Sunday, 3 June 2018

Studio Series Grimlock

Yes, yes, the Eternal Despiser of Dinobots has picked up another Dinobot toy and - hypocrisy piled upon hypocrisy - it's a live action movie Dinobot at that. Here's the thing, though: similar to The Last Knight's Megatron, movie Grimlock's design isn't inherently bad generally... it's only inherently bad within the context of TransFormers. If someone had come up with a property in which robotic dinosaurs evolved the ability to transform into humanoid 'knights' in an attempt to combat a bunch of robotic 'knights' that transform into spacecraft, with AOE Grimlock and TLK Megatron being their leaders, I might be tempted to give it a look... it's just not right for TransFormers, in my opinion. Plus, given the way the movie Dinobots and TLK Megatron look, I'd struggle to decide who the good guys were supposed to be...

Which brings us to the Studio Series, where Hasbro are taking the opportunity to release whole new molds of 'popular' characters from throughout the live action movie franchise, and one of the first Leader class figures to be released is Age of Extinction Grimlock. Roundly received as looking far more accurate to the CGI and with an appropriately subdued paint job, rather than the garish copper, silver/grey and black of the versions released in the AoE toyline, I'm still not entirely sure why I caved in and bought him... But let's have a look and see if we can figure it out.

Beast Mode:
Thing is, the movie Dinobots almost look like a Hollywood 'Gritty Reboot' of Zoids, or something out of the live action Power Rangers, perhaps... Dinobots, generally, were a daft addition to a toyline where the whole point had been that they were 'Robots in Disguise'. Maybe part of the problem for me was that I was never really into dinosaurs, but the idea of robot dinosaurs - whatever their origin, there have been many explanations over the years - didn't appeal, except inasmuch as Grimlock was pretty cool in the UK comics. In the wake of the success of the first live action TransFormers movie, I was one of the folks feeling glad that Michael Bay was very vocally against introducing the Dinobots because even he thought they didn't fit into the cinematic universe he was creating.

Of course, it only took two more movies for him to either change his mind or simply cave in to studio pressure, and the Dinobots arrived in the closing few minutes of Age of Extinction, for a confused and messy battle scene, set in China due to complex studio politics involving co-funding of the movie and Paramount's desire to improve box office takings in the Asian market.

But I digress...

What we got - both in beast mode and robot mode - was barely recognisable. Grimlock in the cartoon was depicted as powerful, but slow-witted and with a way of speaking designed to reinforce the idea of limited intellect (despite his G1 Tech Specs rating his intelligence at 7/10, the same as Gears, Ironhide, Red Alert and Sideswipe, and higher than the likes of Hoist - supposedly a Mechanical Engineer). Grimlock in the movie had no dialogue and, upon being freed from captivity by the Autobots, launched into a dominance challenge against his liberator, Optimus Prime. It lasted about five seconds, and resulted in the colossal warrior rolling over and allowing Optimus to ride him, in an example of submission that reminded me strangely of that bit at the start of Revenge of the Fallen where Mojo is 'dominating' Frankie, the new family dog.

Live action Grimlock's design seemed to come from the same place as Megatron's look from the first couple of movies - shards of metal clumping together to resemble a Tyranosaurus Rex or an armoured humanoid - setting him apart, visually, from the other Autobots, with the only explanation being that the Dinobots were 'ancient warriors' of some kind. Previous toys seemed to mostly ignore the CGI, both in terms of his design and his colour cues, in favour of presenting a simplified, more brightly-coloured robot dinosaur. This thing is far more accurate in terms of its molded detail, and is molded predominantly in a flat, dark grey plastic with metallic green paint dry-brushed on the majority of its parts. At first glance, it's a nigh-perfect representation of the CGI - perhaps a little too dark, but certainly better than any of the Age of Extinction figures.

But that's at first glance. A more detailed look shows that he's terribly gappy and incomplete-looking. The neck/chest area is very slim, the legs are too chunky, and look disproportionate, despite a valiant attempt at making them look reasonably digitigrade. The head is hollow, to the point where you can see the outsides of his neck through his mouth. The chest doesn't connect with the belly, and there are spaces between parts almost everywhere. It also becomes quickly apparent that the paint job isn't that great... it is literally just a bit of metallic green dry-brushed over dull grey plastic, adding highlights and the appearance of battle damage, scuffing, corrosion, etc. to a model which would otherwise be almost entirely monochromatic. Key parts - the tip of the tail, the feet, the bottom jaw and the arms - are unpainted, so the closer you look, the more disappointments you'll find. The only other paintwork on the entire figure is the red applied to his eyes. Typically, the horns andd teeth are molded in soft rubber rather than plastic, which may explain why, despite matching the surrounding plastic colour very well, they are lacking any paintwork.

All of which probably comes across as resoundingly negative, but I actually really like this model. I don't mind the gappiness, because I can see that a lot of effort has gone into the design, if not the paintwork. Robot parts are quite apparent when you start looking for them, but they've been tucked away quite cleverly, and in highly interesting and original ways. Part of the problem with the original AoE Grimlock figures was that they'd tried to be symmetrical. This one throws that idea out completely, resulting in a far more natural-looking beast mode. I do rather wish that the legs had been constructed in such a way that the robot's calves bulked out the beast mode's hips, even though that would likely have compromised articulation in one mode or the other, perhaps both. I'm not even unhappy about the lack of additional weapons with this version since they would have to end up just tacked on to beast mode. My only real problem is that the underside of the tail keeps sagging down because the joint is hopelessly loose. I've been able to 'fix' it by wedging two halves of a toothpick into the gap, but that's hardly ideal and certainly not what one should expect from a £50-ish figure.

Robot Mode:
The main problem resulting from the symmetry of previous AoE Grimlock figures was that the robot mode ended up with only a passing resemblance to the CGI. Either the arms would have the beast's feet hanging off them or the legs would be too slender and lanky. This version of Grimlock has none of those problems - he is large, imposing and very bulky, for the most part very accurate to his on-screen appearance. He magically develops two complete upper beast heads - one for each shoulder - and has the full armoured skirt around his hips, as well as all kinds of sculpted cable, piston and gear details in and around the oddly-shaped armour panels covering his body. For the first time, a movie Grimlock actually looks like a robotic knight with a dinosaur motif, rather than a humaniod wearing the kind of armour one might expect to see in the Monster Hunter series of videogames. Unlike so many TransFormers toys, he even looks great from behind because no concessions were made to symmetry in his beast mode - he has convincing shoulder armour plates, the armour skirt continues round the back to the two elongated tails featured in the concept art, and the backs of his legs are only hollowed out where absolutely necessary for beast mode. The biceps are a tad gappy at the back, but that's the worst of it.

The paintwork is much the same, though a few additional areas where paint is absent become visible in this mode. While his back feature a good amount of dry-brushing, the collar area seems only to have touches of overspill from the chest and shoulders, and the waist is curiously bare of paint (though this does serve to make his chest look as though it sticks out further than it does, as the absence of paint implies heavier shadows). One interesting feature - or lack thereof - is that Grimlock doesn't have a single Autobot insignia in either mode... Whether this is because he's ancient enough to pre-date the Autobot/Decepticon schism, or simply because no-one thought to add one to his paint job, I don't know... But I believe that's accurate to the CGI as well.

Grimlock's one and only weapon - his mace - is an integral part of his right arm, and features rounded-off spikes on a reasonable approximation of the weapon shown in the concept art. With the figure displayed in robot mode, it does seem a shame that he doesn't include the massive polearm weapon also shown in the concept art but, since it was seen so briefly and blurrily in the movie, it almost certainly wouldn't have been worth the effort of including.

While I disagree entirely with the creative decisions made when designing the live action movie Dinobots, I have to say the head sculpt on this toy is fantastic. It captures the ancient-alien-robot-ness of the design, having the insectoid elements of some of the Decepticons as well as a monstrous Samurai mask effect in its overall shape - the tall central crest and the sweeping protrusions from the sides are not dissimilar to movie Drift, after all. The head features the same dry-brushed metallic green as much of the body, so the absence of the paint from the collar area isn't as noticeable in the context of the figure as a whole. His tiny, beady eyes are painted with the same red as the beast mode eyes, giving him a very 'demonic Samurai' appearance. I've been trying to figure out what the face reminded me of - it's certainly not your traditional Grimlock, though it does feature the protruding 'teeth' effect seen on the character in War Within and Spotlight Grimlock - and finally figured it out as I was writing this: he looks like a heavily-embellished Turian from the Mass Effect series. Look 'em up if you're not already familiar with the game - I guarantee you won't be able to un-see it.

In a lot of ways, this version of Grimlock has a very simplistic transformation, something akin to some Beast Wars figures, and Megatron in particular because his robot legs become his beast mode legs, one arm becomes the beast mode's head, and the other becomes the beast mode's tail, while the robot head simply collapses into the torso. He's not as shellformer-y as BW Megatron, though, and the beast head ends up on his shoulders rather than becoming a hand/weapon... Though the bottom jaw does end up on his left wrist, so even that isn't completely different. It's a generally satisfying transformation, though adjusting the knee between modes was initially very stiff, and I do worry about the longevity of the knee joint considering how little there is to it at either end. I would have liked to see the outermost beast toes fold back to bulk up the robot mode's foot but, other than that, it does the job and is quite a bit of fun... I just wish the robot's tail flaps would actually peg into the beast mode tail somehow, or that the transformation hinge featured a ridge of some sort to hold it in position for beast mode.

Due to the construction of the feet/legs, neck and tail, Grimlock's beast mode articulation is obviously a little limited. He can't quite do a running pose, he can't wag his tail, he can't lift his head without tilting the entire body at the hips... What he can do is open his jaw a little further than its standard position (he cannot close his mouth, however) and wave his dinky Tyrannosaurus arms around on their ball jointed shoulders. The elbows and wrists aren't articulated, though, and the fingers/claws are sculpted into a fixed pose, so they're not that much use. Since the neck and tail joints - such as they are - are the robot's shoulders, both can twist, but they quickly lose the effect of a cohesive form, because the parts are designed to align in a straightened-out position in beast mode.

Robot mode is significantly better, though the design of the feet is still fairly limiting. The ball joints are large, but sunk too deeply into the bulky middle of the foot to offer enough range for more extreme leg positions. Had the beast mode toes been jointed, as I suggested above, it might have been possible to more easily balance him with his legs further outstretched, but having effectively three heel spurs, spread out at different angles, complicates matters and leads to unnatural foot positioning. While the chunky hip skirt is broken up into four articulated pieces to maximise the range of motion available to the legs, the front is prone to popping off and the jointing of the sides favours beast mode more than it does robot mode. The arms are surprisingly good considering that one transforms into the beast's tail and the other transforms into it's head and chest, with both elbows bending to about 90° despite all the nearby protrusions. Bicep swivel is effective, if a little ugly, and he even has wrist articulation on his one proper hand. The shoulders are inhibited a little by the rubbery horns, and their ratcheted outward swing is stopped by the protruding armour just above. The lack of articulation on the beast arms is more of a problem for robot mode, as it's difficult to judge where best to position them on Grimlock's left forearm - no matter what you do, they're going to stick out somewhere... but they have less visual impact when folded back against the part that already sticks out the side of his elbow.

In spite of my dislike for the very concept of Dinobots, this figure comes close to winning me over. Like Masterpiece Grimlock, it's a good enough figure in and of itself to be well worth picking up. Given the excessive complexity of the movie robots' designs, it seems highly unlikely that there will ever be a perfect representation of movie Grimlock in plastic form, but this is leagues better than any of the figures that have been produced before, and is easily one of the best Studio Series figures from the first wave. Given the lack of complexity in its transformation, it could have been made as a Voyager class figure but, if anything, probably should have been made larger to fit in with the scale of the other figures - Grimlock absolutely dwarfs Optimus Prime in the movie, but this figure is only a little bit larger than the Voyager class figures.

While I currently have this displayed with the other Studio Series figures, I'd like to separate him and TLK Megatron, and create a more general 'cool toys' display when I have the space to do so. For those that don't mind the idea of robots that transform into dinosaurs among their 'Robots in Disguise', and particularly the subset who don't object to the way Grimlock has been potrayed in the live action movies, this is very much the definitive toy for the character. I picked mine up from the Nottingham Robot Company, who offer him for a more reasonable £50 back when just about everywhere else was selling him for £55-£65. Whether he's worth even that is an individual choice, but I certainly wouldn't have paid the higher prices.

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