Summer movie action figures? Boo!
Do adults still play with toys? Back in the mid-nineties, Kenner decided to re-release its long dormant line of Star Wars action figures. Suddenly and without warning, the local Toys R Us was infiltrated with grown men climbing over shelves, beating each other up to grab a shiny, new C3PO doll. He was the short-boxed figure, and the only normal looking character of the bunch. Kenner had decided to give its once powerful toy line a He-Man makeover, and these things were pretty ridiculous. Luke had cantaloupe pecs and a six-pack. Chewbacca, portrayed on screen by the curiously thin Peter Mayhew, now looked like a Muscle Beach body builder with a slight back hair problem. And Han Solo? His upper torso resembled the Michelin Man, with a waist by way of Megan Fox. Add in his Polio feet, and the fact that he couldn't stand on his own, and you have one of the worst action figures ever massed produced. Moments after this new wave of Star Wars: The Power of the Force action figures hit shelves, we began to experience a resurgence in the summer movie toy lines first seen in the late 70s and early 80s. McFarlane emerged as a leading force on the market. And every major studio was eager to have its tentpole flick preserved in plastic. We were soon seeing life-like replicas of George Clooney (Batman Forever), Vince Vaughn (The Lost World: Jurassic Park), and Matt LeBlanc (Lost In Space) at the local Wal*Mart. As we neared the 00s, these movie toys became more and more detailed. They were true little pieces of art. Kenner continued to rule the shelves with its highly articulated Clone Wars toys. And everyone else brought up their quality and game in the wake of George Lucas' new trilogy.
Now that Sith mania has died into a non-existent mumble, it seems most toy manufactures have given up on the cause. Recent years have seen a slide in product quality, and 2009 seems to be one of the worst for summer tie-ins. Looking at the action figures that currently dominate our toy shelves, there is an obvious lack of artistry to them. They are all clunky, and ugly. They hearken back to the toys we first saw in the early nineties. Gone are the gloriously detailed bodies and faces. Kids are back to playing with unrecognizable molds, and the adults are all back in the hunting isle. Where they belong. It's a little sad, and maybe we can blame the economy. Or, maybe we should blame the lousy toy manufactures whose hearts just don't seem to be in it. Mowing the lawn for five dollars, and then running down to the now-defunct Save-On on a waft of summer air to buy a landspeeder was a milestone in my lax childhood. That quaint idea has melted into a scream of box office numbers and peer-pressure cinema. Still, I enjoy strolling down the kiddy isle when I'm at Target. It takes me back to a special place in time. Its momentary escapism.
It's just too bad that this summer's toys suck. So much. They truly do. The two best summer tie-ins thus far have to be the actual made-of glass Star Trek beer mugs from Burger King and the X-Men Origins: Wolverine electronic battle claws. The cups aren't as cool as the last run seen back in 1983, when Return Of The Jedi was released. I dig the pre-school paintings that used to adorn the summer movie tie-in drink cups of old. These new ones are wrapped with an actual photograph, which takes some of the fun out of it. Still, they're pretty dang cool. And easy to break. Just like back in the day. The Wolverine glove is a riff on the hugely popular Hulk Smash fist from a couple years back. If nothing else, it sure is amusing to slip these plastic weapons on your fingers and run around the back yard in a berserker rage. The action figures for both films, though? Lame.
I stumbled upon the Trek toys last Wednesday. My immediate thought was, "Why are all these little dudes wearing lipstick?" Their tiny mouths have been painted in hot pink, and it's slightly disturbing. As if each member of the Starship Enterprise has recently come back from a drag pageant. They sort of (kind of) look like their fleshy counterparts, with Zoe Saldana's Uhura being the most recognizable. Simon Pegg looks like a melting zombie, and Anton Yelchin seems to be recovering from a car crash or a laser to the face. Even old Spock looks beside himself, and this is a toy that has been done a trillion times or more in the past. Why not just stick with the old mold? The playsets are pretty impressive. For under thirty dollars, you can get either the Enterprise Bridge or the Transporter Room. It's too bad they don't connect to each other. The packaging is disappointing. It doesn't seem to have been updated since the last time a line of Star Trek dolls ran their way through the halls of a department store. Overall, this shit isn't worth the money.
The X-Men Origins: Wolverine figures aren't much better. They are tiny and frail. I suspect they are easy to break, as I shook one package and Logan's limbs fell off. They look nothing like the actors portraying them on screen. At all. Not even Hugh Jackman. Again, these are toys that have been made numerous times in the past. I get that they want to update the imagery for kids who might have grown bored with the same old X-Men toys, but Hasbro hasn't utilized much effort in making these things esthetically pleasing. Deadpool looks like a first generation prototype. Like it hasn't gotten past the just-painted clay stage of its birth. Wolverine's bone claws have a weird webbing between them, and it seems strange that he'd need to carry an ax when they are extended. In a strange move, half the figures being offered in this line weren't even in the movie. And the packaging makes Logan look like a gay hillbilly that just jumped off a pride parade float.
The absolute worst toy line this summer has to be for Terminator Salvation. These thick, dull globs of plastic are as stripped down as any toy I have ever seen. Looking at them puts me into a coma. Worst of all, Christian Bale didn't want his likeness used, so both John Conner figures have their faces completely obscured. One is wearing thick goggles and a helmet. The other has his face covered with a hanky. It's hilarious. Marcus could be any generic army man. He certainly doesn't resemble Sam Worthington. And all of the Endo-Skeletons look like the same exact T-800's we saw back in 1992. In toy form, they haven't changed a bit. Picking up one of the Marcus dolls in Target, his left eye had been painted on crooked. He looked like a Mongoloid, or maybe Sloth's younger cousin. Then there's the T-600. This is the ugliest little plastic man I have ever seen. Wow, what a piece of dog shit. I can't imagine these are going to be big sellers, no matter how well the film does at the box office. I would bury this guy in the playground sandbox. And never dig him up.
Rise of the Cobra Figure
Most disappointing of all are the new Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra action figure lines. These films are based on long standing toy properties. You'd think the figures would be new and improved. Hopefully they'd be somewhat cool looking. Nope. The movie tie-ins all look like cheap Mexican bootleg knock-offs. The paint and sculpt jobs are atrocious. And poor little Shia LaBeouf? His plastic likeness is a piss-poor rendering without any of the charm. How did this happen? I get that the G.I. Joe figures had to look somewhat like their thespian doppelgangers. And that they had to wear their new film-ready uniforms. Which takes away from their original molded incarnations. But damn, was there any effort put into making these things look presentable? Then we have the Transformers robots. They are robots! How hard is that to screw up? These things look more like Transmorphers than Transformers. And it's a crying shame. There is not one decent action figure coming out in conjunction with this summer's cinematic offerings. At all. Even the Robert Langdon doll has the wrong hairstyle.
Hopefully, Hasbro and Playmates Toys can get their act together in the very near future. Kids like playing with action figures. But these kids today have grown more sophisticated. They need something that looks current. Of this time period. Not something that looks like it was teleported here from 1994. Take a look around the action figure isle. It is no longer dominated by short-boxed hungry males in their mid-thirties. There aren't any ten year olds standing around either. Most disposable income pocket pools have dried up, and the youth of today are more concerned with keeping food on the table then playing with a plastic Sam Worthington that looks like a shit weasel. Someday, summer movie toys and tie-ins will be awesome again. Right now just isn't that time.
Eat food! Kill grandma! Play with Christian Bale! Whoop-doo!