Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Last Knight/Autobots Unite Hot Rod

Hasbro seems to have caught a lot of flack for re-using one of the more disappointing Age of Extinction molds for a new character in The Last Knight. Lockdown wasn't irredeemably bad and, in some respects was actually a lot of fun... And being much the same sort of car as Hot Rod becomes (after being a Citroen DS when first introduced) it makes a certain amount of sense, not least because it saved them some engineering costs.

That said, Hot Rod in the movie seems to have taken much the same role toward one of the new characters as Bumblebee did in the first movie, and his robot mode features suggestions of a Bumblebee-style transformation... Can the Lockdown mold really do him justice?

I know I said I wasn't going to bother writing about the packaging of The Last Knight toys anymore, but I think this one warrants a quick look due to its sheer stupidity. Seemingly the only figure in the 'Autobots Unite' subline, Hot Rod has the distinction of taking second fiddle to Bumblebee on his own packaging art. Quite why anyone at Hasbro thought it was a good idea - particularly when a whole new logo had been created for what was actually a Walmart exclusive in the States - is anyone's guess... I can imagine a lot of parents failing to identify Hot Rod on the shelves given that Bumblebee is far more prominent on the front of the box.

On a more positive note, Hot Rod apparently deserves more than the standard two word bio of the mainstream The Last Knight toys, as the back of the box features an additional two sentences about him... For what little it's worth. None of it mentions his diabolical 'French' accent, which makes me wonder if that came about simply because the voice actor decided to take the piss, but managed to convince the necessary people to keep that version of his dialogue.

There's a sticker on the back of the box I received, giving details of the Hong Kong distributor, but it's not covering a 'Walmart Exclusive' flash, it's on an otherwise blank area above where the box describes its contents ("INCLUDES: figure and instructions" in four languages). I'd imagine, then, that a sticker was applied to the Walmart stock, and something similar may be applied whenever Hot Rod shows up at UK retail - the Walmart exclusivity would tend to imply he'd show up in Asda over here, but previous Walmart exclusives have turned up instead in Sainsbury's... Though that's assuming (a) he shows up at UK retail at all and (b) he becomes any kind of retail chain exclusive over here.

Vehicle Mode:
I've been a fan of Lamborghinis since the comparatively ugly Countach - used not only as G1 Sideswipe and Sunstreaker, but in the TRON-derivative 80s TV show Automan, which I watched in my misspent youth - and, while that car had a fairly simple, angular chassis, the Centenario is a limited edition variant of the Aventador (only 40 were made, in honour of Ferruccio Lamborghini's 100th birthday back in 2016). Given that such a limited number were made - all sold for just shy of $2.2M - one surely has to wonder about the thinking behind putting a car like this into any movie. They'd likely have needed more than one for filming purposes and, unless they were made available on loan (or for hire), that's $4.4M of the movie's budget burnt up in a bit of utterly pointless product placement.

There's something sinister and aggressive about this car - the front end reminding me of a snake's head, and the back end looking like a 'rooted in reality' Batmobile. It's a very low car (the real thing is just over 1m tall, with probably less than 3" of clearance from the road, judging by photos), very sleek, and built as if it's intended to be a stealth vehicle. Over the years since the Countach, Lamborghini have slowly softened most of their angles, but you still couldn't call the Centenario a curvy car... it's basically a wedge, but not a sharp one.

As with far too many of the movie toys, paint appears to be lacking on vehicle mode, but that's actually a little deceptive - the sides of the front end are molded in the same translucent/smoky plastic as the windows, but painted to match the brownish/gunmetal of the opaque parts of the car body, and it's such a good match, you could be forgiven for thinking that the entire car is painted. There's an incomplete band of almost fluorescent red/orange running along the base of the body, most of the way down the sides, but some of this detailing is missing - the edges of the 'blades' on the front and back should also have been painted. We pretty much expect the taillights on TransFormers toys to go unpainted these days, and at least those of the Centenario are virtually invisible (being the horizontal, sort of Y-shaped strips at the back), but it's still disappointing to see on a toy that's clearly labelled as a licensed Lamborghini reproduction. Smaller details, like the signal lights, are indistinguishable - or simply not present - on this mold, but things like the silver plate around the exhaust pipes should have been painted in. What's odd is that the hubcaps are entirely painted silver, when the flat parts of the spokes could have been left black for greater accuracy.

One rather cool element of this vehicle mode - and I've no idea how accurate it is to the real thing - is that, while much of the body is super-smooth and glossy, other parts feature a very subtle texture. To some degree, this actually disguises the lack of paint around the two rear windows - a strange lack, given that it's all part of a large, structural piece of car shell, much of which has been painted to match the surrounding plastic. Probably the most impressive aspect of the minimal decoration on Hot Rod's vehicle mode is the faithful reproduction of the Lamborghini logo stamped on the front. It's actually larger than the molded detail it's for, and not quite the same shape, but it's incredibly detailed for its size, to the extent that I can only really see it clearly in the photos.

Robot Mode:
While it may seem logical to base Hot Rod on the same structure as Lockdown - since they transform into essentially the same car with slightly different bodywork - the shortcomings are immediately obvious in robot mode and can be summarised in two words: saggy tits. Hot Rod's CGI is somewhat similar to Bumblebee in that the front of the car splits and sits high up on the chest, making him - along with Bumblebee and Jazz - about as close to the Diaclone style of robot the movies have ever got. What this reworking needed was a joint that allowed the two sections of the front to slide up the torso and tip back over the shoulders... but what we get instead is Lockdown's chest arrangement without the panel of fake detail over the top to improve the toy's resemblance to the CGI. The detail in the central torso area, all the way down to the groin, has been completely resculpted, and would have looked great if only the chest configuration was correct. I like the way the wheels have been used to replicate the circular details on his elbow armour, and the overall construction of Hot Rod's arms is vastly more pleasing to the eye than Lockdown's, although the vehicle chunks on his shoulders are way too big for what they're meant to represent. His hands are very basic and look less convincing the more you look at them, but all they really needed to do was accommodate 5mm pegs (more on which later...). The thighs are entirely new parts, and are what gives Hot Rod the additional centimetre or so of height he has over Lockdown. Sadly, the re-use of Lockdown's bizarre hip joints means that some hip details which really should have been part of the torso have ended up on the thigh pieces, making them a rather awkward interpretation of the CGI. From the knee down, he reuses Lockdown's parts, so his feet look weird and skeletal, rather than like robotic running shoes. Also, while I don't think anyone really expects the back of a Deluxe class TransFormers movie toy to resemble the CGI, I'm pretty sure more could have been done to give him his small 'wings' - the car windows are there, just too low down and connected to the windscreen.

The extent of the paintwork may not have been especially apparent in vehicle mode, but in robot mode Hot Rod suddenly develops a lot more red and a healthy coating of silver. Weirdly, I'm pretty sure that robot mode actually has vastly more red than vehicle mode should allow, yet still manages not to have enough where it's meant to be. Considering his lower legs and feet are 100% Lockdown, the red and silver paintwork there does a reasonable job of replicating Hot Rod's appearance, but the arms couldn't have their red parts without them being visible - and entirely inappropriate - in vehicle mode.

One of the most disappointing aspects of this figure is that, whether due to budgetary or licensing restrictions (I know Lamborghini were against licensing their cars to Takara Tomy and Hasbro circa Binaltech/Alternators, so it wouldn't surprise me if the license to produce a toy based on this car was conditional on Hot Rod being unarmed), his twin time-suspending handguns are not included, despite having hands sculpted with the standard 5mm grip. Granted, he can pick up anyone else's weapons, but no-one else has been packaged with anything remotely similar, so it's been left up to enterprising users of Shapeways to fix the omission.

There's no denying that The Last Knight Hot Rod's head design is absolutely hideous. His eyes appear to be where his cheeks should be, leaving the face vertically compressed below what looks like a visor (which could also have been his optics, only then they'd be set too high on the head). The weirdest part, though - and the aspect of this design that cannot be unseen - is that the red and silver portions of his face bear a striking resemblance to the 'Lost Light' version of IDW's Hot Rod/Rodimus, with its central crest and triangular cheek plates that sweep up to the sides. Overall, the design of this character is so far removed from what anyone might think of as 'Hot Rod', in terms of both colourscheme and personality, but the head is easily the worst aspect and, for better or worse, is reflected admirably in this Deluxe class toy.

It's no surprise that Hot Rod's transformation is largely the same as Age of Extinction Lockdown's, as most of the structure is identical. The car shell is different, and very slightly longer, but it moves in much the same way apart from the arms - which are much better-proportioned - and the chest - which no longer has a panel that swings out in front of the car front sections. This update also features the additional step of folding away small sections of the doors which are connected to the roof rather than the side windows or the robot's arms. He's as much fun to transform as Lockdown, but how far that endears this toy to you - given how tricky it seems to come by - is going to be a very individual thing. If his chest had transformed properly, lifting up the bonnet sections to the could lie back over his shoulders, would have been enough for me to forgive the reused lower legs...

Having the same structure as Lockdown means he has much the same level of articulation, though the changes to the arms do remove about 15° from the range of his elbows, and they are inclined to untab if rotated left or right. Not having the car's front wheels on the hips does improve things a little, but the fact that his hips have more mass above the joint means they will clash with his waist details as his legs are spread, and they start to look very strange when raised forward or backward as the rotation joint (which has now, unaccountably, developed ratchets) is comparatively low versus the joint that raises his legs to the sides. I was surprised to find his head is on a ball joint, but the shape of the head means it allows for little more than rotation anyway - it can raise maybe a couple of degrees, but offers no real side tilt. Given the size of his shoulders, it's pleasing to see how much freedom of movement they have on their combination of a ball joint for the shoulder itself and the hinge for transformation - they clear his car panel backpack easily on the former alone, and can be raised to the sides until the butt up against his head.

While the Lockdown mold was certainly not without its faults, I didn't dislike that toy. Hot Rod represents some not insignificant improvements on that mold - not least his overall proportions thanks to the extended thighs - but also highlights his progenitor's flaws even more clearly. Equally, this toy features some significant flaws of its own, particularly the completely (and avoidably) inaccurate chest transformation. At the 2015 price point, I think he would certainly have been worth picking up, if only to reverse-customise an improved Lockdown out of him. At the 2017 price point, and particularly taking into account the 'exclusivity' of the purchase - or, in my case, the import premium (I paid near enough the new Voyager price for him!) - there's a certain sense of 'buyer beware' that wouldn't have been present if only his transformation had been more significantly reworked to get his chest right, and if he'd included the guns seen in the movie.

In a lot of ways, I'm glad the toyline for The Last Knight is so much smaller than previous movies - I think I've probably ended up spending a similar amount of money as I did on some of the earlier lines (and quite a bit less than on some), but on fewer toys... and I'm not even buying all of them because many don't represent any real improvement on some of the older equivalents, while some are actually a lot worse. Hot Rod comes across as an promising yet unfinished reworking of an older, very flawed toy, but definitely not worth the full asking price as it stands.

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