Thursday, 28 March 2019

Studio Series #14 Ironhide

Of all the Autobots from the live action movie, I'd say Ironhide got the worst deal in terms of his toy representations. The first Voyager class toy was a decent enough toy for the time, but totally inaccurate to the CGI, overburdened with poorly executed weapons, and was reused and repainted until the third movie's toyline... even though the character was unceremoniously killed off at that point. Dark of the Moon's Voyager class Ironhide was better than the first, but still not quite right, not least due to its weird proportions and bizarre arm jointing, and its Mechtech weapon was a bit silly.

Sure, there were toys in other scales - including the deeply flawed Leader class version which seemed to be presented as the character's swan song - but none really captured the junkpile look of Ironhide, or accurately represented the squat, heavy-set look of the CGI... and, due to his death in DotM, he's been absent from the movie toylines since about 2011.

Cue Studio Series, with it's impressive reworkings of a number of movie characters... and quite possibly the most screen-accurate interpretation of Ironhide outside the Masterpiece line...

Vehicle Mode:
I've said all along that GMC's Topkick was an ugly chunk of a pickup truck and this - probably the most accurate rendition of the vehicle - is certainly no exception. What's immediately shocking about it is that it's so small. Ostenibly a Voyager class figure, Ironhide's vehicle mode feels like a large Deluxe in-hand... but I guess I'm still comparing Studio Series figures to toys from the individual movie lines, where TransFormers toys generally have been shrinking noticeably over the last decade. Not only that, but there are signs of the cheaper construction being used these days, not least the fact that the front wheels are clipped in place rather than pinned.

Nevertheless, for what it is, this is a decent vehicle mode - arguably the best version of the Topkick so far, with few overly obvious seams, reasonably accurate sculpting and a better than average paint job, albeit still fairly minimal because Ironhide was basically just a black pickup truck. The front grille, headlight surrounds, indicator lights, roof lights, exhaust pipes and even the rear indicators are painted, the small vent on the right side of the bonnet is painted, and there's an Autobot insignia on the left side of the bonnet (albeit at a slightly weird angle). The GMC logo on the grille is picked out in red, while the 4x4 badge appears on both rear wheelwells in more or less the right position. Mostly what's missing is the smaller details, such as the badges just in front of the wing mirrors on each side, the smaller lights in both bumpers, the indicators embedded in the rear wheelwells (not to mention the different colours of light on the back - blocks of red only) and the raised GMC logo on the tailgate. The most jarring omission, paint-wise, has to be the silver pipework underneath the doors, since the detail is sculpted in so precisely. Not least, this is one of the very few versions of movie Ironhide that has screen-accurate exhaust pipes, extending above the roof - most of the others had them shortened, most likely for safety reasons. Strangely, there are metal pins pushed up inside them from the base, almost as if there were supposed to be hinges in the area.

Like all the other versions, SS Ironhide features the front and rear bumper detailing - including the 'Road Armor' branding - and the raised Autobot insignia on the tailgate, but it also has a surprising - not to say disappointing - preponderance of protruding robot parts. Where all the previous versions kept the limbs largely hidden within the vehicle shell (albeit with the original's weapons hanging off its undercarriage), SS Ironhide's feet hang down around the rear wheels, with the toes and heels actually protruding out the sides, beyond the extent of the vehicle shell. The shoulders are also visible just behind the front wheels, but it could be argued they're part of the vehicle's suspension assembly. Plainly visible from the sides, the top of Ironhide's groin hangs down from the middle of the vehicle to leave only about a millimetre's clearance above whatever surface he's resting on.

There are a couple of points to this vehicle mode that are potentially more offensive to some: the truck bed cover is incomplete, leaving about a centimetre and a half, right behind the cab, where the robot's knees are visible. There's also a case of Visible Head Syndrome, where Ironhide's noggin can be seen peeking up behind the front windscreen. It's fairly low down, and the windows are molded in smokey grey translucent plastic, so it could have been worse... Plus, if you're feeling generous, you could call it a G1 homage, since the original toy's 'head' was literally just the Diaclone driver's seat with a face sticker applied.

This version of Ironhide has an excellent pair of weapon accessories - possibly the most CGI accurate bar the Masterpiece figure. Sadly, since they're so bulky, there's no way to stow them within vehicle mode, and we have to make do with the tried and tested compromise of simply pegging them into the truck bed. Unlike a lot of other figures, though, there's a choice of how they're attached. Each weapon has a small tab of its own, to plug into the matching slots on either side of the frontmost section of the bed cover, but there's also a longer tab on the grenade launcher which can plug into a slot on the inside of the cannon so both weapons can be plugged into a single slot on the back of the vehicle... though I'm unclear as to the benefits of this option.

Robot Mode:
One thing I'll note straight away: when I took my photos, I neglected to fold out the tech detail panels from inside the front wheelwells. It's a small detail - flaps of black plastic sculpted to look like parts of the wheel assembly, with blobs of silver paint in the middle sections - but improves the screen-accuracy of the figure... I just don't feel like re-taking all the photos just for that... Embarrassing, but I'll have to live with it.

I'm not sure whether it's a technical matter, based on how the engineering has been done, or just an aesthetic preference of the toy designers, but TransFormers toys rarely end up looking as fat as their on-screen counterparts (the Robots in Disguise version of TFPrime Bulkhead being a prime example, which is why I went for the First Edition version). The previous movie Ironhide toys all ended up looking tall and comparatively lean, despite the squat, heavy-set look of the character in the film. This version gets it just right, and even seems to have the angle of the vehicle's nose sections right on the chest (they were pretty mobile in the movie, but they tended to be twisted inward to one degree or another). The feet are appropriately oversized, where previous versions have kept them compact, and the 'toes' are nicely splayed (though, as previously mentioned, this does have a detrimental effect on vehicle mode). Scuplted detail is far more accurate than previous versions, with faux wheels embedded in the hip detail (substantially smaller than any of the real wheels on the toy), and loads of tech detailing in the legs, arms and belly. Not only are there loose cables sculpted into the tops of the feet, there are springs sculpted into the undersides of the toes. The front wheels end up in more or less the right position within the torso, but the vehicle's actual front bumper ends up running across the waist like a massively oversized belt buckle. It looks a little odd because it was molded in grey plastic, while the faux-bumper - just above it - was molded in black. Arguably, it's there to represent the sort of waist-antlers Ironhide has in the movies, but the bumper extends too far out to the sides and is nothing like the right shape.

Where this version really starts to disappoint will come as no surprise to anyone: it's the paintjob... because, isn't it always? Molded largely in black plastic, there are only a handful of robot-specific paint applications on this toy, and some of those are barely visible. As well as the blobs of silver paint just below each knee, his groin panel is painted silver and his belly plate features a rim of silver paint around a gunmetal gut that's so dark, it's only distinguishable from the surrounding black plastic when it catches the light. According to the CGI, much of the tech detail sculpted into the arms, legs and torso should be a mixture of silver, gunmetal and brass/copper/gold... but it's bare black plastic, with a couple of forearm panels actually being partially-painted translucent grey plastic, coming off the windows. Thankfully, the plastic throughout is glossy enough that the details catch the light well, but that's no substitute for appropriate paintwork, and the lack of differentiation on colour does mean that much of the detail fades into the background if it's not specifically lit.

Due to the way this version of Ironhide transforms, his vehicle mode's side windows end up on his forearms but, since Ironhide was almost never seen without his honking great cannons, which neatly conceal these translucent panels, it's not a huge problem. Unlike previous figures, SS Ironhide's weapons are not designed to be interchangeable - the grenade launcher goes into the right forearm, the cannon in the left, each pegging into a 5mm port at the elbow. Both are intricately sculpted to reflect the jumble of interlocking CGI parts from the movie, and so are probably the best Studio Series accessories I've seen so far. The bulk of each weapon is molded in grey plastic but, weirdly, the tip of each weapon is a separate piece, molded in black, which can be detached, but is otherwise immobile. Both have a fair application of silver paint - to be honest, I'd have preferred more on the robot instead - but they also feature panels of black plastic designed to resemble parts of vehicle shell. The panel on the grenade launcher even features sculpted door handles.

His hands - weird triangular chunks of plastic that they are - have the standard 5mm grip, so the weapons can actually be wielded by hand, but they look really odd that way. I think it's more so that weapons from other figures can be mixed-and-matched among the Studio Series... but, at the moment, there aren't that many handguns in the line, because the movies developed a weird focus on mêlée weapons.

The head sculpt is nothing short of phenomenal. Movie Ironhide looked like a 'bot who'd been on the receiving end of many years of combat, most of it landing squarely on his face. All the ugly, asymmetrical detail is there, from the wonky central crest on his forehead to the swollen, sagging right eye and the mashed-up 'nose'... Other than the Masterpiece, this is about the only version to get Ironhide's appearance just right without resorting to the easy route of using his battlemask (which was rarely, if ever seen on-screen). If fact, versus the MPM figure, the only sacrifices here are a few touches of paint, the range of neck articulation and the hinged jaw... None of which is particularly glaring at this scale. There's a certain bovine quality to Ironhide's look, with almost an implied nose-ring, and it's certainly nice to see a decent application of silver paint over his face, the sides of his helmet, and the panels curving round the top of his head from the forehead.

The funny thing about SS Ironhide's transformation is that it contains elements of other versions of the figure - particularly the Deluxe class version from 2010 - but strung together in a unique and generally more satisfying manner. He holds together very well in either mode, and there are no overly frustrating elements to the transformation process. That said, based on the way he comes packaged, it's not immediately obvious that the two halves of the truck's nose are actually supposed to peg into the torso on either side of the head, and they need to be worked into a particular angle to get them there. Directly related to this, the side panels of the vehicle peg into angular protrusions from the backs of his shoulders, and will only connect if the chest is properly pegged together. The legs have probably the simplest transformation of all the versions of this character I own, yet they're by far the most accurate in terms of proportions. The only really disappointing aspects are that the head isn't better concealed in vehicle mode, and that the bumper - while ending up in roughly the right point on his body - doesn't actually transform as the CGI would have it, so there's a fake folded-up bumper attached to the robot mode's belly flap. There's very little vehicle panel wastage, and what little there is folds up neatly onto his back, making him surprisingly compact in robot mode, despite his apparent bulk.

Given the robot's awkward proportions, his articulation is about as good as any other Studio Series figure so far. The feet don't have quite the same level of articulation as the Voyager class figure from the Dark of the Moon toyline, but they're significantly better than those of the original movie figure and the Leader Class toy, and the range of the hips is functionally unrestricted compared to those figures with larger backpacks. Naturally, the arms are restricted somewhat both by the position and the nature of the shoulder joint, so he can't reach forward very far or very effectively, even though the entire shoulder joint can be swung forward on one of the transformation joints. The head is on a ball joint, but its range is very much curtailed by the shoulder bulk either side of the neck and a strange protrusion from the back of the head. Nevertheless, the figure can adopt some pretty dramatic poses, and any shortcomings in the joints only serve to emphasise what an awkward-looking robot Ironhide was in the movies.

I really liked the 'battered warhorse' design of movie Ironhide, and have been consistently disappointed by the toys I've picked up. The shortcomings of the original movie's Voyager class toy are understandable given that it was created based on pre-production artwork and, while the DotM Voyager was a huge step forward, it was still far from perfect, and the less said about the gimmick-laden Leader class toy, the better. If I remember correctly, the Movie Masterpiece Ironhide was revealed before the Studio Series version, and I was preparing myself for quite some time to fork out for that one. However, once the Studio Series version appeared, at a fraction of the cost (about £30 versus £100+), I quickly changed my mind... and I'm very glad I did because, while this one may not have quite the same level of detail, paintwork, or articulation, it's vastly more stable... And the more I see of the Masterpiece version - be it photos or video reviews - the more I think I made the right choice, and avoided an expensive disappointment. Honestly, if this model had been given a more comprehensive paint job, it could be considered a Masterpiece itself... So let's see what the knockoff merchants manage to do with it.

When it's not repainting Bumblebee figures, the Studio Series line rarely fails to impress, and I'd have to place Ironhide among my favourite toys from the line so far - it's one of the most impressive Studio Series toys in terms of the closeness of the sculpt to the movie CGI, easily supersedes all previous Ironhide toys, and it's a hell of a lot of fun to transform and play about with.

There's also the small, quirky, memorable detail that SS Ironhide was one of my first purchases at TFNation 2018, and led to me having a go at the Nottingham Robot Company's raffle, where prizes were attached to tickets 100 and 200... on my first go, I picked out ticket 199... so tantalisingly close to being a winning pick, it got me a hug as a consolation prize.

No comments:

Post a Comment