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Transformers ROTF
by Artemis

At the risk of spoiling this review, Arcee here is an interesting idea done wrong - in that, at least, she's right at home in Revenge of the Fallen.

Arcee jumped at the chance to join up with Ironhide and the other Decepticon hunters on Earth. She proved such an effective warrior that she was quickly given command of her own strike team, made up of robots similar to her in attitude and design. Together with the Autobots she leads, she stalks the Decepticons in silence, creeping close enough to look them in the optics before she strikes.

Yeah, it would've been nice had we seen any of that - instead, Arcee and her fellow fembots just popped up at random for plotless video-game-esque fight scenes, like 98% of everything else in the movie that should've been outright awesome. At least, they're fellow fembots according to Hasbro - word from the filmmakers was that the three were actually a single consciousness inhabiting three bodies (and, at once stage, would've had the ability to merge into a single robot, as well as their individual half-humanoid forms). That would've been interesting to see too - but, again, they needed that screen time to let Skids and Mudflap be "funny." I don't get it - they must have known Arcee was a fan favourite. I'm not saying the movie had to follow my own preferred role for the character (something along the lines of the triplets asking Mikaela to teach them more about this human thing called "lesbianism"), but c'mon, couldn't the writers have given Arcee something significant to do?

Sigh. Anyway, at least there's a new toy - thankfully it seems that, male-dominated as the Transformers universe is, we're at least beyond the days when the token female wouldn't even rate a toy of her own (after all, there were two different fembot molds in the first movie line, and none even showed up in the film itself). Revenge of the Fallen Arcee is a Deluxe-class Transformer - not notably big, not tiny, just a regular run-of-the-mill transforming robot size, although since the character is physically smaller, the toy's way out of scale with the various cars and whatnot making up the rest of the line. Working from her altmode's 5¼" length against a real Buell Firebolt she's about 1:12.5 scale - in theory that makes her near-enough for a 6" figure to ride, but judging by eye I find that makes her look a touch small; maybe it's the toy's bulkier chassis (to contain the robot bits) making the normally trim, light Buell look like it should be a larger bike than it really is. I've got Panda (of Body Bags) riding Arcee, and since she's tiny within her scale (bust and hairdo excepted) that looks about right.

Since Arcee comes packaged in her altmode, let's start there. The radically different robot mode RotF Arcee sports compared to her conceptual counterpart from the first movie has mandated an entirely new toy, but the altmode still sticks close to model - I vaguely recall there being Transformer twins back in my childhood days whose gimmick was that the pair of identical robots transformed into entirely different vehicles, so this is kind of like the reverse of those. The bike's chassis is either flat black or hot pink, verging on red - it's a much brighter, more plasticky colour than the earlier Arcee's glossy purple, but people paint motorbikes some pretty tasteless shades, so it doesn't make the toy look bad as such. For detail, Arcee sports clear headlights, a glossy black windshield, an Autobot logo on her luggage compartment, and a couple of spots of glittery metallic accents to the base colour, along with black "tattoos" on her flanks. Both wheels turn freely, and there's a kickstand on the left side; the only real flaw with the bike is that, as a result of the folded up robot inside being asymmetrically stowed, the lower edges of the front cowling never quite manage to be at exactly the same angle to the centerline, but that's only noticeable if you look at the bike from dead-on in front.

There is one other flaw, but it's not in the bike itself - rather, it's a stand necessary to help Arcee remain upright in robot mode, since she's theoretically meant to balance on a single merged wheel. In altmode the stand masquerades as a sidecar fitted with twin heavy machine guns, but it's a poor effort - even if the footwell weren't closed off it's obvious that no figure large enough to be anywhere near the bike in scale could fit inside, and with no wheel and only a single hot pink paint app on the nose to liven it up, the sidecar fails to impress in any way, and I imagine anyone displaying Arcee in bike mode will be ignoring it, unless they avail themselves of the option (mentioned but un-illustrated on the packaging) of attaching it upright to the right side of the bike. There it looks better from the front, but the hollow "seat" throws off the look of a gun pod - my advice is just to ditch it.

Transformation is an interesting experience, and if I can't say I found it enjoyable, I do have to extend the designers an olive branch by admitting that the filmmakers put them up against the wall in redesigning Arcee to begin with. As we probably all know by now, instead of your standard humanoid, largely symmetrical Transformer, RotF Arcee is distinctly lop-sided from the waist up, and has an articulated single limb ending in wheels from the waist down. Besides being an interesting engineering challenge, that puts Arcee pretty much beyond the experience of Transformers design - the previous movie Arcee benefited greatly from being able to adopt and refine an earlier toy, but this time they had to start from scratch.

The result is a weird, quite inventive, but ultimately unintuitive and awkward transformation sequence, not helped by the instructions falling a bit short of properly illustrating the finer points of the process. There's none of the impressive elegance of (from my experience) the first Leader-class Optimus Prime, or Deluxe-class Bumblebee - here transformation is a tricky chore that's not much fun even when you have the knack of it, regardless of how impressive it is to step back and realize how effectively the design reconfigures the bike into the robot. To give you some idea, the fuel tank is the chest and the head is hidden beneath the cowling - fairly standard - but the luggage compartment is the left arm while the lower left side chassis is the right, and the "leg" is spread through the whole lower interior of the bike from front to back.

Naturally in robot mode Arcee is much smaller than the scale of her bike - there's no way for a toy to unfold the way a CGI model can, even without throwing in the bizarre requirements of this particular transformation. She looks ungainly and weird, but so does her on-screen model - the difference isn't so much her shape as her colours, with the toy omitting almost all of the silver and hot pink between the sternum and "ankle", making the leg limb look bland and murky in its details. But in physical form she's got many of the proper hallmarks of the CGI design - the solid chest (slightly different shape, but still workable), the right arm cannon, the heavy left shoulder armour composed of the bike's nose, the spines extending from the back, and the way the leg limb places Arcee's torso off to her right, rather than directly above her wheels. The one glaring physical inaccuracy is the considerable chassis remnant covering the left forearm; that much, given the transformation, is forgivable.

None of the movie "shardformers" have especially pretty faces, and sadly Arcee isn't the exception to the rule - in toy form she fares worse, with only indifferent silver paint apps over the hot pink base plastic doing nothing to flatter her, or play up what there is of a female human face in her CGI visage. Her eyes are light-piped, but given the small size of the head you have to get a light shining right in behind her to make them look anything but glossy black. The head is mounted on a balljoint, itself mounted on a forward-backward tilting neck - this tilt activates the toy's "Mech-Alive" feature (successor to the contentious "Automorph" of the previous movie's toyline). In this case, the "feature" is that her chest contains two gears, which rotate when the neck is moved - it's pretty basic, and with both gears being flat black, it's difficult to even see them at work. Still, it gives us an excuse to take a photo staring down Arcee's cleavage, even if it is a pretty weird cleavage at that.

Articulation is as eccentric as you'd imagine - besides the aforementioned head and neck joints, she has ball shoulders and elbows (some prone to pop off during transformation if you twist the wrong way, which you invariably will due to the instructions being obtuse; luckily they don't take any damage and are easy to reattach), plus a weird assortment of swivels in her left shoulder, designed to break up the bike's nose but available for posing as well. From the waist down she's got an ungainly assortment of hinges and swivels, which I really don't want to go into - suffice it to say that the result doesn't have anything like the fluidity of the CGI model, and is without a doubt the most irritating aspect of the toy so far as play value goes. The wheels remain free-wheeling, so she needs the sidecar to stand; there's a particular position where she'll click into place, and once you find it she's quite stable, all considered.

Besides the ability to make people say "What on Earth is that?!?", Arcee has one additional feature in robot mode: a transparent blue blade can pop out of the cannon unit on her right arm. It's not big or fancy, but it does lend a kind of clandestine slit-your-throat-from-behind look to her, so it's not wasted effort, and considering how psychotic Prime was getting in the movie, it's probably a good idea for the other Autobots to be as armed as possible, in case he finally loses it completely and starts trying to dismember and eat every robot he sees.

So that's Arcee - like I said, good (if weird) idea, but not really done very well. As a bike she's adequate but unexceptional (minus the sidecar, which is junk), and as a robot she's low on playability and lacks the sexy curves to get the robo-fetishists going (*cough*). I feel a bit sorry for Hasbro, though - the CGI design was a poisoned chalice if there ever was one, so even though I can't say I like the resulting toy much, at least it doesn't feel like a botched opportunity, except in the broadest sense.

-- 09/01/09

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