Thursday, 28 January 2016

Radical Regenerations: Age Of Extinction Hound

Amongst my readership, I'd be interested to know what the overall opinion of the Michael Bay films is. There's a tendency for them to be vilified by the fanbase, and almost any film critic you care to name, but they keep making pots of money. Pots, and pots, of money. I mean, Age of Extinction made more money than Guardians of the Galaxy, and the giant metal dinosaurs of the former only goes so far to justify that. Its the sort of thing that makes snobs out of otherwise fair people, as even within the stereotypically low standards of Hollywood blockbuster summer fare, the transformers films aren't very good. I'm fearful of the day the wider public figures that out, for now, they seem to be a consistent money spinner for Hasbro and Paramount, whom have no reason to change. And Bay is back for Transformers 5, yay.

Right, I think that's my bias covered, on with the review.

Image Copright: Paramount Pictures. sourced from the wiki

The Context
While the Dinobots were the obvious draw for Age of Extinction (AOE), something which I will give the production staff credit for trying to vary the Autobot cast a bit. Given the preceding movie line was a sea of cars that we'd seen at least twice before, this was welcome. Yes, I will not go so far as to call them “good characters”, what the film did is a can of worms when you get into it, but some of them could justify a two sentence bio. Hound is one of those characters, and probably the most memorable as he was voiced by John Goodman, whom gave a good account of himself, given what he had to work with(1). Hound was of course a version of the G1 character who had been around since episode one, but given certain design elements, its easy to think they were aiming for Animated Bulkhead instead. More obviously though, like his teammates, he was channelling a warrior stereotype, a WW2 vintage soldier, and this probably made him more relatable than most bayformers. Not necessarily a nice or likable person, but by the standards of bayformers he was at least distinctive amongst all the flying metal.

Unfortunately for collectors like myself, AOE was part of a new strategy by Hasbro, which is still evident in today's Robot in Disguise toys. While most dedicated Transformers fans were obsessing over the Thrilling Thirty releases, AOE toys would become something more akin to superhero film merchandise. You know, definitely recognisable as the character, but simple, gimmicky, sometimes not transforming, and not something that compared well to The Dark Of The Moon (DOTM) toys. It was like they were relying on the movie to sell the toys, rather than selling a good transformer. This was partially due to the reduced toy budgets and increased oil costs the brand had struggled with, and what many would consider to be the “proper” transformers ended up under the Generations banner. Which, of course, proved to be a major pain in the bum to acquire in the UK, retail releases being limited and incomplete. I didn't see a voyager Hound in person until January 3rd of this year, when I immediately brought it because it was discounted. And so, this review.

Robot Mode
Big, green and over-armed, Hound evokes comparisons to both American soldiers and gun enthusiasts. The most interesting and uniquely AOE aspects to the appearance of the toy are the rubber bits, the distinctive beard and ammo belts. There have been bearded cybertronians before, the most famous being the Unicron-affiliated Scourge, but this looks more like hair, as opposed to a beard shaped bit of metal. It makes him look older, but not ancient while the ammo belts make his army connections a bit obvious. His head is clearly wearing a WW2 vintage helmet. The general impression is of an old soldier whom enjoyed his job, or maybe someone whom was in the reserves, rather than active service, and wants to make up for lost time with a metric ton of bullets. This is of course pretty far from G1 Hound, or indeed Bulkhead. G1 Hound was Bumblebee before Bumblebee, and Bulkhead was a gentle giant. I suppose you could make the case the Prime Bulkhead was a gruff ex-Wrecker, but not so much as this. While visually I say its okay/nice for a bayformer, such designs being busy and often very inhuman, we've got a few problems here. The likeness to the film just isn't that good, the colour scheme being much more green for example. While by no means skinny, Hound lacks the gut of his film depiction, a design element that tied him to Bulkhead, and shifts him a bit more G1. This looks like Hound after the diet and work-out regime Mr Incredible planned for him, he's never gonna be lean, but he's back in shape. Not a bad thing, as such, and Hound certainly isn't the only toy to have significant variations, but could be a lot better. This most likely arises from the engineering, which is functional, but the toy is a blatant shellformer(2) with faux kibble feet. The arms have big and unsightly panels on them, with the forearms having an odd curve to facilitate vehicle mode. Also as a sign of his time, there's a fair few hollow bits, including on his main feature, which I will now address.

Hound offers something very Micheal Bay, but I refuse to apologise for enjoying, all the guns. Sorry folks, I rip those films to bits for any number of reasons, but I have a great deal of time for a robot loaded with weapons. He has a total of eight weapons, with a minor combination feature. Hound should really be a member of the Wreckers, and no, not the trio of Stockcars, I mean the proper team of Autobot asskickers. This was something of a theme back in 2014, as we also got Whirl and Roadbuster that year, two other militaristic Autobots with extensive and modular accessories. Hound's accessories are similar, but distinct. He starts out with a triple gatling gun, which by itself would be enough to fill my dakka-dakka requirements, but it goes further. Slightly more restrained are a pair of four-barrelled shotguns, with folding handles. Then we have a pair pistols. Then a pair of smaller, hold-out, pistols. Then a knife painted silver. These can joined together via a a combination of specialised tabs and 3mm ports, giving us some quite ridiculous guns, more importantly, they all stow. At once. In multiple places(3). With some left over, so he take even more guns. Hound keeps his options open, although its not without flaws, arising from the toy's slightly sub-par build quality. The shotguns for example won't stay on, the main weapon actually affects the toy's balance if stowed on the back, and the larger pistols are hollow on one side. Play value is through the roof though, and articulation is on the good side of competent. Its entirely universal joints, and limited by the rubber at the wrist, but there's 24 points there, including a waist. The claim of being a “fat ballerina” is an exaggeration, although not a vast one.

Vehicle Mode
Transforming the toy essentially turns the robot inside out, into an Oshkosh Defense FMTV truck, a six wheeled, military cargo hauler. Its this that suggests Animated Bulkhead rather than G1 Hound as a primary inspiration, as he had a six wheeled military altmode too. If you'd wanted to bayformer up G1 hound, he would have been based off a Humvee(4). As it stands this vehicle is not that well-known, but is credible in green. It also confirms to the convention common to all film Autobots, bar the dinos, in that he's licensed car the end of the day. In so far as I can work out, the vehicle isn't intended for frontline combat, there's no weapons, and its main function is to cart stuff about. At least until the guns come into it, anyway, but I do like the look. The cab ends up clearly separated from the cargo, with a spare wheel in-between, and its general blocky shape. Its not perfect though, as with the robot mode, there's some visual problems, and depending on your preference, these may be worse. The robot mode legs for example are easily picked out, and there's some noteworthy seams. Generally speaking, shellformers have more convincing shells. There's a also a mis-allocation of materials in the cab. He does have transparent windows, a luxury it seems these days, but they only reveal a load bearing strut of grey plastic, so they probably shouldn't have bothered. While interesting from an aesthetic perspective, that's why I'm doing this as a “Radical Regeneration”, the engineering ain't too good here. Ground clearance is  also poor, while the lack of paint does tell here.

Fortunately, play features and little design do come along and redeem things a bit. You know those 8 assorted weapons? They all stow, and there's an additional 5mm port on top should you wish to use one on the move. How they stow varies. The tiny pistols remain in the calves, while his main gun unfolds in attempt to replicate some detail form the prop vehicle, with the knife on the underside. The shotguns and larger pistols just mount on the sides. Its not a brilliant mode, but its okay.

Hound the toy is as unrefined as Hound the movie star, and in several not good ways. The most obvious one is the engineering, because, as shellformers go, he's not a good one. His modes aren't really separate, with ugliness in both as a result. This also leads to his questionable resemblance to the film. I suppose its possible that this toy was based on an earlier design that changed during production, its been known to happen. But then again, AOE toys in general tended to be simplified and bright versus the film depictions, with even Generations releases following that lead, especially in comparison to DOTM toys. I'd be more inclined to suspect a reduced budget and maybe a lack of care, than anything else. This does however raise an interesting question. Given how horrid/shallow bayformer characters can be, does it actually matter if the toys resemble them closely? Maybe not, but Hound was perhaps the only Autobot I remotely liked in that film, and something a bit closer would have been nice. If I'd splashed out and played scalper prices, I'd be feeling a bit disappointed, so I'm glad I found this for 15 quid. The toy is however made worthwhile by accessories, and solid articulation. I continue to make no apologies for liking a toy with more guns than sense, it makes an otherwise mediocre transformer a lot of fun, and so there's so many display options. Hound was worth getting in hand after such a long wait, but he isn't all he could have been.

Foot notes
  1. Although I do remember a report of him only recording his lines a month before release, so he maybe wasn't that closely involved with the project.
  2. Although out of basic fairness, the Galvatron of the same wave is a much bigger offender.
  3. There's also one on his backside which is either loose, or intended for a figure stand.
  4. Probably the same for Prime Bulkhead, too.

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