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Wheeljack

Transformers Bumblebee
by yo go re

Hey, guess who doesn't look or sound like Einstein anymore!

Wheeljack and the Autobots are overwhelmed by the Decepticon attack and must escape Cybertron if they hope to survive.

There's a certain poetic elegance in the way these Studio Series releases are committed to only putting scene-accurate info on the back of the packaging, even when the scene in question lasts only a few seconds and the character in question doesn't do anything. This one basically boils down to "Wheeljack was there," because what else could you really say about him in that scene? Wheeljack was there! So 10/10 for accuracy, 1/10 for interestingness.

When it was decided, late in production, to add more scenes on Cybertron, director Travis Knight knew for certain that he wanted Wheeljack to be in the movie - maybe that toy was a favorite of his as a kid, who knows? Knowing Knight would be picky, ILM artist Stephen Zavala got right to work on this one first; good choice, since it took the longest to get approved. It retains Jackie's traditional "white with red and green accents" look, and has his familar little wings poking up from behind his back. Unfortunately, those are actually attached to the back of the shoulder armor, not his back, so they get out of place if you move the upper arms at all. Weird choice by Takara designer Yuya Onishi.

It's possible Wheeljack made the list simply because his head is so distinctive. A horizontal mouthplate and ear-wings that light up when he talks? In a sea of same-y "pseudo-helmet over a metal face" heads, that is what you call memorable! The final approved head design was a collaboration between Thang Le and Alex Jaeger, and it duplicates the familiar look well. The toy's even got some metallic blue paint on the ears to make it look like they're illuminated.

The articulation includes most of the usual Transformers points - head, shoulders, biceps, elbows, hips, thighs, knees, and ankles - but there are a few deficiencies. We already talked about how weird it is to put the wings on his arms instead of his back, but one of the hips on mine is loose, and the way the sides of the torso convert means they don't actually plug in securely anywhere. In fact, the Wheeljack in this review is my second, because the right shoulder on the first one wouldn't line up properly with the body at all. There's still a worry of the piece slipping out of place if I'm not judicial about how I move the arm, but at least it looks right when I leave it alone. All the Autobots in the movie used the same model of gun (q.v. the time crunch ILM had to build the scene), but the toys all have unique take on it - so this is the same type of weapon Ratchet and Brawn came with, but it's a mold meant only for Wheeljack. You can store it on his back; too bad there's no way to mount it on his shoulder.

Converting Wheeljack is a tough one, because there are so many back-and-forth movements in the legs. But first, fold down his wings, open the shoulders a little bit so you can tip the neck up, raise the chest and fold a panel out from inside, turn the waist around, drop the windshield all the way down, raise the arms 90° to the front, flip the shoulders inside out, finish straightening the neck, raise the arms the rest of the way, flip the green roof panel away, lift the windshield, and then get ready for the complicated legs. Unhinge the wheel parts so you can rotate the outer panels all the way up and notch them into place; bend the knees so you can swing the shin panels up, then straighten the legs again; bring the wheels around the sides; tuck the head away; point the toes and plug them together, then plug them in by the wheels; flip the roof over, and tuck the forearms in under it.

Wheeljack was one of the few Transformers who was given a pre-Earth mode back in Generation 1, but it was a big, blocky van, nothing like the sleek racecar he'd become once he woke up in the 1980s. Working with Hasbro's Sam Smith, Emiliano Santalucia designed a vehicle that took influence from the Lancia Stratos, all low and angular. He did do one design that would have given the vehicle no wheels, like G1 did, but since everybody else had tires it was decided Jackie should too. The gun can store on top of the roof in this mode.

Despite looking really good in both modes, Wheeljack is a disappointing toy. Changing him feels more complicated than it needed to be, and the fact the shoulders don't lock in in any way is annoying. If you randomly get one where the shoulders are fairly tight, you'll have a winner on your hands, but if you randomly get one where the shoulders are loose, well, take it back to the store and try again. Be like your hero, me.

-- 05/17/22


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