Monday, 28 May 2018

Unique Toys R-01 Peru Kill

Lockdown was an interesting addition to the fourth live action TransFormers movie, Age of Extinction, and potentially a clever addition to the franchise. Sadly, 'clever' is not a word that can be associated with the live action movies made thusfar under the auspices of Paramount and Michael Bay. In typical Hollywood fashion, he was killed off in the climactic battle of that movie, having very graphically killed off one of the Autobots from the first three movies right near the start (and several others off-screen, it's strongly implied).

There was a Deluxe class Lockdown released as part of Hasbro's mercifully brief Age of Extinction toyline, but it was one of the worst-received figures that year - short, blocky, weirdly-proportioned, and molded in entirely the wrong colours of plastic, about the only thing right about it was the way the face-cannon worked. Even so, and perhaps because I already had low expectations when I picked him up, I quite liked it. It wasn't perfect, but the transformation was reasonably clever, even if the results weren't quite right.

While Hasbro are due to release their Studio Series remake of AoE Lockdown pretty soon, Unique Toys have beaten them to the punch with a larger - essentially Masterpiece-scale - interpretation of this underutilised yet impressive character, under the baffling name of 'Peru Kill'.

As with most Third Party products, the box is a far cry from the sort of thing Hasbro produce. From the front, it almost looks as if it's just a model car, as the image is of the front of Lockdown's Lamborghini Aventador alternate mode, with clever windows cut out on the headlight and part of the grille. Revealed within, the figure is - somewhat unusually - packaged in vehicle mode.

The artwork throughout is very dark and lacking contrast, making it difficult to make out some of the details and text, and the Spot UV varnish over the car image and the figure's name on the front doesn't help matters. I find it curious - interestingly coincidental, even - that the secondary colours used on the packaging for linework, etc. are cyan and a reddish-orange - very similar to the Studio Series packaging.

The rear of the box features a large picture of the figure in robot mode with his accessories - about the only shot where the contrast is halfway decent, but still muffled by the matte laminate used throughout - plus detail shots of the head, back and a closeup of the rear end of vehicle mode. Not the best choice of illustrations, I'd have said, but the sides of the box do feature additional detail photos of both modes, including a shot using the face-cannon. The combination of the overall matte laminate and the Spot UV is always striking, but a matte laminate is very prone to scuffing and picking up fingerprints (something I've encountered at work many times - scuff-resistant matte laminate is a bit more expensive than the regular kind). It's a good, sturdy box and certainly grabs one's attention... but more because it's so difficult to make out what's on the front from a distance due to the poor contrast and the small windows.

There are a couple of very strange features on the box. First and foremost, the front features a row of what appear to be kill icons in the bottom righthand corner - I make it Optimus Prime, Deadpool, Black Panther, Ant Man and Wolverine, but I'm not 100% certain of Ant Man. I wondered if this was a list of kills attributed to Death's Head (since Lockdown was invented for TF Animated because they couldn't use Death's Head), but that doesn't appear to be the case as far as I can see... Secondly, the back of the box features a cutout area shaped like one of Lockdown's cyber-wolf/hyena creatures and another shaped like the 'Seed' accessory... why the images of these were either left out or covered over, I have no idea... Lastly, it's fairly common for the Third Parties to put age recommendations on their boxes, since they market their output as adult collectables rather than toys... Unique Toys seem to think Peru Kill is suitable for ages 3 and over. Either that's a mistake, a joke, or just a random bit of artwork they put on without understanding its significance... but I'd say this figure should not be left in the hands of anyone below the age of about 12, personally.

Vehicle Mode:
I'm a huge fan of Lamborghinis, generally... or was, until I saw the inside of a real-life Countach at TFNation, back in 2016.  Something about the angles has always appealed to me, and virtually every new vehicle they have produced has been gorgeous in its own way. Since the Countach, Lamborghini have softened their angles in places, and slowly introduced subtle curves. For the most part, and aside from those occasions where they go full-on Batmobile (see the Ankonian and the Egoista - though it was the Murciélago - literally, 'Bat' in Spanish - that was used by Bruce Wayne in the Chris Nolan Batman movies), the basic look and proportions of their output remain surprisingly consistent - moreso than almost any other car manufacturer. You know a Lamborghini on sight, as each model is clearly drawn from the same vehicular DNA. On a random side-note, I was tickled to see that a new fast-food restaurant near where I live has been promoting itself with a red Lamborghini (not sure which model, as I don't want to ogle it too blatantly), which has been parked outside their premises ever since they opened. I wonder if they use it for deliveries...

Peru Kill transforms into an entirely unlicensed, yet extremely accurate Aventador, just like his live action movie inspiration. Transformation seams are mostly very tight and subtle, with the exception of obvious joints on the front bumper, a double-hinge within the front/centre of the bonnet (probably the ugliest of the lot) and the rear end, which just doesn't seem to want to connect together properly, because there's no peg at the bottom. The side windows also don't line up perfectly with the surrounding body, but that's a fairly minor issue given that they alone are made up of several moving parts. There are secondary windows sculpted in front of and behind the side windows, none of which are painted. Going by a Google image search for the Aventador, these can occasionally be covered over with decals... so let's assume that's the intention, here... I'm feeling generous. The wing mirrors - being removable - can be turned in their mountings to emulate that safety precaution in modern cars where the mirrors can be turned inward so they're less likely to be knocked off by other vehicles passing by too closely. By default, the 'mirror' parts are painted silver, but Unique Toys thoughtfully supplied highly reflective stickers for greater authenticity.

The entire body is painted with a super-dark gunmetal/charcoal colour with a nice glossiness supplementing the sparkly component, and the windows are a similarly super-dark, yet still translucent plastic. No light passes through them in vehicle mode simply because the inside is made up of folded and compressed robot parts, so increasing their visibility would only have harmed the overall look of vehicle mode. Due to the way he's constructed, the windscreen is actually framed rather more substantially than on the real car, but the frame has been painted black in an attempt to more closely match the appearance of the full-size windscreen. It doesn't work especially well due to the seams and, given that the windscreen is virtually opaque, I have to wonder why they bothered putting in the translucent plastic window rather than just painting the entire area black. Since this is designed to look like a real-life, high-performance street-legal car, there's only a little detail paintwork - the indicators are painted orange and the central exhaust pipe has been picked out in silver. However, the disc brakes inside each wheel have been painted silver and orange, and are very well detailed considering they're mostly hidden behind the wheels.

The head- and tail lights are translucent plastic - clear and colourless at the front, with the fitting pegs acting as a representation of the main lamps, while the rear lights are translucent red, with shallow detail molded in to the backs of the frames they're mounted in. The other cool feature of this car is that all the tyres are rubber. There's only a tiny bit of tread detailing on them, but it's always nice to see proper rubber tyres, rather than the horrible plastic things that are on official TransFormers toys these days.

For the benefit of those who insist on that sort of thing, Lockdown's weapon can be mounted on the back of his vehicle mode - very similarly to Hasbro's Deluxe class toy, in fact - by swinging the grip down from the back, pegging the metal support strut in to the back of it, then pegging the tab on the bottom into the large slot just behind the rear windscreen. Curiously, this model also features slimmed-down versions of the two angled slots used for mounting the weapon on Hasbro's version. There are details similar to this on the actual car - possibly additional venting, as the engine is at the back of the vehicle - though they're deeper than necessary and very much simplified on this model, almost as if its a reference to what Hasbro did rather than the detail on the actual car.

Like the genuine article, Unique Toys' representation of the Aventador is a thing of beauty. It could have used a bit of black paint on the front and rear grille sections, but it works well without. From a distance, I'm pretty sure this could pass for a model car, but it would be highly unlike me to actually display a transforming robot figure in its vehicle mode, however gorgeous it may be... Of course, upon closer inspection, it's missing details like the Lamborghini badge on the nose, the maker's name script on the back and the model badge just in front of the rear wheels, but the designers have done a remarkable job nonetheless.

Robot Mode:
Where the Deluxe class figure put out by Hasbro had strange, almost ape-like proportions, Unique Toys' attempt at Lockdown has excellent, humanoid proportions, and a screen-accurate bulky collar rising up either side of his head. Peru Kill looks tall and powerful and, to be perfectly honest, could easily be mistaken for a non-transforming, high-grade action figure at first glance.

The level of sculpted detail throughout is phenomenal, and it really is difficult to believe that this stunning figure is able to turn into a car so simply... but the vast majority of the vehicle's shell folds up into the robot's upper body, giving it the necessary bulk. The central portion of the chest also features a spring-loaded section to make it that little bit more three-dimensional, and the claw marks seen in the movie are present. By comparison, the back looks a little flat and, frankly, unfinished (not least because the panels intended to represent the vehicle mode's headlights aren't painted in any way, and feature a couple of structural pin heads). What's there is a fair stab at the appearance of Lockdown's CGI, though I'm not sure the spine is quite right - the outer plates look as though they're supposed to be sticking out further than the 'vertibrae', rather than sticking into them as they do here. The back generally seems too flat here - Lockdown wasn't hunched in Age of Extinction, but his back gave as much of an impression of physical power as his front... and you don't get that with this bas-relief effort. It's also worth mentioning that there's a gaping hole through the body, running from side to side, where the car shell wraps around itself to make the torso. It's not noticeable from most angles, but I get the impression these spaces upset some TransFormers fans...

The arms are very well-handled and, while they're also not a perfect representation of the CGI, all the key features are there: the missle launcher/magazines sitting at angles on his upper arms, the look of vambraces on his forearms and - a small detail, but clever nonetheless - having his vehicle mode wheels visible on the backs of his upper arms, simply due to the way they transform. The legs, meanwhile, are chunky and powerful-looking. The upper legs are quite large parts with very little involvement in transformation. What they do have is spring-loaded, die-cast upper thigh/gluteal plates, to give him a strangely pert and rounded backside from certain angles. The lower legs are rather more bitty, as they transform in the the rearmost quarters of the car - the rear wheels, wheelwells and the rear face of the car all fold up into his calves, making for a reasonable attempt at CGI accuracy, as his rear indicator lights appear in almost the right place. The feet seem a bit stubby compared to the CGI, and are certainly more bulked-up due to transforming into approximately the door areas of the sides of the car but, again, it's a decent effort. His wing mirrors can either be left on the feet as an additional 'toe' or be partsformed onto his shoulders.

So, in terms of sculpted detail, Peru Kill is absolutely fantastic... Where he starts to fall down a bit is the paint job. Obviously, for the most part, Lockdown in the movie appeared to be either black or very dark metallic, and Peru Kill replicates that perfectly. The glossy gunmetal/charcoal paint carries over the the vast majority of his robot parts and does look great... but that in itself is part of the problem: he looks pristine. Lockdown in the movie looked battle-scarred, both in terms of the physical scratches and scars, and the scuffing and scorching evident on most of this robot parts. Granted, that's one of the dafter features of all the movie 'bots: their robot modes exhibited signs of damage, but they always looked perfect again the moment they transformed, because they were showcasing GM's latest models, and the same was true of Lockdown and his Lamborghini Aventador disguise. Peru Kill is well-sculpted enough that he always looks interesting... but I can't help thinking a little dry-brushed silver here an there, particularly on the face and chest, would have improved him dramatically. What he has instead is little bits of silver, copper, orange and metallic blue paint, dotted about on certain details... but even this looks too pristine. The silver is too bright, the copper too clean... and all of it seems so very sparse. It's very true to Lockdown's appearance in the movie, but I'd say one or two paint applications are missing. Going by stills from the movie, there should have been touches of gold either side of the central part of his chest, as well as dabs of gold and metallic blue on his knees and strips of silver on his lower crotch. And even if those details had been painted in, a little embellishment wouldn't be unwelcome - this is a Third Party figure, after all.

Lockdown's signature weapons - his dagger/claw and his face-cannon - are well-realised in this set. By folding back either hand, the dagger/claw can be plugged into a socket on the back of each hand, ready to shank some unfortunate victim or, by swinging out the claw, hook them somewhere uncomfortable. Two parts of the claw are viciously serrated to increase the damage done, so it looks like quite a formidable mêlée weapon. Like Hasbro's interpretation of Lockdown, Peru Kill's face-cannon is an attachment that slips over the head. It features a spring-loaded section which must be pulled out to fit the weapon over the head, and the grip must be folded up against the back of the gun to reveal the tab that slips into the back of his head. For stability, a die-cast strut must be folded down from the back of the gun to plug into the top of Lockdown's spine. Alternatively, the weapon can be mounted on either arm via a small peg at the back of the gun. To do this, the support strut must be folded away and the grip folded out so it can be slipped over the hand. He can't hold it convincingly because his finger joints are in slightly the wrong place, but it works well enough and the arm joints are sufficiently tight that he can point the weapon. Storage-wise, the gun can be pegged onto Lockdown's back using tabs on either shoulder blade, and the dagger/claw can be pegged into the side of the gun.

The gun itself is proportionally about the same size as Hasbro's effort, but features far more sculpted detail and doesn't have the friction-launching missile gimmick. What it has instead is a paint job entirely consistent with the main figure in that it's fairly minimal. There's a bit of silver paint on the part that looks like a roll-cage, the 'bullet' tips protruding from the cartridge section are copper, and there are small touches of silver on the barrel section, but that's it. The green laser sights aren't picked out in any way, and none of the grime of usage - the results of muzzle flash, for starters - are present.

It's also worth noting that, detailed as it is, it features a couple of errors in its construction. The most obvious is that, like the Hasbro version, there's too much of it behind his head. In the movie's CGI, the gun grows out of Lockdown's head and chest, but it only grows forward. I'm not quite sure why there's so much bulk sticking out at the back, other than to allow for the support strut and a little counterbalancing of the long protruberance on the front. The lesser detail is that the laser sight that ends up above his forehead is supposed to line up with the lense thing toward the front... but the latter is a little too low by my reckoning.

The only other accessory, aside from the plastic collectors' card, is a rather perfunctory, silver-painted representation of the 'Seed' that was Age of Extinction's MacGuffin. It's not particularly highly detailed and, rather crucially, isn't something Peru Kill can actually grip due to the way his hands are articulated. I can see why it was included... but it seems like a bit of a waste of plastic to me, particularly as the options for interaction are so limited. This figure being of a scale all its own, it's not as if the 'Seed' can be passed on to one of the official toys and, even if it could, it's just as pointless with them as it is with Peru Kill.

The head sculpt is a nigh-on perfect representation of movie Lockdown's skull-like visage, and very well detailed. His vicious cheekbones and curiously pouty lips, the cold eyes and the sunken nose - every feature is there, including the cut over his left eye... but the entire head appears to be painted with the same super-dark (albeit sparkly) paint as the vehicle body. Ideally, the face would have been painted with a slightly lighter metallic colour, just so it stood out a little better, and for greater accuracy to the CGI. The face can be removed and replaced with his hunting visor, but this seems extremely basic by comparison, and the fact that the fitting peg is right in the middle of the translucent green part means it's a little too obvious. It may be that it's actually intended to double as one of the readouts visible on Lockdown's visor in the movie, but his eyes and certain details of his face were more prominent, and there's neither sculpted nor painted detail behind the visor. It might have been preferable to have this as a clip-on accessory for his standard face instead, particularly as I've not been able to transform the figure with this face attached. Making matters all the more fun, while the standard face comes off the head quite easily, the visor is an absolute pain to remove. Nice though it may be as an accessory, it's certainly not my favourite part of the set, and I'm not inclined to use it now that I have some photos.

Given the size of Peru Kill, his transformation is surprisingly simple. Given a few tweaks, it could probably used for one of Hasbro/Takara Tomy's Deluxe class figures, or a Voyager at least. The head and arms essentially compress down into the torso area, while the legs wrap around themselves to form the back and sides of the vehicle, and the rest of the body unfurls into the upper surfaces and front of the car. In robot mode, parts of the shin just below the knee don't actually peg into place, so they're prone to opening up when the knees are bent, but there's actually painted detail behind these panels, almost making it look intentional. Most everything else pegs together very securely following a well-designed transformation that skillfully avoids the sort of excessive complexity which becomes all too tempting for some Third Party companies creating larger-scale, movie-inspired figures. This does mean that a lot of the robot mode detail - particularly on the chest and back - is faked, and simply sculpted onto the insides of car shell panels, but that makes for a rather sturdier figure. It's also impressive to see a couple of spring-loaded panels - on his forearms and, interestingly, his upper thighs - used to compress the robot parts for vehicle mode. I find the legs are quite difficult to peg back into their vehicle mode positions - one side in particular is especially reluctant to find its proper place - and this is further complicated by the spring-loaded panel on the foot. It feels as though I have to force the leg to peg into the body because the alignment of the peg and its socket are a touch out of true, no matter what I do.

I'm also not entirely convinced by certain aspects of his articulation. With the head sunk into the collar area, it can barely turn before butting up against the surrounding detail, and the transformation joint is certainly good for making him look down, but it doesn't increase the head's range of motion. The head sort-of tilts back but, in doing so, sinks further down into the collar. I wonder if a pair of ball joints on either end of a 'neck' rod may have been a better choice. The way the arms transform and peg together just above the elbow means he has no bicep swivel, but he does have a swivel joint just below the elbow to make up for it. Due to transformation, he can also pivot his shoulders forward slightly, though the odd jointing of his arms means he can't quite cross them in front of his chest - with a bit of fiddling, it can look close enough, but only from some angles. He also has a limited crotch swivel joint that's excellent for walking poses, as he can swing one hip forward and the other back in quite a natural way, but it's not quite enough for him to do a 'boobs and butt' pose without first unpegging his crotch plate and the car windows wrapped around his waist, and he never feels quite as dynamic as figures with a proper wiast swivel. The feet have a decent range of tilt in four directions, though the spring-loaded plate that pops up from the top of his feet does get in the way of tilting his feet up. He's also remarkably stable, despite not having much of a heel spur, though the hinged section at the back of his foot can be left down if necessary. The hands are a little worrying for me, particularly the thumbs, as the ball joints are quite tight and the plastic feels quite light and thin. They don't feel as though they're likely to break, exactly, but I do tend to be very cautious when moving them. The wrists have an excellent range of motion, while the fingers are (sensibly) limited - all four are joined, with only two pinned joints on each set. One thing I'm in two minds about is the way the head becomes fixed in place once the cannon is attached, due to the support strut that plugs into his back. It's a sensible precaution, not least against several potential breakages, but it would have been nice to retain the few degrees of rotation he has, for more dramatic aiming poses.

While I'm all for extras when it comes to TransFormers, both official and Third Party, the 'Steeljaw' included in the Peru Kill box seems to be a bit of a bone of contention. For one thing, it's not particularly accurate to the movie CGI, for another, it's very simplistic in terms of construction, paintwork and articulation... but, mainly, it just seems superfluous.

The body is a single chunk of cheap-feeling brown plastic with an underwhelming spray of black paint and some silver panels running down his spine. The 'mane' is a rubber piece embedded in the back of the neck, but it's designed to look like a series of plates rather than a collection of bristles. There's very little detail molded in to the body and limbs - hints of musculature and mechanical parts, but nothing especially interesting, and nowhere near the level of detail something like this needed. Compared to the CGI (and the Sideshow/Prime 1 Studio statue) the body is far too smooth - it needed to look like a skinless mass of cybernetic muscle and sinew, and it looks as though whoever sculpted this gave up halfway through the job.

The upper parts of the legs are the same brown plastic with an equally underwhelming paint job, while the head and lower parts of the legs are painted silver. The problem is that the 'metal' parts are far too clean-looking. Lockdown's pets looked as if they bathed in oil, if at all.

The head sculpt is also quite wide of the mark, as if it's based on a sketch that was drawn from memory - the snout is too long and too square, and the whole thing looks like a mask worn over a more organic face, as none of the detail is harsh or deep enough. His beady little eyes are too round and not set deeply enough within the details of the cheeks and brow and, while it looks as though they may be translucent plastic, there's no light piping to make use of that. On the upside, the jaw does open (a little reluctantly, on mine) and the teeth are numerous and sharp.

What bugs me the most about it is that it's so nearly well-done, but let down by a couple of small but crucial things. Firstly, the back legs have only three joints, despite a fourth being implied by their digitigrade design. The hips, ankles and knees offer decent range, the former two being ball joints, the latter just a hinge, but the missing lower leg joint means the back legs just aren't poseable enough. The neck is particularly irritating because it has virtually no side-to-side movement, despite a large ball joint at the back. It's also a little ridiculous that the range of motion of the neck joint within the jaw is reduced dramatically simply by opening the jaw. The lack of any jointing within the body is another daft omission - one more ball joint within the waist could have worked wonders.

For those who are that way inclined, Peru Kill's gun can be mounted on this creature's back using the peg on the third vertiba plate, which goes into a socket on the underside of the gun's cartridge section.

Over the last few years, I've amassed quite a scary number of Third Party figures, but these were largely either filling in G1 blanks in Classics or representative of continuities that Hasbro is unlikely to touch anytime soon. Peru Kill was the first movie continuity Third Party figure I picked up, because I felt that Lockdown deserved something better than he got with the official Deluxe toy. Unique Toys have crafted an excellent figure to start their new series of movie figures, and I'm keen to see how their Optimus Prime turns out. Weighing in at anything between £80-£100, Peru Kill feels like good value for money - he's a large figure with decent heft due to the die-cast parts, and an extensive, albeit largely monotonous, paint job. The weapons are great, though just as inaccurate as Hasbro's efforts (perhaps moreso, in the detailing), while the 'Seed' and cyber-hyena-thing feel a bit cheap and shoddy, almost undermining the sense of value for money, rather than enhancing it. I honestly don't think I would have felt hard done by if I'd paid £90 and only got Peru Kill and his weapons.

Neither mode is flawless, and robot mode really needed more incidental paint applications, but Peru Kill is definitely going to be on my list of top movie figures for quite some time to come. It's nice to see a reasonably accurate representation of the movie CGI and its vehicle mode that doesn't require a hopelessly complicated transformation featuring myriad delicate parts, and yet doesn't end up with a mess of vehicle shell as an oversized backpack. Hasbro should certainly take note of the way this figure was designed and constructed.

Aside from those points already mentioned, the only complaint I might level at this figure is that it's very much in a scale all its own. It almost fits with the movie Masterpiece figures, from what I've seen online, but accurate scale has never been a requirement in my collection... and it does at least appear that Unique Toys' follow-up figures in this line will be designed to be in scale with each other.

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