Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Last Knight/Premier Edition Berserker (AKA Crankcase v2)

The toyline from Dark of the Moon was extremely variable. Much of it was remakes and fine-tuning of existing figures (most notably those Autobots who actually survived the first two movies) and a whole lot of the random Decepticon background 'characters' never made it into toy form. The Dreads - an indentikit set of spike monsters that transformed into identical SUVs - didn't all make it onto the shelves in the same size class, and the only one of them to come out as a Deluxe, Crankcase, was a hopeless mess of car panels and fragility.

Cut to the fifth movie in the increasingly ridiculous live action movie franchise, and we're introduced to a Decepticon supposedly known only as 'Berserker'... who looks remarkably similar to Crankcase. Berserker somehow managed to be part of the first wave of The Last Knight's toys, and early photos suggested that Crankcase's character model has finally been done justice... So let's take a closer look...

The first of The Last Knight's dubious innovations is a new style of collector-oriented packaging. Gone, it seems, are the card-backed plastic blisters of yesteryear. Now, even the Deluxe class figures come packaged in boxes... And I have to admit, I quite like this change for the most part. One thing that has always bugged me about card-backed blister packaging is that you either end up ruining the artwork on the card, or you leave part of the plastic bubble stuck to it. Not that I've ever been madly keen on keeping the packaging intact, but boxes are generally easier to open and just look tidier on the shop's shelves. Takara Tomy have been packaging a higher proportion of their toys in boxes for years, so this also brings a better sense of consistency to the line. The Deluxe boxes are a decent size, but I suspect they could be smaller and still comfortably accommodate any Deluxe... and it'd be even easier if Hasbro took on Takara Tomy's habit of packaging the toys in vehicle mode, just like back in Generation 1, particularly since all the toys so far have a means of storing their weapons in vehicle mode.

The styling of the boxes overall is not dissimilar to the earlier movie boxes, just without the pointless fussiness of curved sections or cutout sections - a proper, squared off box is simpler, more elegant and, above all, cheaper to produce as it doesn't require any special paper engineering or extra tape to hold it together. If I had a gripe about the new packaging, it's the dearth of character information: you might find two or three words about each character on one side if the box, while the area below the character's name on the back could comfortably accommodate a decent paragraph. 'Berserker' is described as a "raging destroyer" which is, let's face it, probably about as much characterisation as he'll get in the movie, but it's still disappointingly terse for someone who first got into TransFormers toys back when they had detailed tech specs...

Vehicle Mode:
Versus the 2011 Dark of the Moon version of Crankcase, 'Berserker' is very much a case of swings and roundabouts, but ends up looking even plainer somehow. Where the original used separate pieces of glossy black plastic (or possibly just glossy black paint over the separate plastic pieces), this one's windows are painted in a matte greyish blue; where the original had transparent plastic for the lightbar and headlights, everything here is molded into the shell of the vehicle and sparsely painted. In terms of molded detail, this one is probably slightly superior - it features the little aerial block at the very front of the roof, windscreen wipers front and rear, additional, sharper detail on the door handles, and the lattice in the front grille. Both had painted tail lights, but the original didn't highlight the Chevrolet logo with any paint, whereas this one has the logo painted gold on the front and the back.

Another significant difference is the size - this vehicle mode is a few millimetres shorter than the original, both in length and height - the former because it's squarer at the front and back, as well as having a shorter bonnet, the latter partly because the wheels are smaller and the chassis isn't mounted quite so high above them, partly because the vehicle shell just isn't quite so tall.

So, as I said, very much swings and roundabouts. The original might have greater instant visual impact but, on balance, this is more detailed, generally sharper with it, and does a better job of representing the vehicle's matte black finish. It's just sad that the windows, lightbars and headlights are so cheaply done - especially considering this is a so-called 'Premier Edition' model costing at least £5 more than previous Deluxes.

Hasbro have gone back to more simplistic weapons for The Last Knight's toy line, and this updated Crankcase features the spiked harpoons he wielded briefly in Dark of the Moon - a massive improvement on the daft, oversized Mechtech gun/claw that came with the original toy. They're molded in a weirdly soft brownish plastic, and one of mine was bent in the packaging (this seems to be a common thing). Despite the soft material, they're actually quite sharp to the touch, making them a little awkward and uncomfortable to mount in the grooves above the rear wheels. Luckily, and since they actually look pretty ridiculous there, they can be stored on the underside of the vehicle, by tabbing into his legs.

Robot Mode:
To say this is an improvement on the original is a massive understatement. Just about every aspect of this figure is better than DotM Crankcase, with the possible exception of the paint job. One thing that always bugged me about the Dreads' CGI was that their vehicle modes were matte black, but their robot modes were a sort of tarnished bare metal colour, and this remake does a far better job of making that happen than the original... albeit by relegating even more of the car shell to the status of backpack.

The silhouette of this figure is far closer to the bulky, hunched CGI monster that was DotM Crankcase. The torso broadens toward the shoulders far more naturally than the earlier toy, so he looks less pudgy; the arms and legs look - for want of a better expression - appropriately muscular. The pincer things which were bizarrely prominent in the now six-year-old model are more sensibly sized and placed as small blade-like protrusions, mounted on ball joints on the backs of his shoulders. The hands, while still made of rubber, are at least molded for grasping, so there's no need for a 5mm socket on the forearm. The legs are properly digitigrade, rather than the skinny, awkwardly jointed pins of the original and, while the feet are smaller, they look right and they're reasonably stable thanks to a small heel spur.

On the downside, robot mode fares little better than vehicle mode in terms of paintwork. He has a brownish metallic paint coating his toes, bright orange on his fingers, as well as red on the kneecaps and as a gradient on his forearms, running from elbow to wrist... there's a barely noticeable patch of metallic paint on the belly... then there's a strange 'X' mark on his chest. Some of this is evident on the box art, but it seems to look more like blood splatter than deliberate marking and, while the majority of the body is molded in a decent range of warm, brownish grey plastics, there's a bit too much variety in the colour of the legs - the upper thigh is a rough-finished mid-grey, the part below the mid-thigh swivel is dark grey in a variety of finishes, the part just below the knee is glossy black, then the lowest part of the leg is a lighter glossy grey. It looks OK at a glance, but the closer you look, the more mismatched it seems. The choice of a warm grey also seems really odd and, while I'm sure it's brownish, my eyes seem to want to interpret it as purplish sometimes. All the different greys appear to feature fine metallic flakes, but its more visible in some shades than others.

The weapons work pretty well in robot mode, as they're intended to be hand-held. They're perhaps a touch loose in the rubbery grip - clearly a rather generous 5mm, and not helped by the fact that the storage clip is low enough on the hilts that it can prevent them being inserted fully into the hands unless properly oriented (foreward, almost like a trigger). The lower digit on each hand is molded to enclose the slightly smaller diameter of the lower part of the hilt but, while the grip there is decent enough and the weapons don't just fall out, the overall grip could be better. My disappointment that the two spiky harpoon things don't peg together to form a single javelin isn't quite assuaged by the fact that he wouldn't be able to hold it that way due to the car panels folded round his forearms. When not in use, the clips allow him to hang his weapons from his backpack, but that looks like something of an afterthought.

The head sculpt is probably the biggest improvement on DotM Crankcase, not least because his metallic dreadlocks - still molded in rubber, but unpainted on this version - aren't delicately hinged for transformation, and so are unlikely to break off. They're also more naturally placed on the head, so they look like dreadlocks rather than weird pigtails, and there's some supporting detail sculpted into the back of the head. The face features strategic applications of metallic paint which is barely visible from most angles, but manages to catch the light in a such a way as to really bring the head to life and make the whole thing look more metallic despite the warm grey plastic. While it doesn't feature the light piping of the original, the eight super-beady eyes are painted red and so stand out more effectively that the original's light piping anyway. The overall effect is even more blatantly ripped off from Predator... and I like the look on this figure, but I'm still not sure I like the weird, insectoid look of the movie Decepticons in general. It also doesn't seem to fit especially well with the TransFormers: Skyrim aesthetic of other characters we've seen.

Transforming this figure is substantially less frustrating than the Dark of the Moon figure, but it's even more of an exercise in folding up robot then fitting a vehicle shell around it. About 80% of the vehicle ends up compacted into his backpack, with the remainder folded round his forearms and closed up on the backs of his legs. The panels fit together into vehicle mode slightly more readily than on the earlier figure, but there are some nasty gaps even when everything it tabbed together securely, and the side panels don't like staying in place - you only have to look at them wrong, it seems, and they'll pop out either at the front or the back. Even worse, the panels that wrap around his forearms aren't actually glued in place and are surprisingly easy to remove. Great for customisers, perhaps (I wonder if Black Apple will attempt an upscaled, more articulated version of this figure?) but a bit naff on a so-called 'Premier Edition' figure retailing at about £23.

All the usual points of articulation are accounted for, but this Crankcase update benefits by a hinged stalk supplementing the ball jointed neck, allowing him to look properly hunched over and - to a small degree - freeing the ball joint from some of the restrictions imposed by the rubber dreads butting up against the body. While he doesn't have a waist swivel joint he does, thanks to his transformation, have an ab crunch allowing for an even more hunched posture. The arms aren't hindered by the car panels on the forearms or the back, or the spikes on the shoulders, though the ball joint on the latter is a welcome addition, allowing them to be positioned freely no matter what his arms are doing. The legs are reasonably good given that the main knee joint is the only one really intended for posing - the lower joint locks into place for robot and vehicle modes, with no stable point in between - but the tiny heel spur isn't really sufficient for good stability if the legs aren't balanced adequately. He does have a habit of falling over both forwards and backwards, and the spurs don't lock into place very firmly if used to support the foot in anything other than their fully open/extended position. The legs are further hindered by the car's bumper and front grille hanging off his backside, but at least it isn't especially visible from the front.

Given that DotM Crankcase was such a hopelessly disappointing figure, I was really looking forward to this when the first images turned up online and, despite a lukewarm reception from some YouTubers, I really love this figure. It's not perfect - the mismatched plastic colours and lack of paintwork in both modes really let it down - but it's an excellent remake of a character who deserved a far better toy six years ago. It's a shame he has such a generic name and no bio, but that seems to be the way Hasbro are going these days. I also find the weapons a touch disappointing - Crankcase wielded some sort of gun in the very brief 'Mexican standoff' scene in Dark of the Moon, but it's not unusual for Hasbro to focus on mêlée weapons on the toys, and not at all surprising given the 'swords and sorcery' stylings of The Last Knight.

Then again, perhaps the real shame is that the Takara Tomy versions appear to be identical to Hasbro's miserly take on the 'Premier Edition' concept - it would have been interesting to see what kind of additional paintwork they would add on a normal figure, but The Last Knight's toyline doesn't appear to feature their usual upgrades. Averaging £23 in the shops, these Deluxes are all hugely overpriced for what you get... I can only hope the prices return to normal after the movie, but I have a nasty feeling - given the cost of Titans Return figures in some bricks-and-mortar shops - that this is the new Deluxe price point for all TransFormers toys.

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