Thursday, 14 November 2013

TransFormers: Prime Megatron

For no obvious reason, Megatron has become a very difficult character to do 'right' in the TransFormers toyline and, by extension, the fiction. The G1 character was iconic and recreating his original alternate mode, a handgun, has proven contentious for many years. In many ways, transforming into a gun is the ultimate expression of Megatron's power... though it does come with the built-in drawback of needing someone else to wield him. Since G1 he's been a tank (several times), a dragon (several times), a purple dinosaur, a spider-tank head thing, a spacecraft, a car (twice) and a helicopter. In the live action movies, he was a jet (of sorts), a tank, and finally a rusty, heavily modified truck. In the many incarnations of Classics/Generations, he's been a Nerf gun, a Cybertronian tank and, most recently, a stealth bomber.

TF Prime, in some ways a development of the live action movies, has him as some kind of Cybertronian jet/spacecraft. Personally, I've found just about every 'Cybertronian' alternate mode in the history of the toyline to be lacklustre and ill-conceived... Does TF Prime break that awful tradition?

Vehicle Mode:
Well, the short answer is 'no'. Just like the first live action movie, the alternate mode was created with barely a thought for the robot it had to become. What this means is that the slim, strangely Klingon-looking CGI alternate mode could only be translated into chunky, awkward and downright ugly plastic. In the TV series, Megatron at least looks sleek in his alternate mode - this thing is a chubby mess, though there are alternative ways of transforming him that offer some improvements.

Making matters worse, the choice of colourscheme is highly suspect. There's a distinct lack of silver (appearing only on his dorsal vents), considering Megatron in the TV series is almost entirely bare metal, far too much purple, and the threeplastic colours are a dull, pale grey, a rather unexciting purple (in both opaque and translucent varieties, complemented by a darker, glossy purple paint) and... beige? OK, when it comes to beige, I'm a conscientious objector at the best of times, but on Megatron - and particularly this incarnation - it borders on heresy, not least because it's a weird, pinkish beige with a fine metallic flake/marbling effect.

Another complaint about this alternate mode is that, just like that of the first live action movie, it suffers from Visible Robot Head Syndrome. Sure, it's sunken in somewhat, partially covered by a kind of collar... but you can still see the top of his head and his 'eyebrows' very clearly, and his eyes can be seen from the front. It's even possible to tilt the head slightly in its encasing. Furthermore, the feet aren't especially well disguised in this form, and the hands are just folded up against the wrists and so are clearly visible from the rear.

Megatron's fusion cannon attaches to a raised socket on a long translucent purple arm mounted at the back of the craft in an almost screen-authentic fashion. The only drawback is that it's oversized to accommodate the daft 'Poweriser' gimmick which isn't even relevant in this mode. I'll get into more detail on the weapon and its shortcomings below but suffice it to say, with the weapon attached, he starts to look like a 'Super Deform' version of Megatron. His secondary weapon - what appears to be a combination of knuckledusters and daggers - can attach to the front of the fusion cannon, though this wouldn't be either especially effective or true to the CGI model from the TV series. It can also be stored at the rear of the fusion cannon, pegging in on the underside of the translucent purple arm.

I can see what they were aiming to do with this mode and, terrible as it is, I have a grudging respect for the attempt. Perhaps on a Leader Class figure they could have done better... That said, the First Edition version was a Deluxe Class model and managed greater authenticity without any gimmmicks.

Robot Mode:
While Megatron is certainly bulky and imposing in robot mode, it's here that the lack of paint really starts to hurt the model. From the front, only a few touches of paint are even visible - a splash of silver on his face, a warm gunmetal on his groin, then dabs of purple on the knees and at the waist. What's even more baffling is that, after this disappointing initial release, they didn't even produce any repaints - technically a failure of the entire line rather than just this model: Hasbro have given us approximately one billion repaints of Bumblebee in his various size classes, including those in the Beast Hunters subline, but not a single repaint of Optimus Prime (so no Nemesis Prime, despite his appearance in the TV series), Megatron or Starscream (so nothing to satisfy my Seeker OCD, which is present despite the fact that neither Skywarp nor Thundercracker appeared in the show), characters who used to get plenty of repaints, and models that deserved (if not needed) repaints. Takara Tomy, meanwhile, have produced repaints of all three.

In a nod to the live action movies, TF Prime Megatron retains some Shrike-like spikes, but they're limited to his shoulders and kneecaps. Most of him is smooth and elegant, despite the bulk, and the brushed metal texture of the pale grey plastic is a welcome feature, even if it doesn't disguise the fact that it's almost entirely unpainted. One big problem is that the panels that (partially) enclose his head in 'jet' mode are just sticking out of his back in robot mode. They can be made to look like wings... but they're wings Megatron doesn't have in the TV show.

The head sculpt is excellent for the most part - it lacks paint, just like every other part of this model, but it's incredibly detailed for its size, and a huge improvement on the boring, battle-masked sculpt given to Optimus Prime. It does seem a little small but, given how bulky Megatron is, that almost works in its favour. The light piping is pretty effective, too, considering how tiny his eyes are.

The use of translucent purple plastic inside the torso and wrists is rather confusing. One might expect that sort of thing for light piping, but so little natural light gets through the body that it was barely worth it, and the light from the Poweriser weapon, if mounted on his back, points in the wrong direction to be effective. When mounted on his wrist, it's set against the pale grey plastic so, again, none of the light reaches the translucent purple parts.

For several other reasons, the Poweriser weapon is another mis-step on Hasbro's part. It's a combination of Megatron's arm-mounted fusion cannon and the large blade that transforms out of his wrist. It's too large for the robot, the geared gimmick is floppy and unreliable, and the LED lights the wrong part, which is truly baffling. It was placed to light the blade internally when it's fully extended. Given Hasbro's experience with this kind of gimmick, one would have thought they'd know it never works properly. Even in the dark, the LED barely lights the central part of the blade, let alone the two geared parts that swing in from the sides to extend it. A far better approach would have been to add the LED into the fusion cannon, then replace the separate 'knuckleduster' weapon with a full-size (and preferably silver-painted) blade that plugged into the wrist.

Bizarre and clumsy as the alternate mode is, I have to admit that transforming Megatron is fun. Some parts - notably the 'casing' for his head and his spiky shoulder pads - are frustrating, but the way the torso forms out of the body of the 'jet' is quite impressive. Some elements - particularly the hands - could have been dealt with better, and I do wish the legs and forearms weren't quite so chunky as that might have led to a more authentic alternate mode.

With ball jointed shoulders and hips, and hinges for just about every other joint, Megatron should be fairly poseable. Interestingly, rather than having mid-bicep swivel, Megatron's forearm rotates just below the elbow. This is largely for the sake of transformation, but it does make for very expressive arms. The hips on mine are incredibly floppy, so he doesn't like standing with his legs spread out very far, especially with his arm outstretched in a 'firing the fusion cannon'-type pose, because his weapon is very heavy. On the upside, it's reported that his right shoulder has a tendency to be floppy, making the 'firing the fusion cannon'-type pose almost impossible for lots of people, while mine has no problems there. The only problem is that the size of his arm-mounted weapon means that it will clash with the spiky shoulder pads. It was the right decision to make them separate from the shoulder as they're less intrusive than they could be, but they still do get in the way. The feet aren't particularly great, but could have been improved if his two 'toes' were independently poseable or if the whole foot was on a ball joint at the ankle rather than a pin, and I feel sure that the hands could have been mounted on ball joints. My biggest complaint would be the severely limited movement of the head, which is basically as mobile in 'jet' mode as it is in robot mode.

As a collector who tends to display these models in robot mode, I'm not overly bothered by the chunky 'jet' mode, but Megatron's robot mode really could have done with some paintwork. The clever 'brushed metal' molding of the plastic may go some way to compensate for the use of dull grey plastic, but it also hints at how completely awesome Megatron would have looked had he been painted silver. Overall, this is a decent toy - not great, not awful - but it shows beyond any doubt that TransFormers work better when they have a proper 'disguise' than when they keep their Cybertronian alternate modes. Had Megatron taken on a proper 'Earth Mode', both the character and the toy would have had far more potential.

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