Toy review: The new Transformers

Transf_lA few months ago, I was at a party hosted by a hipster friend who also happens to be the sort of twentysomething guy who impulse-buys a shiny new Transformer toy and proudly places it on his shelves  — and I made the mistake of picking one up. Three hours later, I’d worked my way through his entire collection, transforming each into its vehicle and back again.

More to the point, when I came up for air, I realized I’d been joined by most every other twentysomething dude in attendance that night. As I looked around me at this group of ostensibly grown men fixated with giddy concentration on complex contraptions of interlocking plastic, I realized two immediate truths: One, Michael Bay’s impending Transformers movie was just about certain to make a gargantuan amount of money. And two, I needed to call toymaker Hasbro to get my hands on the new Transformers as soon as they were available. I mean, to review them. Professionally. For other people to read.

With my first insight apparently bearing considerable fruit, it seemed well past time to give you the 411 on some of those new toys. So, after the jump, I unabashedly dive into the new designs Hasbro’s cooked up for Blackout (the nasty military helicopter Decepticon that opens the movie), Bumblebee (the Chevy Camaro Autobot and BFF of Shia LaBeouf’s character), Megatron (the chief Decepticon baddie) and Optimus Prime (the cover subject of this week’s EW and the real hero of Transformers).

addCredit(“Transformer Toys: Eric Diaz”)

Blackout_lBLACKOUT (Movie Voyager Version, $19.99)
THE VEHICLE: A Marine "Pave Low"Helicopter, and a pretty bitchin’ one at that, for one good reason: Abutton on the tail lets you manually spin the chopper blades, so youcan "fly" Blackout all through your office basement.Awesome. A bonus: A basket in the tail drops a mini Scorponok — thenasty scorpion-looking Decepticon that gives Josh Duhamel so much guffin the desert — into the fray… on your kitchen table.
THE TRANSFORMATION: The chr-chr-CHOR-chr-CHR! factor (youknow, the noise all Transformers make while transforming) isn’t allthat thrilling for Blackout — his arms have to do a weird windmillthing to get set up, and those chopper blades get in the way (and oftenfall off) even when they’re folded back.
THE ROBOT: Eh. The package says Blackout’s the largest of theDecepticons, but as the previous photo demonstrated, not so much in thetoy world. You can also detach his chopper blades, mount them on oneshoulder and create… the most ungainly weapon ever.
GRADE: B-

Bumblebee_lBUMBLEBEE (Movie Deluxe Version, $9.99)
THE VEHICLE: Here’s the thing. I take Bumblebee out of hispackage, admire the somewhat subtle distressing on the "old fashioned"Camaro’s, er, "paint job," and then promptly transform him into therobot version (more on that in a sec). But when I go to fold ‘n’ bendhim back into the car, I can’t seem to get the front part to lock inplace. No matter what I try, it just wants to remain pulled down.Somehow, right out of the box, I broke Bumblebee. I’ll give Hasbro thebenefit of the doubt, though, and blame my overeager fingers forbusting the mysterious cheap plastic nub that apparently holdseverything together.
THE TRANSFORMATION: By far the easiest of this bunch to figureout, and yet I still had to marvel at the unexpected way the back endunfolded to become Bumblebee’s feet.
THE ROBOT: Perhaps because Hasbro kept things so simple withthis toy, he ends up the one who most resembles ILM’s giga-pixeledversion in Bay’s movie. Plus, he comes with two spring loaded guns thatpack a slightly unnerving wallop for something so small.
GRADE: B

Megatron_lMEGATRON (Movie Leader Version, $39.99)
THE VEHICLE: Part of this isn’t Hasbro’s fault. In an effort toinject at least some logic into the Transformers world, the filmmakersdecided Megatron would not become a tiny pistol for someone else tohold as he did in the original cartoon series — something about howthat is defying the laws of physics or some such scientifichoobedegoo. And since the film’s plot prevented the top-dog Decepticonfrom ever interfacing with Earth’s technology, Megatron now transformsinto what I can only assume is a fighter jet on his home planet ofCybertron. All that said, this massive hunk of cluttered, pointy grayplastic is pretty darn fugly — a great example of when "more" does notequal "better."
THE TRANSFORMATION: Going from vehicle to robot is surprisinglyswift, especially considering that when I first set forth to turn himfrom robot (as he came out of the box) into vehicle, it took me, nokidding, the better part of an hour to do so. Hasbro’s gotMegatron contorting into positions a master yoga instructor would shyaway from, and the aforementioned payoff is not really worth all theheadache.
THE ROBOT: Still way too much going on here, and he barelyresembles his cinematic rendering, but at least it’s more interactive:Meggy’s right arm becomes a chain-whip, his left some sort of fusioncanon, and a button on his chest spreads clear plastic wings in hisback while unleashing a rather nasty, hawk-like scream. Seems aboutright for the baddest ‘bot in all the galaxy. Besides, you certainly doget a lot of toy for your money.
GRADE: C+

Optimusprime_lOPTIMUS PRIME (Movie Leader Version, $39.99)
THE VEHICLE: Ahhh, that’s more like it. In stark contrast to Megatron’s gaudy Cybertronian airplane, Prime becomes a sizable andsolid semi-truck cab that looks quite a bit like its filmiccounterpart. Real rubber wheels, a button for an electronic truck hornthat also lights up the cab, a smokin’ red-and-blue flame paint job—nowthis is some vehicle!
THE TRANSFORMATION: There’s no getting around it: Optimus is onecomplex dude to transform. His rear wheels have to be pulled and foldedand attached to the legs, but not before the legs are moved back andforth and back again while his hands are pulled out from inside his armand his head popped up from inside the cab. It is lengthy and seemshard to master, but it’s really not that bad. Besides, the wayeverything just fits is some kind of crazy ingenious — like a kick-ass Rubik’s Cube with guns, wheels, and a much better name.
THE ROBOT: Like most of the toys, he’s not quite like the movieversion — for one thing, there’s no lips on this Optimus Prime. But hestands tall and strong, with a quick-shootin’ gun at the ready and acoolness factor that’s off the scale. Am I totally geeking out here?You bet I am. It’s frakkin’ Optimus Prime, and as far as I’m concerned,Hasbro got this one near perfect. Work time’s over. Let’s play!
GRADE: A-

Comments (26 total) Add your comment
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  • Ceballos

    I don’t know why, but I like actually seeing the Popwatch/EW writers every once in a while…not all the time, just occasionally. I read your stuff like every day, so it’s kinda cool.
    Also, that Optimus Prime looks badass.

  • Jeff

    The original ones from the 80s are soooo much better. The robot versions actually look like robots, and you can usually figure out how to transform them without instructions. I’m guessing the original toy makers from the 80s had no input on the new versions. Sad.
    I have about 200 of the original Transformers and they’re sitting in boxes 800 miles away. I miss them now more than ever.

  • Nick

    Hmmm…EW has another cute writer, and he’s a Transformer’s geek. I want to work at EW!

  • Stephanie Travitsky

    The original ones were a lot smaller and were made of diecast metal. However because of our PC way of life, the toys are probably not made of metal. I recently gave a second edition Red Alert to my boyfriend. He was like wow! His mom threw out his whole collection when he was in college.

  • Stacey

    I might have to check these out since I never got to play with them when I was a kid because my older brother wouldn’t let me touch his Transformers (except for Bumblebee.) I actually almost dumped my popcorn on his head on Tuesday night when we were at the movie because he expressed surprise that I was there since I never played with them. When I reminded him of his rule, he gave me this sheepish grin and said “Oh, yeah, sorry about that.” Stupid older brothers. Movie was great though.

  • No Brand Woman

    The original toys are the best, of course. I grew up a little more on my brother’s Beast Wars collection than the originals, though. Some of those were butt ugly, but they were so much fun to transform. Makes me jealous that girl toys aren’t nearly as much fun. “Ooh, should I brush the pony’s hair or the Barbie’s hair today?” *sigh* So unfair…
    Optimus Prime was the whole reason to even sit through that movie! It wasted so much time with the human characters. It felt like it took a long time for Prime to get there, but when he did (and you heard Peter Cullen’s voice), the movie almost felt worth it.

  • Jeff Holland

    My friend bought his 8-year-old daughter a few of the new toys for her birthday. You’ve never seen two grown men more frustrated at little plastic robots. At least Bumblebee was easy – some of these other guys…yow. Thank god I still have my old Optimus. Easy as pie.

  • skb9131

    Adam, your friends sound like they know what they are doing.

  • LisaMama

    Thanks for the reviews. The Star Wars/Transformers toys have similar “transforming” problems. My husband and dad took an hour to figure out the Han Solo/Chewie Falcon. Once they got it, it is a really cool toy!

  • Vicky

    Gimme your job! Gimme gimme!!

  • Jesse

    Wow, Adam is really really cute! Just saying… :-)

  • Nose

    Jesse: came in here to say the same thing :-)

  • Steffen

    Adam, Hasbro should “replace” the faulty Bumblebee with the entire movie toy collection and send them to your “hipster friend” so that he can properly inspect them. Just a thought. Just throwing that out there.

  • alec

    HOT toys.

  • Kara

    What genius thought that Megatron should be a piddley little gun that someone else needs to hold and fire? “I am the leader of the Deceptacons, hold on, I’m transforming. Don’t forget to pick me and fire me and take me with you when you run away.” I was always waiting for Starscream to “accidentally” drop Megatron on the ground and step on him and run away. I guess he was even too weak to stand up to a gun…laying on the ground….

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