Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The Last Knight/Premier Edition Megatron (Leader class)

Way back toward the end of May 2017, an announcement turned up on the TransFormers fan sites that Amazon UK had put up preorder listings for The Last Knight's Leader class Megatron for about £45. Before I'd made up my mind about whether I wanted it or not, the price and order button were removed. Later, without any fanfare, the preorder became available again and, being a somewhat impulsive creature, I ordered it.

Then I just had to wait for it to arrive... a wait of a little over a month. But, hey, at least I didn't have to pay the current price tag, which seems to be closer to £65!

And, since we're now three toys into this line, I'll spare you any detail about the box... Not least because the only difference (other than size) is that someone at Hasbro decreed that Leader class Megatron actually deserved four whole lines of bland bio in four languages.

Vehicle Mode:
Megatron gets a new design for every movie... between the first and Revenge of the Fallen he was rebuilt using parts of another Decepticon. Between that and Dark of the Moon, he seemingly chose a terrestrial disguise, only to get brutally murdered by Optimus Prime. Questionably resurrected by way of human interference in Age of Extinction, he took on a whole new look and a new name - Galvatron - to go with it... Now he's back again, both in the sense of calling himself Megatron again and going full circle with his vehicle mode, returning to that old staple, the Cybertronian jet.

But where his original Cybertronian jet mode looked like flying metallic nonsense, this one actually looks like a vaguely convincing - if undeniably alien - flying vehicle. Despite being substantially less bulky than the original's toy, he cuts a far more imposing, purposeful silhouette in this form. With a 40cm/15.5" wingspan and measuring 35cm/13.5" from nose to tail, he's also surprisingly large given the tendency toward downsizing in recent years. I also approve of the darker colourscheme and the tech detailing that actually makes him look like a vehicle, rather than a chromed-up Giger-esque flying nightmare. In fact, the overall effect reminds me a little of Firefox (the jet from the movie, not the web browser) with its not-quite Stealthy profile and subdued colourscheme. The bulk of the plastic is a subtly blue grey with an amazingly fine metallic flake component that almost makes it look as if the whole thing has been painted.

All the movie Megatron toys have been covered with sculpted detail but, until Dark of the Moon's post-apocalyptic tanker truck (oh, for a Nemesis Prime repaint of that!) none of it was remotely coherent or familiar. Here, we have a jet that has clearly been designed for speedy and deadly attacks. While it only has two of the six afterburners seen on the movie CGI, a good chunk of the fuselage seems to be some kind of exposed power plant, while the intakes - painted with a light, metallic blue not used anywhere else on the model - almost look like retro rockets.

It's not just technical detail sculpted onto this model - there are a few characters of 'ancient Cybertronian' engraved into the wings and the chunks of fuselage just behind the cockpit, then painted silver to make them more visible. There seems to have been an error, though, as the first and last characters are identical bar their orientation. Assuming the majority are correctly oriented, you get the letters '?PTV' according to Hasbro's own published guide to the glyphs. Perhaps I'm wrong, but aren't these sorts of things meant to be Easter egg-style details with, y'know, actual meaning or significance?

In this mode, the paintwork is fairly minimal - aside from the aforementioned details, there's a chunk of fuselage just ahead of the wings painted gunmetal, then patches of a yellowish, slightly metallic paint just behind and either side of the cockpit and on the sides of the nose. It's worth noting that the Leader class figure has much the same sculpted detailing as the Voyager, but without some of the paint - notably on the rows of boxes in the fuselage just ahead of the wings. The curious thing about this is that the area around them has been painted gunmetal... and I have a sneaking suspicion they got it the wrong way round. I mean, granted, the painted area appears to feature more guns, but the jet surface should surely be the same colour as the nose section immediately in front..? Probably the strangest part of the paint job - and I suspect this has been done more for robot mode than jet mode - is the weathering on the nose. It doesn't follow any of the sculpted lines, it's just a weird, scratched-up effect caused by overenthusiastic dry-brushing, and it doesn't look remotely authentic.

Given that Megatron transforms into a Cybertronian jet, the presence of a cockpit - let alone one that actually opens on the toy - is curious. Even moreso, the level of detail within the cockpit - there's not only a chair, but an instrument panel. That said, the chair could be interpreted as something else, given the cables running off it into the back of the cockpit.

Megatron's sword can be plugged into the top of the jet, running down the the length of the jet, from approximately halfway down its length, then protruding out the back. Not the most elegant solution, but nor is it overly intrusive... and the hilt ends up looking like another gun, so it kind of works if you don't think about it too much... The other weapon - and its spring-loaded feature - seems to be intended more for robot mode than jet mode, but it functions exactly the same way in either mode: push the little button behind the cockpit, and the nose splits in two to reveal an extendable cannon.

The only other accessories with this version of Megatron are the two plumes of translucent orange plastic flame... which look rather more cheap and cheerful in person than they did in the early photos. They plug into the afterburners (very securely), the intakes (rather loosely) or, of course, the nose cannon. They're most effective in the afterburners, and catch the light rather well, but ultimately just look like weirdly-sculpted chunks of plastic.

On the whole, in spite of my misgivings about the paintwork, I do rather like this jet mode. If Megatron has to be a jet, then that jet should certainly look like this. It's packed with detail and, aside from a few points where robot parts are fairly clearly visible (ignoring the underside, you can see his hands and biceps on the lower part of the jet's fuselage, just behind the cockpit) it does look like an aircraft... And at least it's not a jet with a robot undercarriage - the robot does actually fold up into the body of the jet. Plus, in this day and age, you really can't argue with a vehicle mode this large. If I had a real complaint, it would be about the landing gear... or rather, the lack thereof. There's one foot that folds out from under the cockpit, but all he has at the back is a couple of fins which aren't quite long enough to prevent the jet from ended up balanced on the one foot at the front, and the centre of Megatron's chest at the back.

Robot Mode:
Here's where things get a bit strange. Not disappointing, as such, just... I'm not sure that the designers of the movie CGI have done the right thing. How much of that is story driven - that is, whether the 'knights' motif came along at the behest of the writers, or whether the design team were headed in that direction anyway - I'm not sure, but Megatron has ended up looking like a humanoid wearing elaborate faux-mediaeval/fantasy cosplay armour rather than a robot that might transform into a jet.

When the first decent photos of Leader class Megatron surfaced - from a Japanese toy show - I was blown away by the level of detail in the sculpt and the attention to detail in the paintwork. Obviously, that was a display model so I'd expected much of the weathering to be omitted on the final retail version... but there are signs that they had attempted to retain at least some of it. However, the job looks unfinished. There are loads of areas where silver paint has been daubed and smeared on clumsily and not wiped off as you're meant to do for weathering detail. The armour 'skirt' panels (the only parts on this toy, other than the tip of the jet's nose, to be made of rubber) are the stand-out victims of this shoddy work, with way too much silver splashed onto the raised parts, but also the left shoulder seems to have been drawn on with a silver Sharpie. In all honesty, I would have preferred the weathering to be omitted entirely rather than have the shoddy work that's displayed here. The chest also features smudges of silver that look like the result of a finger-painting class in a primary school.

Thankfully, this so-called 'weathering' is not the sum total of the paintwork - there are some areas on the chest, legs and feet that have been painted with the gunmetal colour that had been used quite sparingly on jet mode and, with the bare plastic already looking quite metallic, this paintwork does a great job of differentiating between separate armour panels and implies different materials and/or textures. It's particularly effective on the ankles/feet and on the chest, which look to be made up of several overlaid armour panels rather than one great chunk with lots of texture. It's far more coherent than the mass of sharp edges that made up Megatron's torso in the first two films.

I must say that I love the asymmetry of the overall look. Megatron's CGI models have tended to be fairly asymmetrical, particularly the Revenge of the Fallen version, with its gigantic murder arm. This one is rather more subtle about it, but it's pronounced enough that it reminds me of the likes of the original RiD/Car Robots Sky-Byte. In certain areas - the right side of his chest and the insides of his lower legs - he appears to have gaps in his armour, showing through to the (metallic mustard-painted) inner workings, and I find it interesting that the left side of his upper body features the heavier armour on the chest and the bulkier, more elaborate pauldron, featuring a large spike, while the arm that carries his main weapon has the lighter armour. Similarly, his forearms feature entirely different sculpted detail - the left looking like an elaborate, multi-layered vambrace, the right looks more mechanical, attempting to blend it into the cannon mounted there. It very much suits the Megatron-as-gladiator persona that developed in the IDW comics, but I still don't like the way it's been shoehorned into the movie aesthetic.

The obvious problem with this version of Megatron, at least in comparison to the Voyager class version, is the massive backpack made up of the wing section folded up. In all honesty, though, it's fairly low-profile - compare and contrast movie 1's Leader class Megatron with it's enormous battery compartment/tail section hanging off his butt and the wings on his back which, despite being folded up in part of the Automorph gimmick, still managed to stick out everywhere, or RotF's huge hunchback. By comparison, The Last Knight Megatron's wings are quite tidy. It is perhaps unfortunate that, despite resembling the shield Megatron carries in some of the concept art (and which comes with Prime 1 Studio's statue), they didn't find a way to have the wings detach from his backpack and clip together to form an actual shield. On the upside, while fairly subtle, some elements of the sculpted details on the undersides of the wings appears designed to vaguely resemble the details of Megatron's back on the CGI model, particularly his butt-plate.

Megatron wields two weapons - one being the shield/flamethrower/cannon built onto his arm, the other being his brutal-looking sword. The former has gathered plenty of complaints online about being on a hair trigger, prone to popping open if you so much as look at it aggressively, and because the cannon barrel doesn't lock into its extended position. Mine really doesn't seem as bad as some of those I've seen on YouTube but, having opened it up, I can confirm there's absolutely nothing inside that will prevent the barrel simply sliding back into the main body of the weapon. It wouldn't take much to add a small tab, but it's disappointing to see such an obvious necessity was missed by the toy's designers. One of the flame attachments can be plugged into the end of the barrel, and can look pretty good under certain conditions but, in person, they really do look cheap and crappy. The extra weight means his pose often has to be adjusted to compensate but, like the original Masterpiece Megatron, he does have a tendency to lean to the right under the weight of the weapon alone. The cannon is cumbersome and vastly oversize compared to its CGI design, but I can't help but think a Megatron deserves a huge arm-mounted cannon, and that the correctly-proportioned version on the Voyager class figure looks a bit weedy. His sword is molded in the same blueish plastic as much of his body, but the whole blade is covered with the gunmetal paint and looks fantastic. It possibly could have used a bit of silver 'weathering' on the tip but, considering how poorly the highlights were done on the body, it's probably a good thing they didn't try. When it's not in one of his hands, a handy 5mm peg on one side of the hilt enables the sword to hang off Megatron's back via one of the sockets on the wings' main joints.

The head sculpt is phenomenally good but, again, doesn't really give the impression that it's a robot so much as a dark-skinned, red-eyed, yellow-toothed alien wearing armour. So much detail has been packed into it, and it's incredibly accurate to the movie's CGI, even featuring the Cybertronian glyphs engraved in the horns. The lever-activated battlemask gimmick works very well on mine, with the horns normally clamping in quite tightly on the face - it doesn't work every time, but more often than not. The lack of light piping is no great loss, as the painted eyes are perfectly sufficient, and the use of the dark gunmetal paint is probably the first example of intelligently applied paint on any movie Megatron's head - a far cry from the blue-and-black disaster that was the first movie Megatron toy's noggin. The use of the vaguely metallic yellow on the inset parts on the top of his head enhance the impression of multi-layeredness in the sculpt, and it adds a menacing highlight to his teeth as well.

Transforming Megatron the first time is quite a task. The instructions are beyond useless on several points, and I ended up watching a YouTube video review just to confirm that what I thought I needed to do was correct and wouldn't break the toy. The main problem is the wing section, folded up on the back, which features several parts that overlap in jet mode, and so each one has to be moved in a very specific order. Even then, there are a couple of points that involve pushing one plastic piece against another, forcing one out of the way to accommodate the final position of the other part. Some bits don't tab in especially well in jet mode, other parts don't tab in at all. Once you get used to it, though, it's actually quite a simple, yet satisfying transformation. Separating the arms can be troublesome, largely because the tab on the cannon/nose section that plugs into the right arm is longer than it needed to be. Looking at the jet mode photos, it would be easy to dismiss this as a 'robot under a jet', but it's much more complicated than that and, while the nose and the wings aren't as involved in transformation on this version as they are on the Voyager class figure, this one does have a few extra tricks up its sleeve.

One thing I've become used to with live action movie Megatron toys is limited articulation. The first couple were pretty awful, with enormous, virtually immobile feet making anything other than a basic 'standing to attention' stance quite tricky to achieve. Dark of the Moon never got a Leader class Megatron, but its excellent Voyager class figure was marred only by the instability of its feet. Age of Extinction's few Leader class figures were terrible and, again, Megatron/Galvatron was not among them, so this - being the first Leader class movie Megatron since 2009 - is actually quite an ambitious figure. Starting from the top, it has a head that rotates - more than can be said for either of the first two - full rotation and outward movement at the shoulders, bicep swivel, bending elbows and wrist rotation... in the upper body, the only place it falters is the elbows, which are hinged in the wrong direction due to transformation. Making use of the bicep swivel and wrist rotation sorts that problem out, but leaves the ugly gaps in his forearms more visible. There's no waist movement due to the requirements of transformation, but those same requirements give the figure a decent range of him movement at the hips - limited only by the armour parts on the sides, as the rubber parts at the front can be hinged up right out of the way of his legs' forward movement. Additionally, he has mid-thigh swivel, an impressively deep knee bend and some sideways ankle tilt. If you don't mind breaking up the leg, you can even give him the effect of a double-jointed knee by using the transformation joint. All the more surprising is that his oddly-shaped and comparatively small feet give him a very stable base assuming enough of the foot is flush against the surface he's standing on... which is easy enough to accomplish thanks to the ankle tilt. Basically, this figure has all the joints we've come to expect from a larger-scale figure in recent years... but that level of articulation is very unusual on a movie Megatron, particularly one of this size class. That it's also stable in a great range of poses is pretty much the icing on the cake.

I'll put my cards on the table straight away and say that I really love this toy (the sheer number of photos probably clued you in, to be honest) - the design, the detailing, the surprisingly sensitive use of paint (apart from the bafflingly poor 'weathering'), the brilliantly executed battlemask gimmick and the spring-loaded shield/cannon all add up to what could have been the best official movie Megatron toy so far in the ten-year history of the movie franchise. That it's all been done without falling back on crummy, ill-conceived, battery operated lights and sounds is both a surprise and a huge relief, because that has allowed so much more effort to shine through on the transforming toy itself. Sure, it's nowhere near as sublimely complex as the Revenge of the Fallen Leader class Optimus Prime, but I doubt any mainstream TransFormers toy will reach that level of complexity ever again.

Where this toy causes massive problems for me is the whole new 'knight' aesthetic for the robot... When I look at this toy's robot mode, it's not just that I don't see Megatron, I don't see a TransFormer at all. I see a shape-shifting robotic knight from Masters of the Universe, or a monstrous suit of armour available as downloadable content for Skyrim, or something out of Tolkien. Had this been created with the same jet mode, but a more distinctly robotic robot mode, I may have said this was one of the best TransFormers movie toys to appear in recent years, and certainly since the golden age of the RotF toyline... as it stands, however great it is, I don't really feel comfortable displaying it with other TransFormers toys, even the movie toys, which is a great pity. Again, I'm forced to wonder how Hasbro ever signed off on any of this, not least because the new look seems to have been developed solely in the service of a small plot point... and I'm forced to conclude that, while the franchise is still making money, Hasbro really don't give a flying fuck about the way their characters are depicted.

And, let's face it, they released the first wave of toys about three months ago and, even a month after the film hit the cinemas, the second wave of toys is available only patchily, and the Voyager class Megatron is still nowhere to be seen. Granted, that's more down to the retailers, but it looks very much as though Hasbro aren't even going to bother making toys out of some of the characters who appeared in the film - there has been no sight at all of toys for Onslaught (seemingly a variation of RotF Long Haul in robot mode) Mohawk (unless they just make him a repaint of Brimstone from the RotF toyline - great fit for robot mode, not so much for the vehicle), Hooligan (who, like Berserker, seems to be a leftover Dread, only he now turns into a VW camper) or Wreck-Gar (who, admittedly, would probably be quite tricky) - let alone extending it to make new toys out of random background vehicles.

Still, is The Last Knight Leader class Megatron an awesome toy? Most assuredly yes. Is he better than the previous Leader class toys? Absolutely. Does he look like a TransFormers Megatron? Certainly not. But, if you're not fussed about the bizarre new look, and you're wondering about which version to pick up... I'm absolutely going to recommend this one, with the small caveat that it's definitely not worth £65. I was even a little dubious about paying £45 for a figure that's a fair bit smaller than previous Leader class figures (which costed £40-45), but its complexity and gimmicks make up for the reduced size to a degree. It may not be the Megatron I was hoping for, and I may not be able to find a home for it amongst my movie TransFormers, but I'm happy to have it in my collection.

Though I may still pick up the Voyager version... still undecided...

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