoulders and wrists.

Had I more patience and more inclination to pay the premium, I might have waited for the Takara Tomy version to become available on import. There are a few key differences in the paint job that make it a superior figure overall... but this one leaves more room for the customisers.

Like High Octane Bulmblebee, Crosshairs features a hexagonal port for - I presume - attaching him to some sort of display stand. Unlike the first new Bumblebee, Crosshairs' port is located between his legs, effectively giving him a robo-anus. If anyone knows where one can purchase a suitable stand, I'd be quite keen to acquire one just for Crosshairs, so I can display him in his parachuting pose, swooping over his comrades.

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