If you've been visiting the Playground for quite sometime, chances are, you already know that I'm a huge Avengers fan since I was a child. This year's live-action movie left a lot of toy-collecting opportunities on its wake and simply put, it further pushed my obsession with the team (and with toys) to new dimensions. Unfortunately, most of the figures from the film's 3.75" line of action figures suck and for a guy who's passionately into the 1:18 scale, I really am offended by Hasbro's bonehead decision to cut extremely back on articulation to lower their production costs. Still, I'm a fan and I constantly have to do what fans do best which is to patronize beyond reason or logic. So, here I am, with four new action figures in tow. Come on, let's do this!
Okay, let's start this thing off by getting the worst figure among the four out of the way first. Note that I didn't even bother to buy the Gamma Smash Hulk figure because, let's face it, that thing is an absolute waste of resources. So, with the green monster gone, Shock Strike Thor takes the cake for being the fugliest among this bunch. If you're wondering what actually went wrong with (and for) this fig, well, the answering is a thundering "A LOT!" The new head sculpt looks just fine but the neck it is attached to simply reminds me of a tree trunk: it's thick, it's long, and it doesn't have shape. In fact, that's something that can be said about the figure as a whole. Yes, it has the size and bulk which all of the Thor figures from the Thor: The Mighty Avenger toy line lack but that's really all this figure pretty much has: size, bulk, and nothing else. The overall sculpting looks uninspired and that problem is only compounded by the omitted joints (most evident on the figure's torso and lower legs) and minimal paint apps (there is no dark wash on the chainmail, metallic paint apps are limited to the silver parts of the costume).
Shock Strike Thor comes with the God of Thunder's requisite accessory, Mjolnir, and a stupid pencil launcher disguised as a launching hammer covered by a blue energy form. Basically, it's just a hammer (covered in a blue lump of plastic) that can be fired a short amount of distance, packed in to entertain kids. So, yeah, leave this figure out for the kids to get. If you want a Marvel Cinematic Universe Thor for your collection, this figure is not the one to get.
Moving on, we have Shield Launcher Captain America, a figure that's not as bad as the Thor figure is, but one with major issues nonetheless. To be frank, I think the problem with this figure is that it looks and feels too much like a toy. Yes, technically all of these action figures are nothing but toys but we all know how lifelike action figures can be. All these years, the entire industry has been working its collective butt off to make action figures look and function better and then here comes Hasbro, deciding to take three huge steps in the opposite direction. I can look past the inaccurately exposed ears but that's all I can handle. I don't like the minimal amount of sculpted details, the deviation from the character's supposed built, the cheap-looking paint apps, and the reduced articulation.
Shield Launcher Captain America comes with the signature movie-verse shield, a pistol, and a shield launcher that fires a separate shield-like disc. Ironically, despite Hasbro's cost-cutting measures, these stupid launchers only seem to get larger and larger inexplicably. All things considered, this figure isn't terribly bad, it just fails to meet my standards. The thing is, the standards that I have are based largely on Hasbro's amazing offerings prior to their cost-reduction program. Simply put, times have changed and we're looking at a completely different company today.
Next in line is Marvel's Hawkeye. Umm, can we just call it Hawkeye? Okay, good! This figure is a mixed bag. Aesthetically, this bad boy is a sight to behold, but the truth is, it has its share of flaws. Everytime I look at it, I can't help but be amazed at this figure's sculpt. It won't measure up to the highly detailed sculpts from two years ago but despite the obvious watered-down sculpting work put in here (and in today's Hasbro toys, in general), the designers still managed to somehow make this figure look decent. Jeremy Renner's likeness is captured almost perfectly and the figure's vest is a real thing of beauty. Strangely, Hawkeye's right leg is significantly shorter than the left one but that can be concealed by spreading the figure's feet wide apart. The paint apps, though minimal, complement the sculpt and that's what really matters. Unfortunately, the reduced articulation affects this Clint Barton fig in a big way. The mid-torso, wrist, and ankle joints are sorely missed here and these swivel-hinge knees are rapidly becoming a nuisance. The knees can't bend a full 90 degrees, preventing the figure from executing proper kneeling poses.
Accessories-wise, Hawkeye doesn't come with a lot. The fig's got a bow, a quiver that's glued to the back, the usual projectile-firing monstrosity in the form of another bow, plus three giant "arrows." Yup, it doesn't even come with one regular-sized arrow for the normal bow yet it has three giant arrows for the effin' giant launcher. Thanks! Overall, this is a good buy. It could have been a lot better, but at least it's nowhere near crappy. Local stocks are a bit hard to come by but a few pieces are still available on eBay.
Finally, we've come to the good stuff! In fact, calling this Grapple Blast Black Widow figure good may be a huge understatement. This mean girl is arguably the best figure from the entire line and that's not an exaggeration. The sculpt is as good as it gets, from the head to the tips of the boots. The face looks gorgeous (as should be the case) and the body proportions are excellent. One look at the buttocks and it's clear, this is ScarJo in 1:18 scale. More importantly, this figure is barely affected by Hasbro's dim-witted effort to cut back on articulation. The fig has swivel wrists, mid-thigh swivels, double-jointed knees, and rocker ankles (similar to those utilized by the G.I. Joe: Renegades Scarlett fig). The fig doesn't have a waist or torso joint and the knees are made of soft (almost rubber-like) plastic but I'm no longer complaining, I'm completely happy with this barbie.
Black Widow comes with two very soft pistols, two removable bracers, a non-readily removable belt with working holsters on the sides, and a grapple launcher that's just a recycled accessory first seen on Harpoon Blade Fandral. The holsters hang from the belt, though in the movie, they were attached to the belt but also strapped on the thighs. It's just a minor nitpick and it's quite easy to ignore. Grapple Blast Black Widow is a very solid offering. It should have been the line's rule, not it's exception, but that's unfortunately not the case. Like Hawkeye, local stocks are quite limited. If you really want one, be prepared to deal with those morally-challenged scalpers and hoarders. They're always the first ones to get the good toys, simply because they have nothing good to do with their lives.
It's not too far-fetched to say that Marvel's The Avengers can possibly be the best superhero movie of all time. I was able to watch the film in cinemas four times, yet here I am, awaiting its DVD release just to relive the action again. It's such a travesty that we're only able to get a bunch of so-so figures to celebrate the movie's release. Both the film and the fans deserve to get something better.