Tuesday, September 18, 2012

REVIEW: GI Joe: Retaliation - Ghost Hawk II (With Duke)

Produced by Hasbro | Released June 2012

GI Joe: Retaliation - Ghost Hawk II 
The Ghost Hawk II was one of the two Delta Class vehicles (along with the updated HISS Tank, which we'll come back to another day) released as part of the first Wave of GI Joe: Retaliation toys. Sadly, just as the line seemed to be gaining some momentum, Paramount made the decision to push the movie's release back until next year, leaving collectors with little to actually collect beyond this first wave. Despite some negative reactions, the first wave actually sold very well but was that simply due to panic buying or does the line actually feature some - gasp! - good toys? Read on and find out...

It's easy to make assumptions based on your own experiences but I'm fairly sure the majority of GI Joe collectors, when displaying vehicles, place the bundled pilot/driver in the cockpit/driving seat and leave him there. I'm certain Hasbro think this too, as when they announced the new line-up of movie toys, they stated that - in order to keep costs down - the bundled figures would feature a reduced level of articulation. 

The announcement did cause quite a storm among collectors, something Hasbro later admitted they hadn't expected and they've since assured fans that in the future they'd no longer be including such figures. So does that mean the bundled Duke is actually a terrible piece of plastic? Actually, no...

Sculpt & Design
This version of Duke is sporting a flight suit and helmet, both of which obscure any signs as to who the character actually is (so for you non-Duke fans, you can rename him or use him as another Joe.) Whether that's a positive or a drawback, I'll leave up to you.

The sculpt is actually pretty nicely done, overall, with the suit sporting the creases, pockets and pouch details we've come to expect from the line. Granted, there's nothing particularly stunning or overly impressive about the figure's design but what's here works well, especially if you treat him as grunt (small ''g'') pilot (rather than a specific character.)

The head is particularly good, being - or so it appears - borrowed from the excellent VAMP Mark II Steel Brigade Delta figure. It's a cool, futuristic-looking design with some cool detailing and an intriguing look to it. As I said above, it obscures Duke's features completely meaning you could, should you so wish, assign a different identity to this figure (if that's your kind of thing.)

Where Duke doesn't score quite so well is in the articulation department. Essentially he's limited to five points of articulation: two vertical shoulders joints, T-crotch hips and a peg-mounted, tilting head. It's a major throwback to the days of the earliest Star Wars figures, something that will gall fans of the usual articulation rig sported by the line.

Yet strangely, there's a part of me that actually likes that. Don't get me wrong, I love highly-articulated, super-poseable figures but when you begin to pose and play with this Duke it brings back memories of older action figures and the fact that they were durable and, yes, fun. Of course, it's a pain that he can't crouch or pose with a gun but given he's going to spend 99% of his time inside the cockpit, does it matter? And for all our adult conceptions about how kids play with their toys, I doubt many will really mind that he's not that poseable. After all, we played with Star Wars toys for years that had even less articulation than this toy and we were perfectly happy with them.

If the reason you collect GI Joes is based solely upon how poseable they are, then you'll hate this figure. But if you can get over that - and you can remember how much fun you used to have with similarly limited action figures - you'll probably get a kick out of Duke. I know I did.

With Hasbro cutting back on the figures' articulation, it may come as a surprise to learn that Duke's paintwork is actually very well done. Although there's not a huge amount going on with it, what's here is incredibly accurate in its application, with his boots, gloves, belt and straps being accentuated in a down-to-earth tan, plus additional pocket and pouch detail using a metallic version of the base green. Similarly, the helmet details are all well applied, with the visor and straps being neat and very clean.

Ghost Hawk II
So what about the vehicle itself? A few minor irritations aside, the Ghost Hawk II is actually a pretty neat toy. Yes, toy. If you're expecting a complex, detailed and for-display-purposes-only collectible, then you'll probably hate the Ghost Hawk II. But - again - if you can get into the childhood play-with-it-it's-fun mentality required to appreciate its pilot then you'll really get a kick out of this vehicle.

Sculpt & Design
The Ghost Hawk II appears to be based upon the transporter vehicle seen in the movie trailer, modified (as ever) for the toy release. Overall it does a good job of capturing the ''real'' Ghost Hawk II's look although, obviously, it's not quite to the same scale as the original. But don't assume this vehicle is small. Far from it: the Ghost Hawk II is surprisingly large, being closer in scale to the previously released SkyStriker Jet than any other vehicle. Quite an achievement, given it retailed at around the $20 mark.

As you'd imagine, the Ghost Hawk II requires some assembly. The basic fuselage is augmented with a clip-in  canopy cover and underside door (which we'll come back to in a moment), plus a tail piece and the main wing support. The pieces clip together easily enough and are, on the whole, fairly sturdy. The canopy and door, for example, snap shut nicely and I didn't experience any issues with them coming open unexpectedly. The rotating jets and the wing fins are not quite so sturdy but it still requires a little effort to remove them, so I wouldn't worry too much about the toy ''breaking'' as you play with it.

And play with it you will. Seriously, I felt like I was 9-years old the moment I got this thing assembled and started examining it. There's something superbly tactile about its bulk and a real feeling of fun and excitement to it that's really been lacking in the last few years of GI Joe toys. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends entirely on what you want from the line and much as I appreciate a detailed collectible display piece, there's also a lot to be said for a toy that just screams ''I'm fun! Play with me!''

Play Features
The Ghost Hawk II has a few tricks up its sleeve to help enhance its fun factor, so let's take a closer look at some of them.

For starters, as mentioned above, the wing tips and engines are mounted on ratcheted joints that allow them to rotate through 360 degrees, ''locking'' in position at key intervals. Having not seen GI Joe: Retaliation yet, I'm assuming the Ghost Hawk II features some form of VTOL set-up, hence the inclusion with this toy. It's not a particularly exciting or innovative addition but it is fun, especially if - like me - you used to ''rationalize'' how your toys performed their various moves.

As mentioned above (and as you'd expect) the canopy cover opens to reveal the a surprisingly spacious cockpit. It's a shame Hasbro didn't quite go the extra mile here and add a second seat, as there's plenty of room to do so. Even without that though, the seating within is fine and the canopy cover's locking mechanism is robust enough to survive all manner of in-flight rolls and loops.

There's also a release-able hatch on the underside of the vehicle, within which you can stow another Joe or two. Again, the clasp works well and when it's closed, the door remains so. However, I get the feeling that the door should really be at the rear, under the tail. This just feels more natural and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that that's how the ''real'' version is in the movie. My guess is that the hatch was moved to accommodate another play feature, namely the drop harness. Attaching neatly to the figure's back port (and then to the shoulders) the harness is attached to the Ghost Hawk II by a length of cord, which can be lowered or retracted to allow your Joe to drop into combat. I remember from my childhood spending hours dangling figures on strings out of windows or over the staircase, so this struck a seriously nostalgic chord with me and I'm sure I won't be the only one who ''tests out'' this feature repeatedly.

The Ghost Hawk II also features launching missiles, with two launchers mounted on the wings, just above the canopy. As you may have noticed, though, I did not include the missiles (or the additional clip-on weapons) in the above photos, as - frankly - they're awful. Up until this point Hasbro's designers had managed to walk the fine line between a quirky quasi-collectible and an OMG FOR TEH KIDDIEZ TOY. Sadly the neon-bright orange missiles push the toy too far into the latter camp, even for my tastes. But if you're still interested, know that they launch pretty well and that the other bombs/accessories fall between a firm and loose fit. If I were playing with the toy - I mean, giving it to a child to play with - I'd remove the missiles, not because I'd worry about them accidentally causing injury but more because they'll simply keep falling off and getting lost.

The Ghost Hawk II is cast from a mix of green and silver plastics. The latter tends to feel a little lighter/softer/cheaper than the core green components but not to the point of feeling as fragile. It's simply Hasbro used a lower grade of plastic to - I assume - save money. It's not hugely noticeable (and I doubt if you gave it to a kid they'd be bothered) but it does lead to a little ''marbling'' in a few places.

The remainder of the vehicle's coloring comes from the stickers. If you enjoy applying decals - especially really large ones - then you'll love the Ghost Hawk II. Personally I found the application to be a pain and after a couple of attempts, I simply removed some of the larger transfers but it's all down to personal taste.

Extras & Accessories
The Ghost Hawk II comes with an assortment of clip-on (and drop-off) missiles and bombs, plus two firing projectiles and a sheet of transfers. Duke does not come with any accessories or a stand.

Final Thoughts
Whether you'll like this toy depends entirely on what you're looking for from the GI Joe line. If you're a fan of the ultra-detailed, highly articulated, multi-accessory, life-like Joes of the Pursuit of Cobra line then you'll probably find little of interest here. The pilot is gimped with limited articulation and has zero in the way of accessories. The Ghost Hawk II itself is too simplistic, lacking in detail and simply too toy-like to be a collectible display piece. 


If you can recall how much fun toys used to be and how much you used to enjoy making airplane sounds as you flew a dugga-dugga-dugga strafing run at your sister's Barbie house, then there's a lot of enjoyment to be had from this toy. There's a fantastic tactile sense to it. You want to play with it, fly it around and generally have fun with the toy, especially when you discover the launching missiles and cool drop harness. Hasbro has clearly targeted the young - and young at heart - toy buyer with the Ghost Hawk II and - a few minor missteps only a critical adult would spot aside - I think they've succeeded in what they set out to achieve, namely creating a cool-looking, robust toy that's exciting and fun to play with.

Our advice? Stop being such a boring old fart, get into the mindset of a child, grab yourself a Ghost Hawk II and have some fun.

Final Score: A-

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