Sunday, 9 November 2014

Age of Extinction/Generations Hound

When Hound was first announced as a new character in the fourth live action TransFormers movie, lots of people - optimistically/foolishly - hoped that, finally, Michael Bay would be giving us a beloved G1 character the way he was meant to be. When photos of a military truck - an Oshkosh Medium Defense Tactical vehicle, no less - were leaked, those folks were naturally disappointed... until they twigged that 'Hound' was probably referencing another, more recent addition to the Autobot ranks, from the likes of TransFormers: Animated and TransFormers: Prime, rather than the Earth-loving scout of old.

John Goodman's performance as the voice of Hound was entirely predictable - merely a reworking of just about every other military character he's ever played - yet he became one of the few likeable characters in the movie (robot or human). But how well does this translate into a Voyager class figure?

Vehicle Mode:
So, movie Hound isn't a jeep... Instead, he's a rather small rendition of a rather large truck... Still not as small as DotM Megatron, or Bonecrusher from the first movie, but still pretty small. In fact, in vehicle mode, Hound ain't much bigger than a current Deluxe - making him hopelessly out of scale with pretty much everything else in the Age of Extinction toyline, particularly the new Optimus Prime. In and of himself, though, Hound looks pretty good in vehicle mode. It's a strange vehicle - I can't quite figure out if this model is meant to be some sort of armoured personnel carrier or a supply truck, and that certainly wasn't explained in the movie. The strangest part for me, though, is the cab... for some reason, it always seems to me to be leaning back, even when all six wheels are on the ground.

While this model lacks the camouflage detailing - and the Autobot insignias - from the vehicle in the movie, he's more or less the right basic colour and has plenty of molded detail making up for the fairly monotonous colourscheme. Hasbro have done a reasonably job of introducing some variety to the model, in that the pipework over the front of the vehicle, the side mirrors and the exhaust pipes were all painted camouflage-style in the movie but, for the toy, have become grey-representing-silver for the most part, with a couple of dashes of silver paint here and there. Unless I'm misremembering, this is the first Age of Extinction model that's actually bothered highlighting the manufacturer's badge with paint, so the silver logo stands out quite successfully on the black band just below the main set of headlights. The lights on the bumper also received a bit of paint, as did the lights just above the windscreen... but that's about all of it - the sides and rear of the vehicle show no signs of any paintwork. For the most part, it's not a terrible loss, but it would have been nice to have green-painted hubcaps and, if nothing else, the cheesecake/pinup design that was on the lefthand side of the cab in the movie. It shouldn't have been too much to ask considering Bonecrusher got his bulldog design as a sticker but, thankfully, Reprolabels have come to the rescue... though their 'camouflage' colours leave something to be desired.

Unlike most of the movie models, Hound comes packaged with several weapons (though still not his full load-out from the movie!), and all of them can be mounted in his vehicle mode. Far from just being pegged into the roof (though they can go there) they're designed to be attached all over, with his triple gatling gun attaching to one side and his four/five barrel shotguns attaching to the other. Two of his handguns then peg in between the front and rear wheels, the other pair can be stashed inside or pegged into the fronts of the larger handguns... and the knife kind of just has to be pegged into the underside, between the rear wheels. Hound looks pretty hardcore with all his artillery attached but, looking at some stills from the movie, I would have expected the triple gatling to attach to the righthand side. It also doesn't peg in very securely - the rearmost peg doesn't sit in the gun's socket at all well. That and the two shotguns are very prone to falling out, but the other weapons stay in place very well.

Hound has one of my favourite vehicle modes from all the live action movie toy series - it suits the character perfectly... though, let's face it, he really should have been named Bulkhead. The only reason to call him Hound would be to hang on to the trademark, considering there hasn't been a Hound toy in about six or so years.

Robot Mode:
Here's where the Bulkhead comparisons become even more obvious but, like one or two other incarnations of Bulkhead, the CGI character's bulk has become more 'muscular' and less 'overweight' in the toy. Like Leadfoot before him, movie Hound had short, stocky legs beneath a large, rotund mechanical body. This version is much more in proportion. The legs may not be as ridiculously long as some Bumblebees, but they do have a sensible ratio of thigh to shin, which makes a change. They're far more long and slender than they should be, but there's a limit to the amount of bulk that could be put into the legs due to the size of the vehicle mode. The arms are a decent length, too, so he doesn't look like he's dragging his knuckles. The chest seems to be about the right size, so he's only really lacking the robo-belly... but there's a third party accessory to help with that.

One interesting feature is that his collar appears to have a couple of his grenades molded onto each side. I could be wrong, as the box art isn't very clear... but each side of the collar has the same pair of small, cylindrical things attached, whereas he should have a set of bullets molded into one side or the other.

Aside from the change to his physical proportions, Hound looks excellent from most angles. The only caveats are that his back is a massive gaping hole covered over by the vehicle mode's front wheels, and that his arms and hands have large chunks of vehicle shell hanging off them. They don't get in the way a great deal, though, so it's only really the panels on his hands that affect the look of him.

Considering how disappointing the paint jobs have been on the Age of Extinction figures so far, I was pleasantly surprised by Hound. He doesn't need a great of paintwork since the plastic colours take care of the most important details, but he actually has the faked vehicle mode lights painted on his shoulders, the large shells on his biceps have both gold and green paint applied, there's silver around his waist, on his shins and on his chest, as well as a little red blob in the centre of his chest. The head alone features four colours of paint - green for the helmet, silver for the face, blue for the eyes and, inexplicably, black for the beard. I rather wish they'd used silver, but I guess they wanted to make the beard stand out more...

The head sculpt is very detailed... but the front section is made of rubber - largely, I'd imagine, because of the beard. I don't quite understand why they bothered, since the rubber beard doesn't move out of the way of the collar to allow further rotation. Naturally, there's no light piping, but they eyes are painted well enough that it's not really needed.

All the weapons come into their own in robot mode. Not only can they be mounted all over Hound's body, they can be combined into one ginormous superweapon. Sadly, the elbow joints on mine are just weak enough that he can't hold the superweapon adequately, but any and all of the components can be wielded dramatically. I particularly like the way the smallest pair of guns can be stowed on his inner shins and the four-barrel shotguns can be slung under his armpits. The larger gun can be mounted on his back, but it sticks out quite a way and looks rather weird. The only weapon to feature any paintwork is the knife, which is completely coated in silver paint. A bit more painted detail on the guns certainly wouldn't have gone amiss, but they work OK without.

The simplification of transformations for this line of toys has yielded mixed results but, on balance, the toys have been pretty good. Hound's transformation is reminiscent of a much-simplified Sentinel Prime in the way the arms and legs form the rear of the vehicle, while the chest is formed (mostly) of the cab. It's surprisingly effective and surprisingly satisfying. The only disappointing aspect is that the head doesn't clip into the recess under the cab and, while it doesn't actually droop out, it feels as though it may start to do so in future.

Hound's joints are very well designed and offer excellent range of motion. The feet aren't exactly brilliant at maintaining his stability in the more extreme poses, but they work well enough. The bicep swivel, double-jointed elbows and rotating wrists make for very expressive arms, and they don't suffer too much from having his shotguns plugged in right in front of them. The head is pinned, so he can't look up or down... but I suspect he beard would have interfered too much with a ball joint.

While he's no Revenge of the Fallen Leader class Optimus Prime, Hound certainly ranks as one of the most impressive movie toys to date, from any of the movie lines so far. He's very well-designed, full of character and very dynamic. The sheer number of weapons goes some way toward compensating for his rather diminutive stature, but I can't help but wonder how awesome Hound would have been as a Leader class figure. I'd imagine that he'd have to have lights and sounds, but adding a couple of John Goodman soundbites could have taken the toy to a whole new level of brilliance... and it ain't often I say something like that.

As he stands, though, I highly recommend picking this figure up, and it's tempting to hope he'll get numerous repaints, the way Ironhide did for the first couple of movies. Packaging a recoloured Hound with a new assortment of ordnance could prove to be a real winner for Hasbro.

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