Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Last Knight/Premier Edition Barricade

Despite an astonishing lack of character, Barricade was one of the more interesting Decepticons in the first live action movie, if only because he was the first one sent to track down the AllSpark's location, and he chose to disguise himself as a police car. His fate was uncertain at the end of that movie, and he didn't appear in Revenge of the Fallen, only to resurface - briefly, and without explanation - in Dark of the Moon which, again, left his fate uncertain.

Now, having been absent for Age of Extinction, the Bad Cop is back... with a new vehicle mode and a whole new look... So, what's the 411?

Another Premier Edition figure, another box with minimal character information and a rather jarring, inconsistent style. At least the character art is awesome, even though it does instantly reveal a great load of shortcomings in both the sculpted detail and the paint job of the toy within. I love the fact that this new Barricade has knuckledusters, but one very cool detail of the artwork that isn't visible on the toy is his 'Police' badge, front and centre on his chest. It's also immediately apparent that Barricade is one of the smaller figures, with his accessories taking up quite a bit of space up the top of the box.

His insultingly brief bio describes him as a "sinister trickster" so hopefully there will be some sense of that in his on-screen actions. Somehow, I doubt it... but we can live in hope. The product shot on the back takes up a bit more space because of the robot's pose, but there's still plenty of space under the name for a more detailed bio... And its absence is further proof that Hasbro don't much care about developing characters when other media - the comics, movies and occasional novelisations - are tackling that with varying degrees of success.

Vehicle Mode:
I must confess to being a little surprised that this is a whole new vehicle mode rather than just another development of the original Saleen-customised Ford Mustang. He is, however, an unlicensed adaptation of the Saleen-customised new Ford Mustang, so at least he has some brand loyalty. He lacks the enormous spoiler of the vehicle used in the movie, and the back end looks almost completely different, even down to the rear windscreen being a clear windscreen rather than an opaque panel with vents, but the front looks pretty much bang on... and, since that's the side you're more likely to be paying attention to (just waiting for it to sprout its torture-stalks, no doubt, like in the first film) that works out OK.

And the front end is actually fairly well detailed. Unlike the new Crankcase, his headlights are made up of all kinds of weird detail beneath the sparse coating of - unless my eyes deceive me - duck egg blue paint. The bullbars and front grille are nicely detailed and finished with what looks kind of like form of cowcatcher..? The red and blue flashers on the front are painted in, but the smaller lights on the bumper are not. According to photos of the car in the movie, though, the lights within the bullbar area should all be white, and it's the innermost light blocks within the main headlight areas that should be coloured. Other fluffed details include the text above the rear wheels - "To punish and enslave", per the original Barricade, rather than the all-new "Keep calm and Hail Megatron" - and the complete dearth of the '867' decal peppered about the vehicle used in the movie.

The body of the car is a mixture of black plastic - both unpainted and painted blue - and blue plastic which is fairly well matched to the naked eye, though not so much to my camera, it seems. While it looks OK - and it's actually quite rare for so much of a vehicle's body to be painted - the blue paint used on the vehicle in the movie is a lighter, glittering shade, and the black stripe down the middle of the bonnet should have been matte black, where the bare plastic is fairly glossy. The doors are painted white, though the seams for transformation become painfully obvious both because of the contrast in colour and the fact that the two pieces don't sit flush anyway. Another significant deviation from the movie model is that the roof is blue rather than white, and doesn't feature the large '867' at the back. As is often the way with TransFormers toys, the font used for the word 'Police' on the doors doesn't match the source material... which is odd, because that font doesn't look anything special... The one used here might even be of the same family as the font used on the original movie Barricade. I'm not sure anyone really expects attention to this sort of detail from a Hasbro figure but, again, I'm reminded that I paid £23 for this toy - the same as for Berserker - and what I got this time was not a licensed vehicle design, and only has more paint because they decided to mold so much of the vehicle shell in transparent plastic, so it all had to be painted blue. They would have been far better off molding it in opaque blue plastic and just painting the windows, just like they did on his wave-mate... I mean, it's not like there's going to be any lightpiping on the robot.

Since people often think that the ability to attach a robot's weapons to its vehicle mode is an important feature, the designers added sockets to Barricade's legs and arms to allow his pistol and nightstick to be attached to the bottom of the car, while his shotgun bracelet can be opened out and attached to the rear windscreen, almost in lieu of the actual vehicle's spoiler. The sockets on his legs mean that both his hand weapons can remain in place during transformation, but the default positioning means their handles stick out under the sides of the car. Both can be reversed for better concealment, or just be plugged into the sockets on the robot's elbows.

Robot Mode:
At first glance, Barricade's toy reminded me a lot of the first movie's Deluxe class Jazz toy, in that the legs essentially lead straight up to the chest, with precious little waist in between. This toy isn't quite that bad, actually, but the car's bonnet spreads the shoulders so wide, it throws his proportions off visually. In fact, I think he's mostly pretty good, it's just that his arms should be a lot closer to his body. The concept art certainly shows him to be a barrel-chested bruiser, and that's exactly what this toy looks like. One of my favourite aspects of the concept art is the knuckledusters, and I'm pleased to see these faithfully reproduced on the toy - a punch from his right hand will stamp 'PROTECT' on the recipient, while the left will add 'SERVE'. The toy lacks the molded details of 'PUNISH' and 'ENSLAVE' on the corresponding elbows, but the elbow plates are present, so this could be a Reprolabels fix...

There's a lot more variety in colour to Barricade's robot mode, but not all of it seems entirely intentional, leaving him looking a little patchy. His torso and extremities feature the same dark plastics as the vehicle shell, with the upper arms and thighs using both metallic grey and a bizarre pale beige plastic which, if I was feeling generous, I might be tempted to suggest is intended to represent the gold seen in the concept art. Unfortunately, the placement completely belies that suggestion - beige plastic used for the upper thighs, the lower biceps... and then also for his nightstick and shotgun bracelet. There's very little robot-specific paintwork - touches of blue on his shins, forearms and groin, and a dark gunmetal for his finely-detailed - but rather brief - belly area. The arms, legs and feet all needed more metallic paint, both in a sort of steely-grey and gold, but some of the associated detail is missing from the sculpt, and the paint budget clearly got exhausted on painting too much of the car shell.

While a good chunk of that shell gets folded up and plugged into his back, the artwork clearly shows that several elements of the molded detail on the arms and legs are supposed to be car parts that just aren't used in transformation. Much of his look is smoother than either the new Crankcase or Optimus Prime, suggesting that much of the car shell actually becomes armour plating on the body of the CGI robot.

I've seen that some folks have taken to removing the vehicle shell from the back and having Barricade use it as a kind of riot shield - wrapping the doors around his forearms... and that would work pretty well if it weren't for the fact that there's no molded detail on the robot's back. All you're left with is an inverted T-shaped section of the car's bonnet and a view of all the empty space from the waist down.

Barricade's weapons are the highlight of the set - he comes with a pistol and nightstick, both of which can be stored on his legs when not in use, as well as the potentially terrifying shotgun bracelet. The first two simply plug into his fists - the nightstick can be held as a club or a tonfa thanks to a secondary 5mm grip protruding from the primary - while the other is designed to plug into the underside of his forearm and then wrap around and loosely clip together. The construction of the bracelet is a little suspect - the metal pins of the hinges almost protrude from two of the gun nozzles - and mine doesn't like to snap together fully. I do wonder if Barricade was intended to come with another couple of weapons, since the slot on either elbow can be used either for weapon storage in vehicle mode or, for example, to attach his pistol to his forearm, to emulate the look of the dual taser from some of the concept art. There's also no sign of the handcuff detail from the concept art though, in all fairness, there's nowhere to mount them in robot mode, so they probably would have ended up being sculpted onto the left thigh.

The head sculpt bears no resemblance to the original - this one is closer to the insectoid look of Bonecrusher or Rampage, with elements of a sort of riot helmet. It's suitably sinister, but there's very little to connect it to the pre-existing 'Barricade' from the live action movies, so I'm going to assume for the moment that he's a whole different character, and the name was reused to maintain the trademark. Like the rest of the model, paint is woefully lacking: the four eyes are picked out with red paint, the front of the head is painted blue - ignoring the gold and silver detailing shown on the box art - and the back of the head is unpainted beige plastic.

Given that this is a figure from one of the movie toylines, he couldn't have a more G1-inspired transformation: the head and arms are stuffed under the bonnet of the car, the legs are down the back, the bonnet flaps down to become the chest - leaving a familiar squarish panel behind the head - and the roof of the car ends up just hanging off his back. The downside to this is that, while G1 toys tended to be extremely chunky, TLK Barricade follows the sleeker movie aesthetic, leading to loads of sculpted detail substituting for actual transformation (most noticeably on his shoulders, where panels from around the wheel wells are duplicated). One cool detail is that the transformation of the feet leaves the painted taillights on the backs of his legs, just like on the concept art - not as close to the knee as they should be, but a reasonable approximation. One extra transformation step that could have worked wonders for this figure would have been rotating the grille/bullbars back to front, to reveal a new chest centre more accurate to the 'pinched in' look of the concept art, and showing the 'badge' that seems to be mounted on his chest in the box art. I do find it disappointing that the car panels on his shoulders don't lock into place, and the chest only loosely pegs onto the torso via the gaps in the 'cowcatcher'. Getting him back into car mode can be an exercise in frustration due to all the panels that can get caught up in each other during the process, and then won't necessarily stay in place, even when connected properly.

Considering this is basically an action figure folded up underneath a car shell, you'd expect decent articulation out of Barricade and, for the most part, that's exactly what you get. Despite large car panels on the shoulders, they have a good range of movement, and the fact that those panels don't lock into place does work in favour of articulation as they can just be moved before they cause a problem. The stumpy legs have a good range due to the usual combination of ball jointed hips, mid-thigh swivels and hinged knees, and they're supplemented by the hinged ankles which, while largely designed to facilitate transformation, do allow for rather more of a squat than most TransFormers toys can handle. Similarly, the heel piece can be adjusted to improve stability, though that can leave it sticking out at strange angles. One oddity is that the forearms are sculpted in such a way that the wrist is at an angle, which can make 'aiming' poses a little hit-and-miss (if you'll pardon the expression), though it's possible to work around.

Despite the simplistic transformation, wasteful backpack, terrible lack of robot mode paintwork and overall dumpiness, I have to admit I rather like this new Barricade. Shortcuts have been taken, to be sure, but a lot of thought went into him nevertheless. Like his namesake from the earlier films, he's one of the few movie Decepticons to successfully hark back to the Diaclone-derived G1 cars in a movie series that seems to actively eschew that aesthetic. He looks powerful - if a little short in both the leg and torso departments - and potentially very threatening, every bit as much as his predecessor. There are a few things I feel the designers could have done differently but, given the obvious budget limitations being imposed on the toyline at the moment, he's really not a bad figure... he's just another victim of the overly optimistic 'Premier Edition' labelling.

Whoever designed The Last Knight's Barricade has created something unique and interesting in and of itself, not simply a development of the original design... and that work did deserve a better toy. That said, this looks to be one of the better-realised shellformers in the line. I can only hope this incarnation is actually granted some on-screen character, rather than just being 'Background Decepticon #2'.

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