Saturday, March 27, 2010

Review: Mattel's Avatar Line

NeytiriWhen Avatar action figures started appearing on shelves weeks before the movie premiered, I hardly gave them a look. Though I was really looking forward to seeing the movie, and assumed that after doing so I would want to pick up one or two figures, the $8.99 per-figure price tag, along with my then-current focus on Hasbro's Star Wars line, and a gnawing feeling that I should be scaling back in favor of more "practical" spending like home improvement, retirement savings, college tuition accounts for the kids, weekly grocery shopping, heating bills (it was still winter, after all), etc., allowed me to easily look the other way.

I eventually saw Avatar, liked it a lot, and knew that my resistance to the blue guys on the pegs was to be short-lived. Further chipping away at my original resolve was the fact that by the time I had finally seen the movie, many stores had moved their Avatar toys to the clearance section. Several weeks later (it felt like several weeks, anyway -- it was probably much less), I had an almost-complete set of basic figures, at least enough to comfortably offer this review.

The Good

Avatar Norm SpellmanThe line gives good coverage to the main characters, even the ones that don't make such great "action" figures -- like Parker Selfridge and Norm Spellman. Many of the likenesses, particularly of the Na'vi and avatars, are really good. Notable among them are Tsu'tey and Avatar Norm.

The figures are very well articulated and very detailed. Paint applications are consistent. Also, each figure is well-proportioned, even if not in scale with other figures in the line.

Parker SelfridgeAn important point (for me, anyway) is that the i-TAG (a sort-of ID badge for each figure, which, when used in conjunction with a webcam and some downloadable software, allows you to control digital representations of the toys on your computer) packed with each figure also serves as a figure stand, which helps keep the figures standing despite some small feet.

The Bad

The figures are incredibly over-packaged. I found opening these a truly unpleasant chore, one which I put off, at times for several days. The wrap-around bubble is not as easy to separate from the card as a traditional bubble, and there are a couple of those annoyingly tight rubber bands to contend with on each figure, along with a paper backing that is tightly taped at several points.

Tsu'teyThe figures are kind of scrawny and flimsy. The arms, particularly on the Na'vi and avatar figures, are a bit rubbery, and I don't trust the figures to stand without their included i-TAG stand. Unfortunately, the foot pegs don't fit very snugly, so they still teeter easily when bumped, and the stands are so big that the figures can't be displayed very close together.

The articulation, while plentiful, is achieved with some odd-looking joints which are at times unsightly and give the figures an amateurish feel in some poses -- especially when the legs are pulled sideways.

Pvt. Sean Fike (orange gun)Some accessories, like Jake's wheelchair or Pvt. Fike's big orange gun, just aren't on par with what the packaging calls "detailed movie replica[s]", while others are noticeably absent. While the re-deco'd Fike comes with a permanently attached face mask, none of the other figures do. I expected this mask to be removable and standard with all RDA personnel figures, or at least the soldiers. Quaritch, whose figure is noticeably shorter than the others, I assume so he can fit into the AMP Suit vehicle, comes with only a handgun. That may be movie-accurate (I don't recall him using any other weapon except the gun and the AMP Suit), but I feel the toughest "bad guy" in the film should have come with a heavier weapon -- or at least a face mask and his signature cup of coffee. And while Selfridge's golf club is a nice touch, a chunk of floating unobtanium would perhaps have been a more relevant choice, as would have been a clipboard -- or anything scientific -- instead of Grace Augustine's machete.

Col. Miles QuaritchThe scaling is noticeably off, not only on the afore-mentioned Quaritch, but on the Na'vi, which stand only a head taller than the humans, when they should be almost twice their size. I'm guessing this was an economical decision required to make the line affordable -- or at least no more than $8.99 per figure -- though this, along with the accessory issue, points to what I feel is the line's biggest shortcoming.

It seems apparent that someone, either from Mattel or the film production, felt it necessary, given the buzz about technical innovation and novelty surrounding the film, that the toy line attempt to match that novelty and innovation. To that end, potentially great action figures were downgraded to good action figures in order to finance the complex packaging and the i-TAG software. I do not have a webcam, so I have not downloaded or experimented with this i-TAG software. Still, I would rather have had the money from i-TAG development spent on the overall quality of the figures.

Final Say

I like these figures enough to have collected almost the entire line. That said, I don't think I would have amassed this collection if I had to do it at retail price. I wish I could display the figures reliably in tighter clusters; I will probably need third-party stands to do that. Most of all, though, is the nagging feeling that these figures could have been pushed to a really great level -- with better quality joints, bulkier construction, more accurate scale, better accessories -- if they hadn't been burdened by over-packaging and i-TAG gimmickry.

You can see more pictures of the figures mentioned in this review here.