Well, after a lot of scrambling around and wondering about the stocking procedures of my pseudo-friendly neighborhood Wal*Marts, I’ve finally got my hands on my first of the smaller-scale Iron Man movie toys, which happens to be the toy line’s Wal*Mart exclusive chase figure. It puzzles me slightly, in that it’s not at all what it says on the tin. Its official name is “Iron Man Stealth Operations Suit”, which is fine – there have been stealth Iron Man suits in the comics since the early ’80s – but it’s pretty clearly not a stealth Iron Man suit. In fact, it’s War Machine.
They pretty much admit this right on the package, though they don’t actually use the phrase “War Machine” anywhere:
Slower, but more heavily armored than the Iron Man armor, Stealth Operations Suit the [sic] boasts a much broader array of weapons, from repulsor rays to rocket launchers. Jim Rhodes pilots it on missions too sensitive for the high profile Iron Man to tackle.
Yep, that’s War Machine, pretty much. Apparently they don’t mean “stealth operations” so much as “deniable operations”, though one questions how deniable it is when it’s carried out by a guy who looks just like Iron Man except for his color scheme and some additional weapons. It’s been pointed out to me by a friend that, like chain-exclusive figures since the dawn of the practice (about, what, 10-15 years ago now), it’s mainly just a repaint of a toy designed for the regular mass market – in this case the standard Iron Man Mk III figure (depicting the “finished” suit that appears on most of the movie’s promotional materials).
Still, it’s surprising what a difference a color scheme makes. The movie suit’s helmet looks kind of War Machiney anyway, mostly in the way the “mouth” part of the mask comes together (though I wish they’d bothered to at least remold the figure’s head slightly to include the laser designator), and when it’s rendered in black and silver instead of red and gold, it looks considerably different. The overall effect is kind of “What if War Machine had been designed by Adi Granov?” – which is pretty much what they were going for. (Mind you, Adi Granov was probably all of ten years old when the War Machine suit first appeared.)
A few years ago, the trend in action figures was to mold them in dynamic action poses that pretty much rendered them unposeable. They still had articulation, but they were molded in such a way that if you moved them into any position other than the one they were packed in, they just looked ridiculous. Fortunately, that trend has partially abated now. This figure does suffer from it to a small extent – the legs are designed to suit the pose it’s packaged in and look a little odd in other positions – but nowhere near as bad as some earlier figures (early McFarlane Toys figures, for instance). It’s about the same height as, but oddly, much sleeker than, the earlier Marvel Legends War Machine figure, making it seem like it’s in an entirely different scale bracket when the height indicates otherwise.
And, as I had hoped, the articulation in this smaller figure is considerably improved over the larger Repulsor Power Iron Man (previously reviewed). This guy has ball and pivot hip and shoulder joints, double-hinge knees and elbows, a small amount of wrist and ankle articulation, and a working neck, plus a strangely positioned torso rotator (it’s not at his waist, but rather about halfway up his chest). Some of his joints are a bit hard to work because of interactions with other joints – it’s difficult, for instance, to make his upper legs rotate without twisting his hip joints, which can foul up the way they swing outward – but that’s always the price you pay for having more joints on an action figure in the first place.
Of course, War Machine wouldn’t be War Machine, even by another name, without his trusty shoulder-mounted missile rack and Gatling-style minigun, and the mold on this guy has been altered from the standard Mk III with the addition of a couple of sliding mounts for these two accessories, so that they can be moved to their stowed position on his back. This is a major improvement from the way these weapons were handled on the Marvel Legends figure, where the missile box was a) too small and b) attached in such a way that it flipped up, not back, and the minigun wasn’t on a flexible mount at all, just pegged onto his shoulder. On this figure, it’s pretty easy to pop them off of their mounts when trying to slide them, but they go right back on. They each have a spring gimmick that fires the “fake muzzle blast”-style missiles that are de rigueur these days; that particular design trend doesn’t impress me much, but since they’re missiles, they can be removed for display easily enough (so that he doesn’t look like he’s freeze-framed in the middle of shooting).
The downside is that the, where the shoulder weapons are handled wrong on the older figure and right on the new one, the exact opposite is true of the distinctive War Machine wrist cannons. On the older figure they’re molded right to his forearms. On this one, they’re a pair of bulky, ill-fitting snap-on bits. Also, his shoulder caps aren’t attached – they’re just kind of sitting there, held on by friction – so it’s very easy to knock them right off while trying to get the wrist bits attached.
Still, for what it is – a hastily-arranged repaint of an existing figure to use as a chain exclusive – Stealth Operations Suit does a pretty good job. The mounts for the shoulder weapons are very nicely done, and it looks different enough (and enough like the character it’s supposed to represent) that the effort isn’t a completely hollow one. (This is in sharp contrast to the “Repulsor Red Prototype” Target exclusive, which, as far as I can tell, is just the Mk III with the gold bits painted silver instead. Despite what the color scheme suggests, it’s not even a faint attempt at emulating the “Silver Centurion” suit, which is a bit of a disappointment.
Of all the currently announced movie toys I haven’t seen yet, the one I’m looking forward to most is the Iron Man Mk I figure, if only because the Stan Winston guys did a tremendous job on that prop and I’m eager to see how good a job the Hasbro designers did at replicating it in action figure form.
Benjamin D. Hutchins is an author, public relations writer, and semiprofessional muser upon the random. His other nonfiction writings can be found here and here.