Thursday, 4 September 2014

Age of Extinction/Generations Bumblebee Evolution 2-Pack

One of these days, I'm going to make the decision to never, ever buy another Bumblebee toy. In the meantime, I may just dial it down and try to be discerning in my purchases, perhaps limiting it to one per movie/toyline, and waiting to see which one is best. Today is clearly not that day, as I have picked up the Age of Extinction version of Bumblebee in its 'Evolution' 2-pack, which purports to give us a 'classic' Bumblebee along with this super-new 2014 Concept Camaro update.

As you might expect from the TransFormers brand, all is not as it seems... But is that always a good thing?

Just for a change, I'm going to start with the packaging on this thing. I didn't bother with Crosshairs or High Octane Bumblebee largely because they're not quite the same and it didn't occur to me, but this new packaging is actually kinda irritating, at least in the case of this particular 2-pack:

For starters, the front is a mess... it tries to homage Generation 1 with an odd cut-out panel in the top left corner, then slaps on the TF4-logo-in-drifting-sand in the top right (and hasn't Michael Bay insisted that the movie is titled 'TransFormers: Age of Extinction', not 'TransFormers 4'?). Then, in between these two poorly-designed additions, there's concept artwork of the wrong goddamned Bumblebee. This package is not "Bumblebee's aesthetic evolution during the movie Age of Extinction", where his vanity demands that he upgrade his robot mode from something akin to his TF/RotF/DotM appearance to that of the human designed/operated 'bot, Stinger, so there's absolutely no need to reference his robot mode from the first half of the film. This is either lazy or rushed design. Then, considering there's a massive white stripe down the righthand side of the card, it seems daft that the contents of the bubble extend into that area, reducing the effectiveness of the translucent sticker featuring the new - and, in my humble opinion, utterly crap - TransFormers brand masthead.

The side of the package repeats the dull red-on-white masthead, but adds the 30th Anniversary logo... though this European version - sensibly, perhaps - does not indicate on the back that this is supposed to be one of Hasbro's 'Thrilling 30', while the US version places it as number 22 of 30. There's a picture of Bumblebee but, again, it's the wrong one: it's G1 cartoon Bumblebee, not the weird Classics/War for Cybertron hybrid included in the package. OK, it's approximately the same head, but everything else is entirely different.

I've come to expect that the details printed on the cards of European releases will be somewhat cut down versus their American counterparts, but the reverse of this card is ridiculous. Not only is it missing the 'Thrilling 30' numbering (even though it features the grey Autobot insignia in which it should be!), it also lacks the explanation of the contents ("1 Classic figure, 1 TransFormers: Age of Extinction figure" - though perhaps this is because that first part is a lie), any mention of the smartphone apps (seriously, Hasbro UK, what are your marketing teams doing?) and most of the blurb that appeared in the grey panel at the bottom on the US cards. Sure, some of it is on the red panel on the bottom of the bubble, but not all of it... and I'm sure some of it is important...

Neither version has a bio but, I guess, by now everyone knows that movie Bumblebee is a petulant, vain douchebag...

It honestly looks like a very elaborate and very effective knockoff - terrible design, incorrect artwork, missing information - rather than official Hasbro product... making it all the more annoying that this shit is exclusive to Toys'R'Us in the UK.

But on to the toys themselves...

'Classic' Bumblebee
Vehicle Mode:
This thing is a very strange halfway house between the sporty compact 3-door thing that was Classics Deluxe Bumblebee and the bubble car from War for Cybertron... only more the former than the latter. Aside from the eye-searing shade of yellow used, it looks pretty good from any angle other than the rear, where it looks as though there's something missing, or that the parts just aren't lining up properly. Honestly, though, it just looks as though the front of the WfC bubble car has been jammed into the back of Classics Bumblebee.

The paintwork is worth mentioning because, on balance, it could almost be said to be better than the Deluxe model this thing is packaged with - all the windows are painted black, all the headlights and tail-lights are painted (AllSpark Blue, unless I'm very much mistaken), the front grille is painted in gunmetal and the spoiler has a nice black stripe across it... There's even an Autobot insignia stamped on the back.

Weirdly, rather than including the Target Master helicopter thing this mold was originally packaged with (in the States, at least - this may be the first instance of this mold in the UK!), he comes with a mismatched yellow and black version of Dark of the Moon Jolt's Mechtech weapon. It kinda looks as though it was sort-of based on Ratchet's arm-gun... It can be mounted on Bumblebee's roof, but it's an incredibly tight fit, and it look way too large for a model this size.

Not that his Target Master didn't...

Robot Mode:
OK, it it just me, or do Hasbro/Takara Tomy have serious problems with scaling the heads on their models? This strange affliction certainly seems to hit Bumblebee squarely on the noggin in many cases (not least the Leader Class model from DotM and, before that, Battle Ops Bumblebee from RotF). Then again, a diminutive bonce is just one of the problems with this mold. The legs and body are (more or less) in proportion with each other, but the arms are enormous. I suppose, in that way, it's very much a homage to the War for Cybertron model.

Continuing the recent trend, there's virtually no robot-specific paintwork on this, and most of it is centred around the head - the eyes are blue, the face is silver, the collar is black. Other than that, only his feet are painted, the rest is bare plastic... so it's probably a good thing that some of that plastic is black, to break up the too-bright yellow that makes up most of the body.

The Mechtech weapon can be forced into either hand but, again, it's a pretty tight fit. Also, it's such a large, heavy weapon (being the spring-loaded and geared sort of thing) that keeping him standing while holding it becomes a delicate balancing act.

Transformation is easy enough, with the arms being rather reminiscent of the WfC model, albeit much simplified. They also don't come together quite so well, with very visible gaps between the inner and outer forearm pieces. Because the chest is formed from the weird rear of the car, he ends up with the entire roof - windscreen, spoiler and all, as a backpack, but it's otherwise fun and quite cool.

Articulation is as one would expect for a figure this size - ball jointed shoulders, elbows and hips, with a surprisingly limited hinged knee and some slight ankle movement as a result of one element of his transformation. Neither the shoulders nor the elbows have quite the range one might hope for in a ball joint, but they're still pretty good for the size. The shoulders in particular are cleverly done, with the ball joint leading out to a hinge between the upper arm and the car shell that serves as armour, allowing a certain amount of independent movement which allows the arm to bend out to the sides slightly further than they might had these pieces been stuck together. The head is fixed, which is disappointing but not unexpected.

Age of Extinction 2014 Concept Camaro Bumblebee
Vehicle Mode:
One of the many reasons I'm starting to tire of movie Bumblebees is the fixation on Camaros... sooner or later, that deal Paramount struck with GM means that Bumblebee is going turn into the very latest iteration of their iconic brand. It's not just that the cars are so samey, but that Hasbro's corner-cutting is getting so dreadfully predictable... The latest car isn't hideous, but it's certainly little different from the last version - the front end is sharper, more angular, with slimmer 'angry robot eye' headlights and a ridged, vented bonnet. The back end is very similar to previous 21st century Camaros, but has a smaller spoiler, and the sides appear to be developing Ferrari-style fluting. It's very recognisable as a contemporary Camaro.

Of course, being a first-run Bumblebee, it's a sea of yellow (or is it orange on this one?) interrupted only by the transparent blue windows, the minimal black stripe work, and the black front grille details. The only other paintwork (bar the massive amounts of mismatched yellowy-orange paint concealing the transparent blue plastic where necessary) is on his headlights. Naturally, the hubcaps and the rear of the car are unpainted. It seems that even the Takara Tomy version doesn't have painted tail lights. I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking they might have been better served by using the opaque orangey-yellow plastic for the entire car body and painting the windows instead... What's really disappointing is that he has two raised areas - one behind each front wheel - which were clearly intended for Autobot insignia, but he doesn't have them.

Unlike previous incarnations of 'Bee, the AoE Concept Camaro version does not have opening doors in vehicle mode because they've done away with the door/wing motif, replacing it with bizarre spiky ring protrusions. He comes packaged with only two spiky rings, and they stow quite snugly on the underside of the vehicle.

The biggest problem with this vehicle mode is that it comes with lots of very visible seams. In particular, the large panel that is the back of the roof plus the rear window and spoiler doesn't seem to clip into place very well, either against the main part of the roof or the lower part of the car's rear end. The seams at the front haven't been placed in the most sensible areas - cutting through the indentations on the bonnet and then swirling underneath the headlights.

Robot Mode:
Another movie, another billion Bumblebees, of which this is only the second (in this size class). Here is ably demonstrated the true folly of Hasbro's decision to give the movie franchise's production designers free reign to create more elaborate robots while striving to simplify the toys as a way of cutting production costs and increase profits. The result is a robot mode that sort-of-vaguely resembles the robot from the movie, but not nearly as well as some of the models based on the CGI from the first three movies.

Starting at the bottom, it almost seems as though Bumblebee's feet have been getting steadily bigger since the first Concept Camaro version, back in 2007. This impression is exacerbated by the fact that this is the first model not to have wheels on the ankles, so his feet look even larger and flatter in comparison. I know his feet have to be pretty big for the sake of stability, but these things are like clown shoes compared to the proportions of the CGI model. The incredibly skinny ankles then lead into super-long, yet quite chunky shins. The rear of the car has ended up on the back of Bumblebee's lower legs from that first Concept Camaro version, but this does things a little differently, giving him positively enormous calves. His thighs are typically short, but they don't look quite so out-of-proportion as those of High Octane Bumblebee. The hips are OK, but the groin and waist areas are too long, then the chest seems rather compressed - surely it should be broader, to disguise the shoulder struts?. It's also missing some of the details - like the vehicle's headlights - from the CGI, meaning it almost looks more like Stinger than Bumblebee except in colour. Perhaps they're cutting costs further by using the same robot parts with - one can only hope - a new car shell for the human-made TransFormer..?

The arms are where the design really starts to fall apart. The shoulders and upper arms seem too bulky because great chunks of the front of the car are sitting on them, angled down and then swung out, and generally looking nothing like the CGI. The forearms are too boxy, and having the windows from the car door folded around them just looks daft.

Both modes have plenty of paintwork but, other than the silver on his face, it's basically all either glossy yellowy-orange or glossy black, and even then they've managed to miss some fairly important paintwork - the forearms should have some black paint, the thighs should have some yellow... And it would have been nice to have a few more touches of silver on the waist, just to bring out some of the molded detail.

Just about every iteration of Bumblebee has had some kind of backpack, but this has almost the entire top surface of the car - from the central part of the bonnet to the entire back window and spoiler - folded up and just hanging there. They do serve a kind of purpose, with mountings for the toy's two spiky star 'weapon' things (which I don't recall ever seeing used in the movie... though I am trying very hard to forget Age of Extinction), but they're kind of in the wrong place, at the wrong angle... and just plain wrong: the CGI version features seven spikes, while these have only five.

They can be held in his hands, but they're a bit rubbish as weapons... so it's lucky that the designer managed to include a fairly efficient means of giving Bumblebee his trademark arm cannon without sacrificing one of his hands in the process. It's revealed by flipping the right hand back into the wrist, and it's reasonably effective. Of course, it looks nothing like the CGI, but that's fast becoming a pattern with this toy... The main downside is that, with the weapon deployed, his hand is visible on the outside of his forearm.

On the upside, the head sculpt is actually pretty fantastic - that's one thing that does keep improving in the Bumblebee toys. This is a very sharply-detailed sculpt with decent light piping in his tiny eyes, though it's diminished somewhat by the car bonnet sticking up behind his head. Another cool feature is that he has a flip-down battle mask, but it doesn't quite come down far enough and is actually a bit of a pain to move - a lot like the battle mask feature on Battle Blade Bumblebee. Amazingly this comparatively small head sculpt still manages to accommodate a tiny Autobot insignia on the central crest.

Transforming AoE Bumblebee is certainly more straightforward than the likes of Battle Blade Bumblebee, but it involves far more cheating and leaves far more of the vehicle shell just hanging off his back. The fact that the underside of the bonnet is visible behind the robot's head goes to show how much corner-cutting there has been, as do the clumsy arms and shoulders. The latter are effectively a variation on those of Generations Bumblebee (though loads of people seem to neglect to rotate the car parts completely into place so that the black spiky parts beneath are fully visible). The way the front grill flips down to push the chest out is interesting, and it clips together nicely... but it seems rather an strange and pointless thing to do.

Just like most Deluxe class movie Bumblebees, the AoE version is pretty dynamic. The feet are possibly an improvement on some, in that they are rather more freely mobile and the additional ankle joint helps a little, but I'm ambivalent about them being molded for a spread-leg stance. Just like the High Octane version, he has enormously long shins leading to tiny, stumpy thighs. They're not quite as bad as the first AoE Bumblebee, and probably on a par with most of the earlier ones, but it's still quite noticeable. To be honest, my biggest gripe about the legs is that the thigh swivel joint is very prone to popping apart on the right leg of mine... I'd be interested to know if this is a common problem. There's no waist articulation, and the protrusions on the hips can clash with the moldings of his torso. The knees don't have great range, so that extra ankle joint can prove useful for 'crouching' poses.

The arms have a decent range of motion with hinges on both ends of the shoulder strut and rotation where it connects to the body, but the elbows are limited somewhat by the construction of the bicep and the fact that the car doors are molded onto his forearms. He has no wrist articulation at all, but the flip-around blaster in his right arm is a cool addition to the model. The head is mounted on a ball joint offering excellent freedom of movement, and the battle mask, while not strictly accurate to the CGI, works well enough for a Deluxe. It's a little stiff, just like the one on Battle Blade Bumblebee, but it's nice that this sort of feature has been included considering Hasbro's tendency toward cost-cutting.

Now for a few comparison shots to... er... highlight the differences between the two models, and to prove I'm really not exaggerating about the migraine-inducing yellow of the 'Classic' Bee...

Considering this two-pack retails for the same price as a standard Deluxe, I'm in two minds about it. On the one hand, it's an excellent deal - two figures for the price of one (rather expensive and cut-down) Deluxe, and with a Mechtech weapon included as well - it seems like a real bargain. However, when you consider the terrible colour matching and the distinctly lacking paint job on both models, you can kind of see how the second figure can be included without bumping up the price.

I actually thought long and hard about whether to pick this up or wait for the inevitable repaint (which would, equally inevitably, have a more complete paint job), or just hope that the Autobots United pack turns up at UK retail (or, y'know, try to buy it on import...), and ended up buying this more out of curiosity than brand loyalty or interest in the character.

Neither model is bad - in fact, objectively, the Deluxe mold is actually pretty good... it's just not accurate enough to the CGI (because it couldn't be!) and it loses a lot of points just by being yet another goddamned Bumblebee. That said, I still can't find any reason to heartily recommend the 2-pack to anyone who so much as suspects they're suffering from Bumblebee fatigue. This new model is good... but in too many ways, it's a step backwards compared to toys from the last movie.

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