Wednesday, 17 August 2016

DotM Mechtech Crankcase

The giant alien robots in the TransFormers movie series have, so far, been pretty light on character, and there haven't been any of the traditional teams so far (Starscream but no Seekers, Devastator but no properly individual Constructicons) and, when a proper team was introduced - the ground-based 'Dreads' in Dark of the Moon - they were all unceremoniously offed by the Autobots before we learned anything interesting about them.

While all three appeared on screen as large black SUVs, in a strangely uneconomical move, they were reimagined for the toyline, with two becoming Legends class cars, another being a Cyberverse Commander class jet, and only one becoming a Deluxe class toy that vaguely resembled the character's on-screen appearance. That lucky fellow was Crankcase...

Vehicle Mode:
Despite being a very well-modelled car, Hasbro elected to leave it as plain as possible, to better resemble the kind of SUV favoured by shady Government organisations. The headlights feature transparent shells on which two silver circles have been stamped, along with a yellow block for the indicators - all on the outside - which looks very perfunctory as there's no sculpted headlight detail either on the black plastic behind or the insides of the transparent plastic. There are Decepticon insignias on each of the front doors and - miracle of miracles - the tail lights have been painted. That's basically all there is in the way of decoration... unless you count the two lightbars. Even these are underachieving elements - they seem to be the wrong shape and are only coloured with translucent red paint at either end, when one end should have been blue.

While I can understand Hasbro not including details like the red and blue lights concealed within the grille, I find it more than a little disappointing that they didn't paint either the frame around the grille or either of the Chevrolet badges on the front and back of the vehicle. For the most part, though, I don't really have any complaints about the minimal paintwork, because that's very accurate to the on-screen appearance of the vehicle. That said, the car shell is molded in two kinds of plastic - a glossy dull charcoal colour for the bulk of it, and what I'm guessing is the transparent plastic, painted over with glossy black for the windscreen and four side windows. To maintain screen accuracy, the body of the vehicle should have been given a TransFormers Animated-style matte finish rather than just a flatter 'black' with a glossy finish. Consequently, this is a really boring-looking SUV, other than the fact that the chassis seems rather higher up than a standard road vehicle, with the wheels barely making it into the very bottom of the wheelwells, giving it a very rugged, off-road appearance.

He is rather small for a Deluxe, and is nowhere near in scale with other Dark of the Moon vehicles, but scale had gone pretty much out the window by that point, with everything becoming incongruously smaller than anything produced for the first live action movie, or even Revenge of the Fallen.

The Mechtech weapon can plug into either of two holes on the roof of the vehicle and, in its default mode, it's some kind of heavy machine gun. This works well enough though, like all Mechtech weapons, it's too large for a vehicle this size. Pulling back on the brownish plunger unleashes the two silver claws which extend a little way beyond the bonnet but aren't exactly mounted in the most useful place. Robot mode's pincers can also be deployed from under the bumper, but they just look a bit silly. Crankcase is one of those movie figures which features mountings for c-clip weapons - one below each of the front doors - yet, like the rest of the line, he came with no compatible accessories.

Robot Mode:
I see so many mixed references in this robot... The obvious TransFormers reference is Shrapnel or Chop Shop, based on the massive (rubber!) pincers sticking up behind his head. Then the head sculpt is somewhere between the insectoid faces favoured by the designers of the movie Decepticons and some of the more elaborate masks worn by the alien hunters from the Predator movie franchise. Adding to the latter impression, he even has Predator-style dreadlocks - lest we forget that Crankcase, Crowbar and Hatchet were a team referred to as 'The Dreads' - molded in soft plastic and attached by a hinge arrangement so fragile, one broke almost instantly on mine.

The body is one of those curious instances where pale grey and black plastic have been used to represent a a character whose robot mode, in the movie, was almost uniformly bare metal, and his almost organic spikiness has been reduced to broad shoulders and spindly limbs with chunks of vehicle shell hanging off in the most inconvenient locations. This leaves him with a very squared-off silhouette, very much at odds with his sweeping curves and spikes appearance in the movie. It's not through want of trying, though - the chest is molded like an exposed and very alien ribcage - much like the first couple of movie Megatrons - and both arms and legs are covered with ridged detail. The problem is that he has the bulk of the car shell hanging off his back, with large panels on his arms and shins which do a good job of concealing the detail from most angles. The lower legs are an absolute mess of open space and glaring car detail, while the feet are simply curved panels with fold-out toes at the front and a long heel spur at the back.

When this figure first came out, there was a running change in the hands - early batches of the toy featured an extended middle finger/spike which ended up harshly trimmed on later batches. Mine actually has a proper middle finger with sculpted detail, so I guess there were at least two revisions to the mold. It seems like an odd change because, with the hands molded in rubber, it's unlikely anyone could have done themselves an injury on the spiked version and, when dealing with a three-fingered alien robot, there's no need to presume an extended middle finger is still an obscene gesture. Frankly, though, I prefer the version I've got, as the spike looked more like a mold defect than a deliberate attempt at a spike protruding from the hand.

Rather than having 5mm sockets molded as part of his rubbery hands, the weapon mounting ports are about halfway down his forearms. Oddly, this ends up making little difference to how natural the Mechtech weapon looks when he's wielding it. In fact, with his hand ending up near the front of the weapon in gun mode, it looks quite reasonable - very much as though he's grasping an invisible handle underneath a weapon that's designed to be supported by the forearm - and pretty much perfect for the extended claw mode.

The head sculpt, while not necessarily completely screen accurate, is reasonably detailed and certainly in keeping with the feral Decepticon head style from the movie continutity... but that's part of the problem. With the dreadlocks, it's such a clear reference to Predator it's actually embarrassing. The construction of the head is also pretty dodgy, and it didn't take long for the left side dreads to detach, thanks to the brittle translucent plastic used to hold them in place. I do wonder if the dreadlocks would have worked better if they were attached to the backpack rather than the head, as the tiny plastic pins used to hold them in place are as brittle as their mountings. The backpack can get in the way of the light piping to his four beady eyes but, once they catch the light, it's very effective.

Crankcase's weapon is seemingly yet another Predator callback - a great, big, chunky handgun which, at the touch of a button (almost - like all the Deluxe weapons, the button has to be held back to keep the secondary mode deployed) turns into a vicious-looking metal claw that extends his reach quite considerably. I'm not saying I like the weapon - as with almost all the Mechtech accessories it's completely unwieldy in robot mode and rather pointless in vehicle mode (although, actually, the idea that one of these things could latch onto another car while in motion is pretty cool... but wasn't it Dino that did that?) Also, due to the way the claw unfolds, the gun remains in place, and potentially useable, sticking out between the claws.

Transformation is mostly a case of separating the vehicle panels to allow bits of robot to unfold from within - most of the vehicle ends up folded up on his back, while the sides hang off his arms on little hinged-and-ball-jointed rods. In theory, this should probably allow them to be positioned wherever and however is most convenient for articulation, but it really doesn't work out that way, rendering the c-clip points on the main panels essentially useless. The rear of the vehicle folds back up in a most awkward fashion to form what can be only loosely be described as feet and, while it's almost clever in some ways, the result looks terrible and doesn't offer a particularly stable footprint. The most aggravating part is folding the dreadlocks in for stowing the head sort-of in the chest cavity, which is how the left-side dreadlocks broke off in the first place: they don't have much range of movement, and I suspect the goldish paint on the rubber parts sticks to the translucent red, because the dreadlocks that are still attached really don't like to move. Making matters worse, the shoulders hinge down to the waist and the arms are somehow supposed to fit in alongside the torso. With the dreadlocks in there, it's a bit of a squeeze.

On that subject, Crankcase is one of those figures who, on paper, is well-articulated - with both hips and shoulders being ball-jointed, the usual hinged elbows and knees, as well as both bicep and thigh swivel, but just about any pose ends up being a finicky balancing act due to the odd feet. It looks as though the heels were planned to be jointed - which would have allowed for better fine-tuning of his footprint - but, if so, that must have been budgeted out. The panels on the arms get in the way by clashing with the arms themselves and the backpack to a degree, but the biggest problem is the head - it's pinned into place and so only rotates, but the dreadlocks catch on the chest details and the whole thing starts to look really weird because the head is mounted at an angle and over the torso rather than actually onto the torso. The pincer things on his back can be positioned according to your preference - the character art available online tends to be quite vague as to their intended position - but I'm not sure that really counts towards 'articulation'.

I'll come right out and say that I dislike Crankcase as a figure - the spindly body inside a boxy car shell is bad enough, but the breakage, the weird mounting of the head and the vehicle mode with its few perfunctory paint applications substituting for elements of molded detail were reason enough for me to not bother replacing my figure once it broke. Crankcase is also one of those figures which, due to a combination of its potential for breaking further and a transformation that's not so much 'complex' as just plain frustrating, I don't often pull him off the shelf to play about with. I liked the idea of the Dreads - though it seems daft, even in the context in which the Dreads were used in Dark of the Moon, that we didn't get the remaining two Seekers instead - but they were nebulous characters in the movie and the inconsistency of the toys was disappointing.

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