Monday, 25 May 2020

Revenge of the Fallen Mudflap

Intended as comic relief - in a franchise that was overburdened with comic relief from its very first installment - the Twins, Skids and Mudflap, attracted a lot of scorn due to perceived racial stereotyping. Personally, I found it odd that they were seen that way, as their characterisation seemed to be taking aim at Hip Hop-obsessed white trash more than anything else. Maybe my impression - as a middle class, middle-aged white dude in the UK - is flawed, and I'm missing some critical element of their portrayal, but it felt to me like manufactured outrage for the sake of outrage, over a movie that was just poorly made from start to finish.

Meanwhile, it took me five years to get round to writing about the Deluxe class Skids, and he turned out to be a floppy mess of a figure, with a large amount of car shell wrapped around a comparatively small robot. It was a well-designed toy, certainly, but let down by the materials and the manufacturing.

...Which doesn't exactly bode well for his brother...

Vehicle Mode:
While I'm not a fan of either the Chevy Beat - Skids' alternate mode - or this, the horrendously-named Trax, I'd have to concede that Mudflap drew the short straw. The Trax looks like one of the discarded options from trying to blend a Toyota bB with a Mini Cooper, because it lacks the charm of either. Its front end looks as if it's trying to be a 4x4, the back end looks more like a Smart car, and the hint of spoiler above the rear windscreen of such an ugly car is just downright offensive to my eyes. If the Beat was the sort of sporty-yet-sensible car teenagers might like to borrow from their parents for a night out on the town with their mates, the Trax is the kind they'd instantly decline, saying they'd prefer to get the bus.

Nevertheless, this is a pretty good representation of that car and, what's more, the paint job is actually better than Skids got. The front end is coated with grey paint, with the central section of the bumper overpainted with gunmetal - a detail which is true to the real-life vehicle. Like Skids, Mudflap's headlights are molded in translucent plastic, but the unpainted parts blend in a bit too well with the grey painted sections. Silver has been used to cover the circular part of each headlight, but the orange indicators (on the 'eyelid' part of the headlight, and on the 'winged' section which wraps around to the sides) have not been painted in, nor have the supplementary lights set within the bumper. Grey paint continues over the front wheel arches, along the lower rim of the car (apart from one small section of a transformation hinge), over the rear wheel arches and into the rear bumper. The rear lights are framed with silver paint and picked out with red but, again, the indicators have not been picked out separately. His numberplate - reading 'MUDFLAP' - is painted red, with the section of bumper directly below it painted gunmetal, mirroring the front of the vehicle. Additionally, the wheels all have silver rims around unpainted, black hubcaps. Unlike his brother, Mudflap isn't embellished with any weird 'tribal' tattoos, and his windows are a darker, smoky grey which better disguises the robot parts within. Additionally, the majority of the car's panels are molded in opaque, sparkly orange plastic, so less of the paint budget was used covering up the translucent window plastic - just a few touches were needed for the frames. This plastic colour isn't as vibrant as the real car from the movie, but it's not bad for a Deluxe class toy without access to the specialist car paints.

While Mudflap doesn't have any weapon accessories, he does have an integrated, spring-loaded weapon in robot mode and, consequently, has a point of storage for his missile in vehicle mode. Directly below the numberplate is a cross-shaped hole in the rear bumper, into which the missile can be slotted, so it looks as though he's emitting a small puff of noxious exhaust.

On balance, much as I prefer the look and style of Skids' vehicle mode, the presentation of Mudflap's is better. The only real problem is that the front of the vehicle seems excessively broken up by panel seams, and some of the panels on the front don't like to line up or stay together very well. Looking at the back end of the car, almost the entire thing is unbroken by transformation seams... which lets you know straight away that robot mode is going to have a massive, boxy shell on its back.

Robot Mode:
It'd be a difficult call to choose which of the Twins was ugliest in their Deluxe class plastic robot modes. Skids looks less bitty in his upper half, but his backpack doesn't compress into his back as well and each of his legs has two large car panels hanging off them looking incongruous. Mudflap's awkward door wings, the hinged wing mirrors, the rear wheels and the slivers of plastic sticking out in front of his arms present a very confusing picture, but it does help flesh him out as an alien robot-in-disguise. As with Skids, you're intended to flip the bottom of his bumper right round, but the inside face if it is not fully painted, so it looks better if it's just hinged down a little.

He looks a lot less plain than his brother as, while there are fewer different colours of plastic (vehicle mode's dark grey and metallic orage being supplemented only by more pale grey), he has more paint applications. That said, a strip of black paint down the middle of his groin and small applications of gunmetal on his forearms still don't amount to much, and paint has been applied only to the parts of his forearms that would generally be visible from the front. Similar details on the opposing faces are unpainted, lending him an unfinished look... though not nearly as unfinished as Skids. While Mudflap's upper torso is a mostly collection of vehicle panels and minimally detailed structural parts, the arms and legs - even the most slender sections - have sufficient sculpted detail to represent some of the inner workings behind the larger armour panels. Putting the Twins side by side certainly shows up the shortcomings of Skids' paint job compared to this one, but both could have used a few more spot details.

His spring-loaded weapon is a huge improvement on Skids', both in the way it integrates with his larger arm and just because it's a missile launcher rather than an underwhelming 'punch'. Balling Mudflap's left fist and pushing it down toward his wrist splits the armour on the forearm and pushes the spring-loaded launcher out into the open - literally transforming a weapon out of his forearm in a way that few other movie toys have bothered, certainly not in the Deluxe pricepoint. The launch trigger is a smaller, pale grey piece that doens't like latching onto the missile but, when it fires, it manages to launch the missile a good couple of feet. Due to the fact that you have to manually push the launcher back in - because the reveal isn't spring-loaded - there's a real sense of something missing. On the upside, this forearm ends up using three different plastic colours in itself - metallic orange for the bulk of the forearm and all of the hand, dark grey for the two moving armour panels, with black for the launcher itself (and it's four colours if you count the light grey plastic used for the trigger). Compare and contrast to the unpainted weaponised forearm on Skids, where there's a colour mismatch because the large, grey switch that activates his punching action incorporates a section of the surrounding green armour.

Like his brother, Mudflap's Mech Alive gimmick is a chest flex activated by pushing the part that displays the Chevrolet logo. All it does here, though, is twitch his head and headlights forward - there are no other connected parts, making the whole exercise seem like wasted effort, moreso than it was on Skids.

And, again, we come to one of the most hideous head sculpts Hasbro ever allowed the movies to perpetrate. Looking like Johnny Five's illegitimate inbred cousin, Mudflap is essentially a bald, toothless, goatee-sporting version of Skids, with droopy ears and wonky eyes replacing the buck teeth and swollen eye as his 'points of character'. Either one bears a passing resemblance to Yoda after one too many bevvies and a brawl outside the pub. Mudflap's facial paint job may be more extensive, or it may just look it because it's a few touches of orange paint over a grey plastic head, but the light piping is basically nonexistant. The plastic used for this is the same one used for all his windows but, being so much thicker for the back section of the head and the beady, droopy, misshapen eyes, no light can penetrate. Even with a strong light source wedged in directly behind the head, light passes around the eyes rather than through them.

Quite a lot of Skids' vehicle mode ends up hanging off his back, but Mudflap has a much larger single chunk of shell, since it wraps around his sides as well, and the arms just hinge out without the need for any part of the shell to detach in the process. The front end explodes into even more interlocking pieces than his brother's, and I feel that making the wing mirrors separate from the doors introduced unnecessary complication to the transformation process. It was already fiddly enough due to the awkward way the door panels peg into their vehicle mode positions. Similarly, the slivers of grey plastic, hinged below the headlights to swing out in front of the arms, are nothing short of hazardous, and probably rank as the most frustrating part of transformation in either direction, after getting his legs properly compressed for vehicle mode. Given the CGI robots' weird proportions, I don't get why the designers didn't just shorten the legs on both figures, rather than introduce the troublesome upper-shin transformation hinge.

What I find truly baffling with Mudflap is that there's no clear consensus on what one should do with the doors on his shoulders/back or the front wheel sections on his lower legs. The former are on ball joints that barely clear the rear shell of the car and butt up against the rear wheels, while the latter can be oriented with the curved bumper section either in front of or behind the knee, neither of which have any effect on his poseability. Equally, neither option looks particularly good, so I've tended to flip them behind his knees, just to get the grey painted section out of sight.

Thankfully, my copy of Mudflap suffers from none of the floppy joints that my Skids has, so the only real problem is that his feet don't have much of a heel spur. Without the folded up door panels Skids has on his lower legs, he has to rely completely on his feet for balance and, while they are certainly larger than Skids, there's barely enough of them sticking out to the back. Hips are ball jointed, their range limited only by the bonnet and windscreen hanging off Mudflap's backside. His knees are pinned, with about 90° range with the bumpers set behind, and a little more if they're in front, thanks to the adjacent transformation joint. The ankles are ball jointed, but there's an additional pinned joint for transformation that offers supplementary inward ankle tilt. There's no waist articulation due to the mass of transformation hinges inside the torso, from the groin up, but the hips can make up for that to a degree. Mudflap's arms have a great range of movement thanks to double-jointed elbows and bicep rotation, but the shouder joints - which should theoretically offer 360° rotation and 180° swing out to the sides and up - are hindered by those thin car panels that hinge out below the headlights. His arms are arranged the opposite way round to Skids - the smaller arm being his right, and the larger, weaponised arm being the left. While the right hand features wrist rotation, the left plays a role in deploying the weapon integrated into the forearm. Probably the most interesting aspect of this feature is that the thumb is articulated independently of the grouped fingers, when they could have got away with making it part of the forearm. The fact that it moves separately ends up making me wish they'd added a few more joints to the fingers. Other than the obstruction, the only complaint I'd have about the arms is that the elbows bend inward rather than forward, and so rely on the bicep rotation more than they should. It feels as though there should have been another way to handle the double-jointed elbows to allow for a greater range of movement at the forearm end. The head is on a ball joint, as well as the Mech Alive rocker joint, but the fact that it has greater range of movement than Skids' is purely down to the fact that Mudflap doesn't have his vehicle mode's bumper plugged in directly behind his head. Thus, his head can spin a full 360°, but its range of tilt in any direction is pretty negligible.

Honestly, having written about Skids way back in the summer of 2014 - almost five years afer buying the toy - I wasn't looking forward to writing about Mudflap. Turned out I hadn't even taken photos of him originally, hence the sparkly new shots taken with my light tent, rather than out on my coffee table with the display cabinets in the background. I remembered both Skids and Mudflap being not great toys with loose joints, fussy transformations and downright ugly robot modes, but would now say that Mudflap is by far the better of the two. I even got Skids out of the box I had been storing both Twins in, just to refresh my memory and get a better feel for the two as a pair, and the panels wrapped around his floppy legs were just as unappealing now. Mudflap, by comparison, has much tighter upper-shin transformation joints and the ankles seem to have better range, so he can be made to stand more easily than his brother - even in some extreme poses.

The wasted vehicle shell on his back is pretty ugly, and easily visible from most angles because the sides of the car end up split between his backpack shell and the door wings draped over his shoulders. The entire chest area is overcomplicated and messy though that could have been mitigated with a bit more paint for robot mode. His Mech Alive gimmick is essentially the same as Skids', but there's far less action to it as fewer parts are involved. The main issue is those slivers of vehicle side that fold out from above the front wheel arches - they feel incredibly fragile, and their whole raison d'ĂȘtre is to get in the way of the arm articulation in the name of being vaguely more accurate to the CGI.

In the end, though, Mudflap has actually been quite a lot of fun to lark about with taking new photos. Despite the disaster area that is his chest, and the trouble I had figuring out how to configure his legs for vehicle mode, he's probably one of the simpler RotF figures. While it's disappointing that he's effectively a small robot inside a large vehicle shell, and his Mech Alive feature seems largely pointless, his spring-loaded feature is more interesting than Skids'. In retrospect, given that the sculpted detail on Skids' trigger closely resembles the missle launcher on Mudflap, I'm curious as to why they didn't simply give both the same weapons... especially since Skids used a grappling hook during the Twins initial tussle with Devastator, and a spring-loaded launcher could have been fitted with a cord to keep its missile teathered to the arm.

Neither of the Twins' Deluxe class toys were particularly accurate to the CGI, but Mudflap is by far the closer of the two given the limitations of their size. Both, I think, probably suffered from being created based on early artwork, but Mudflap is the superior toy of the two in my opinion.

Probably the most unexpected result of me looking at Mudflap now, rather than six or more years ago, is that he's kind of redeemed the Twins in my eyes - at least as far as the toys go. I was thinking of getting rid of them both, but now I think I'll hang onto them... at least until Studio Series creates an improved alternative (which is, itself, a dark and terrifying thought).

Despite their scenes in Dark of the Moon being cut, the Twins were given entirely new molds for the third movie's toyline, though I didn't buy either and gather then neither were a significant improvement in any respect, just simpler to transform and more accurate to the CGI in terms of their proportions.

Hopefully now I'll get onto their Human Alliance equivalents sometime soon...

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