Friday, 1 December 2017

DotM Mechtech Ironhide (Leader)

Considering the multitude of repaints already made of Ironhide by the time Dark of the Moon rolled round and (spoiler warning) unceremoniously killed him off, it seems more than a little odd that Hasbro chose to release several new versions specifically for that movie, not least a Leader class version replete with electronic features in the form of the lights and sounds that had been pretty much ubiquitous with all the movies' Leader class figures.

Then again, they (foolishly, I feel) chose not to create a Megatron figure any larger than the Voyager this time around and, aside from Starscream (who'd already received a Leader class toy back in the Revenge of the Fallen subline 'Hunt for the Decepticons') and Bumblebee (who got a larger format toy of one form or another for... every... movie), there weren't that many worthy options in DotM.

Also, up to this point, most of the Ironhide toys had been a little lacking... and, if RotF Optimus Prime and DotM Sentinel Prime were awesome, surely a Leader class Ironhide would be too..?

Vehicle Mode:
Despite being ostensibly a Leader class figure, this version of Ironhide's vehicle mode actually scales most closely to the Human Alliance series... Though he lacks any of the interactive features associated with that line - the truck's doors don't open, and all the space inside is visibly occupied by robot parts, with no space for a 'driver' figure. Even worse, there's probably more robot undercarriage than the original movie's Voyager class figure, but without the dubious 'disguise' of the large, barrel-like weapons plugged in either side. Worse still, due to this undercarriage, Ironhide's ground clearance is approximately 1mm at the back. Massive ground clearance seems to be one of the main virtues of the 2006 GMC Topkick 4500, so this seems particularly disappointing in the toy. Even so, by and large, this is a decent representation of the vehicle seen in the movie... Though that just means he's an ugly black pickup truck with very little paintwork detailing.

On the upside, a good portion of the important stuff is painted in - there's silver (sadly not chrome) painted on the frames of the headlights and front grille, the GMC logo on the front is painted red (though the one on the bed door is neither sculpted nor painted) the tail lights are painted albeit with silver framing which is inaccurate to the movie vehicle, and the 4x4 insignia is there... albeit in the wrong place. Even the blue lights on the roof have been painted in - translucent blue over extensions of the clear, colourless plastic which makes up the cab's windows. What's lost are the 'minor' details, such as paintwork on the 'Road Armour' logo on the bumper, the smaller lights and decals on the sides, and the vast majority of the chrome. The twin exhaust pipes are a bit of a disappointment in bare grey plastic, but the other chrome elements, such as the pipes running below the doors, aren't massively important... and painting them would probably only have drawn attention to the robot parts sticking out below the truck. The strangest element of the paint job is that all four wheels are molded in the blue-ish grey plastic of the visible robot parts, then painted over in two kinds of black - a shimmery, super-dark gunmetal/charcoal for the tyres and glossy black for the hubcaps. Given the extent of the black plastic already used, this seems like a colossal waste of the paint budget.

Speaking of the black plastic... it's a little inconsistent. From what I can tell, there's one type used for most of the vehicle shell, then another type used for joints and such... but the wrong type was used for the rearmost sections of the truck's sides. While it's not obvious in most conditions, my camera was able to pick up the difference quite clearly, as the rear wheel well goes from dark-and-glossy to flat grey. To the naked eye, it actually just changes from fairly glossy to not-so-glossy, with barely any appreciable difference in the colour of the plastic.

In vehicle mode, Ironhide has only a sound feature, though the way the headlights are constructed suggests that there may once have been plans to have them light up as well. A small, unassuming button on the truck bed just behind the cab activates a weird engine sound along with a couple of noises that could either be the horn or collisions. Holding the button down causes an 'engine revving' effect to occur, along with an extended engine sound... the problem is that the speaker is very small and embedded deep within the truck, so the sounds are barely audible and lack the 'throatiness' one would expect from a truck like the Topkick.

The Mechtech features are accessed by pulling back on the twin exhaust pipes, and each one causes a weapon to pop out of Ironhide's roof. On the right is a tiny representation of his grenade launcher, while a cannon of some sort - unique to this toy - appears on the lefthand side. Putting them away is a simple case of returning the exhaust pipe to its original position, though the grenade launcher occasionally catches on the two roof panels and gets stuck. There are no sound or light effects associated with either, which is rather disappointing - one would have hoped for, at least, a transformation sound as each one appears or disappears.

I know I tend to judge some of these toys - especially the larger, more expensive ones - as an adult collector, but I can imagine this toy being a disappointment even to kids. The pop-up weapons are an interesting feature, but the whole Mechtech thing was under-represented in the movie, and the advantages of Leader class seem rather wasted on a vehicle like the Topkick, especially when so much of the robot hangs out visibly below the vehicle.

Robot Mode:
I've never been entirely satisfied with the robot mode of any movie Ironhide toy, and I'd hoped that Leader class would at least give him the requisite bulk. Sadly, while the top half looks OK, the legs are still far too slim and blocky, so he ends up looking too tall and not broad enough. This is exacerbated by the massive bulk of his forearms which, while it doesn't quite match the look of the movie CGI, at least sort-of looks right for the character. Trouble is, the forearms are molded in such a way that you can see the distinct elements of Ironhide's (slim) arms, and then the massive boxes attached to them. The upper and outer surfaces of these still exhibit car shell detail (not to mention the massive folded up panels from the vehicle mode's flanks) but, on the inner surface, present indeterminate tech detailing, part of which - painted gold - resembles non-functional wrist-mounted blades. It all looks very clumsy, given that the CGI very clearly shows the arms to be connected directly to oversized weapons, not oversized chunks that contain undersized weapons.

True to the movie CGI, additional colouring in the upper half is kept to a minimum. In the centre of the chest is a large block of silver - the button that activates one of the electronic features - and there's a gold line more-or-less following the underside of the fake bumper. Aside from the silver and coloured plastic on the truck parts over his shoulders, that's it... and that's exactly how it should be. But while the colouration is true to the CGI, the design of the chest is not - it has the (fake) bumper, but the part above that has been redesigned and simplified to accommodate the button, so the chest armour doesn't protrude up in front of Ironhide's face, and doesn't follow quite the same angles. It looks OK... but it definitely doesn't look right.

But the trouble really starts with the bizarre choice of plastic colour for most of his lower half, and the dearth of paintwork to cover the worst of it. Considering the CGI suggests that Ironhide is largely black, with a few visible patches of very dark metal, I've no idea what possessed Hasbro to pick two shades of stormy-grey-blue for a large (but mostly concealed) chunk of the torso, the groin and the legs. It's a terrible colour to begin with - either shade is too blue to convince as something intended to represent metal. While the tone of the plastic used for his legs is similar to the metallic cyan paint used on Ironhide's fists, and possibly features very subtle metallic swirling, it's not a close enough match to work and there's precious little paintwork on this toy's legs to cover any of it up. The two curved armour panels on his hips feature fairly matte black paint, but it's so sparingly applied that all of the edges show the blue plastic beneath. The outsides of his lower legs are painted glossy black, but at least seem more completely coated, while the toes end up looking incongruously black against the bluish feet. Other details feature either gold or gunmetal paint, but there's no obvious reasoning behind which parts received which colours. More black paint (or just black plastic) would have been appropriate throughout, while some of the tech detailing - the springs just above his knees, for example - could have been picked out with a few minor paint applications.

Then there's the view from the back... it's not uncommon for TransFormers toys of Deluxe or even Voyager class to have large backpacks of vehicle parts that can't be easily incorporated into the body. The first movie's Voyager class Ratchet did an interesting thing with its windscreen, splitting it apart and wrapping it around to his back, while the original Voyager Ironhide did the more traditional thing and folded it up into a backpack. The DotM Voyager took an even simpler tack, but this one seems to be a step backward even from that - the windscreen and side windows are on a large arm, hinged from his backside, plugging in loosely behind the head and tucked in below the real bumper and central section of bonnet/grille. It sticks out, and looks like a collection of spare parts... but that's no worse than the flagrant butt-flap which, even folded in on itself, is huge and ugly.

The main Mechtech features function just as well in robot mode as they did in vehicle mode, but the grenade launcher ends up looking pitifully small against Ironhide's forearm, made expansive simply to accommodate the weapon concealment feature. The custom gun on the left arm looks better in context, but both feel as though they could have been stowed in smaller forearms equally well, potentially allowing for more sensibly-proportioned arms, though the weapons would still look a bit underwhelming and there's no obvious other place for the displaced bulk to move to. The flaps of truck side could possibly have remained on the legs to bulk them up, but that would be very similar to the old Voyager class figure.

This being a all-singing, all-dancing Leader class toy, the arm-mounted weapons represent only a fraction of the 'awesome' features if this toy... However, as with other DotM toys, I'll go into more detail about the Mechtech features below, under their own heading...

The head sculpt is probably the first to adequately capture the bull-like, ugly asymmetry of movie Ironhide's noggin, so it's a bit of a shame that it took so long to get an accurate head sculpt, particularly since, with Ironhide's grizzly death in the movie, this is probably one of the last new molds the character will receive, unless he gets a Movie Masterpiece interpretation. The paintwork is adequate, but nothing really special, with gold paint covering the central part of his forehead and the area of his face behind the grey plastic mask, as well as a couple of strips on the sides of his face, though the paint doesn't cover the full extent of the strip. The grey plastic mask is unpainted and cheap-looking, while the translucent plastic used for his eyes seems a little too extensive, judging by the molded detail within - a touch of black paint around the outsides and along the diagonal 'eyelid' strips would have been helpful here. The battlemask is part of another of the lights-and-sounds gimmicks, whereby pushing a button on his chest or working the lever on the back of his head starts his eyes flashing green and activates either a voice clip - the crippled European release saying only "Ironhide" - or a weird, unidentifiable noise, which alternate whenever the mask is moved by either method.

With both of the arm-mounted weapons working in both robot and vehicle modes, it's no great surprise that there are no light/sound gimmicks attached to either of them. That said, I'm sure something could have been worked out, as the articulation of the arms isn't so extensive that wires could not have been passed through his arms.

That said, there are plenty of other gimmicks to this toy. pushing down on the odd grey protrusion behind the right side of his head - or pulling the lever masquerading as his Autobot belt buckle - causes Ironhide's abdomen to split open and disgorge an eight-barrelled cannon geared to spin after deployment, and which features a red LED at the top to give the impression of the weapon firing. A bizarre sound effect - presumably intended to represent the weapon firing - plays out as long as the weapon is out, continuing long after the barrel stops spinning. Like the engine sound, it lacks any real power, and is actually rather irritating.

But that isn't all, because there are a couple of other vaguely-Mechtech features concealed in the lower legs. In the right leg is a spring-loaded missile launcher which rotates into a sort-of firing position as the shin's side panel is pulled down. This can be detached from its mounting and either held in one of Ironhide's hands (looking especially weedy in his large fists) or plugged into either of the 5mm sockets on his shoulders. Trouble is, it's actually quite difficult to remove from its mounting in his leg, and equally difficult to get back in there... and, much like his right arm's weapon, it's very much inclined to jam in mid-concealment. The left leg conceals a fairly redundant dagger which is a decent size, but would be more menacing if it weren't intended to be wielded by a robot - I will never understand the movie CGI designers' fixation on blades, as isn't it essentially like making humans wield swords made of skin and muscle?

Unlike most of the Leader class toys, Ironhide's transformation is not substantially more complicated than most of the smaller figures and, in some ways, is actually more straightforward. Certainly compared to the original Voyager Ironhide, the arms are easier to stow and the legs do very little other that rotate 180° just above the knee. The chest is only complicated by the fact that the two bonnet sections have a habit of popping off their ball joint. The grille in robot mode is part of a solid section of torso that the bonnet sections simply plug into. The whole process is really only marred by the number of large panels left over in robot mode, either hanging off his arms or covering his back. The worst of these is a literal butt-flap, which serves as part of the truck bed cover that sits between the cab and the rear end.

On paper, this version of Ironhide seems well-articulated. While the head is unaccountably glued in a forward-facing position (an error which was corrected in a later repaint of this mold) the arms have a good range of motion thanks to ratcheted shoulders and elbows, with rotation joints mid-bicep and just below the elbow. However, there's no wrist articulation, and the shoulders are set so far back that, coupled with the chunks of car making up his chest, Ironhide can't bring his arms straight forward, so his fist end up barely an inch in front of his chest when in their most forward position. There's no movement at the waist due to the - frankly, unreasonable - requirements of the backpack, but the hips, knees and ankles are fully ratcheted. There's a swivel joint just above the knee and a small amount of sideways ankle tilt as well as some movement in the toes... But, sadly, the whole is substantially less than the sum of its parts because the figure is so top-heavy, and there's so much play between each ratchet that he doesn't stand well in any position. It doesn't help that the ankles offer very little backward support and don't tilt sideways far enough to sit flush on the ground unless his legs are as straight as they get. Nor does it help that the range of knee bend is asymmetrical, with the right knee offering only two positions due to the Mechtech features of the lower leg. The left knee isn't much better with four positions, and the toes move more for transformation than the actually be useful for posing. It also doesn't help that there's very little flat surface to his feet - he basically stands on the outer rim of the truck bed and the articulated toes - and so posing him on a smooth surface is likely to cause his legs to spread.

Looking back on the movie lines with hindsight, it's not hard to see why Hasbro gave up on Leader class figures for the most part. The only phenomenally good ones were RotF Optimus Prime, HftD Starscream and DotM Sentinel Prime, with the rest tending to be a bit "meh" at best. This version of Ironhide is a prime example of the electronics and Mechtech gimmicks doing the toy a real disservice. When, in the movies, did a Gatling-style spinning cannon of doom spring from Ironhide's belly? When did a tiny missile launcher pop out of his shin? When did he use a dagger? The mechtech weapons aren't concealed in his forearms, they're concealed in enormous boxed tagged onto his forearms, and yet still end up looking far too small when deployed. It also suffers from the crippling of the voice clip that Hasbro seemed to think was necessary for the European market.

What really bugs me about this toy is that it could have been so much better. I mentioned above that it almost looks as though there were plans to make the vehicles headlights actually light up... and just that simple detail would have been infinitely preferable to a chestbursting gun and its irritating sound effect. It might also have allowed this toy to make use of the vehicle's bumper to fold down to become the downward-angling detail on Ironhide's torso (which is clearly the truck's bumper when you look at the CGI!). Pulling out the Mechtech rubbish from his shins may have allowed them to collapse down and bulk out slightly, and I'm sure there would have been a way to expand his feet and splay his toes. The Mechtech weapons in his arms aren't inherently bad, but their size and design, and the massive vehicle panels hanging off them, look pretty amateurish on a figure this size - you might expect it on a Deluxe or a Voyager... but later Ironhide toys in those scales were more efficient.

I guess that, for a kid who's excited by electronic lights and sounds, this might have had more appeal... but it'd be a huge disappointment for someone wanting a larger format and more accurate version of Ironhide... Perhaps they'll do a Masterpiece version at some point, but I wouldn't hold out much hope, given that Ironhide was basically written out of the franchise because the Topkick was discontinued by GMC.

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