When I was a kid, you could probably list my significant interests on a single line of paper. Super heroes, ninjas, robots, monsters, comic books and movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford or Michael J. Fox in them. Like a lot of kids my age, ridiculous or not, I loved action-packed entertainment.
If it had a robot or some promise of karate, I wanted to know all about it. I was obsessed with the stuff. Lucky for me, the 80’s pretty much banked on those concepts. It wasn’t about the quality, it was about the quantity of how many in-your-face explosions and muscle bound heroes they could shove in front of you. Watching those same movies now, mature me can certainly see how my tastes failed me in my youth. Most of these “films” are tragically terrible. I think this realization is what has had me avoiding the vast majority of “action-packed” movies as an adult. Nowadays, I find that I can’t comfortably roll with the cheesy cinema.
A good example of cheesy cinema was last year’s robot fighting movie, Real Steel. It was big and flashy, with some cool, realistically rendered robots (thanks to Dreamwork’s CGI chops) punching each other over and over again in the face. End scene. The storyline seemed as though it was essentially ripped from Stallone’s 80’s flick, “Over the Top”. Some movie exec took that thin prose and married it with Rock’m, Sock’m Robots. My skepticism was pretty high so it was passed over while in the theater only to be picked up months later when it became available on DVD. I didn’t expect it to be very good and big surprise, it wasn’t.
But what I also didn’t expect was that I actually liked it. For the first time in years, I embraced the cheese and enjoyed it. Something about the film tapped into that 80’s nostalgia that used to push my buttons when I was a kid. Maybe it had something to do with how disappointing all the Transformer films have been. Here were these giant, cool looking robots beating the crap out of each other. As a youth, that would have been all I needed to dive head first into bugging my parents to buy me as many of the related action figures as the family’s “spoiled only child” budget would allowed. The story and acting was completely secondary.. nay, THIRD-ary. It wasn’t Shakespeare, it wasn’t art, it was just cool to see big robots beating the heck out of each other.
image copyright Dreamworks Studio
So, what am I getting at?
3A, one of the top high-end action figure toy manufacturers in the world, signed a fat deal with Dreamworks to make high-end figures based off the Real Steel franchise. When I first heard about it, I thought it’d be quite the conundrum for collectors. On one hand, it’s robots and 3A is ah-maze-ing at making robots. Probably the best out there. On the other hand, it’s a robot from a movie that wasn’t very good to begin with and isn’t really that popular with anyone who is old enough to afford 3A robots.
With all of 3A’s other toy lines tying up my play money, it was pretty easy for me to pass when the first figure, Ambush, was up for pre-order. While I thought the film was fun and the pictures 3A used to show him off looked intriguing with all of his intricate-looking, gear-supported articulation, it wasn’t quite enough to rally my interest and loosen my purse strings.
A few weeks back I got a surprising email from 3A that they wanted to send me Ambush to review. This was a definite first and something I was very excited about. Still, I was a little hesitant because I didn’t feel that jazzed about a Real Steel robot. I tried to keep an open mind and wait for him to show up. I had no doubt that the figure would be at the very least… neat. The thing I wanted to see most was if Ambush was cool enough for me to be able to ignore the franchise and simply be interested in a cool robot for the sake of a cool robot, much like the ten year old me would have done back in the day.
Well sir, the delivery man has arrived and it’s time to answer that question.
The outside of the box is pretty minimalistic. A logo here and there with some of Ambush’s stats on the inside flap. My favorite stat being, “Cost – Won him in a bet”. Said flap has a magnet that keeps the lid secure. Upon opening it, I found that Ambush received one of the best packaging jobs from 3A yet. There’s several layers of molded dense foam between you and your robot, each piece carefully placed to protect all the delicate bits. If you have a Blind Cowboy/Ghost Horse set, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here.
For starters, there’s that hard to ignore, giant blue robot, Ambush..
If you ordered yours from Bambaland, you’ll also receive the exclusive little robo-remote. Don’t lose too much sleep if your order doesn’t include one because, while it’s a nice looking accessory, without anyone to hold it, I’ll most likely keep it in the box instead of having it on display.
Bummer alert, batteries for Ambush’s eye lights are not included. However, a small slip of paper on the inside flap describes how to install them once you rustle some up.
My first impression, Ambush is one nice looking robot. There are so many gears and tubes running all over this guy, it’s a bit of a marvel that 3A pulled this off so elegantly. He looks, needless to say, very accurate to the film. If he’s not made up of 100% all new parts, he’s at least scoring in the high 90’s. Scanning him over, I can’t seem to find anything that 3A reused from their previous robots. I’m not seeing a Bertie, Bramble or Dropcloth anywhere amongst the detailed assets.
The overall build of Ambush is a mix of solid plastic and some slightly flexible shell-like pieces. On his back especially, there are strips of decorative parts that seem a little delicate, though they do have some give to them that keeps them from feeling overly brittle. Thankfully, they’re not really in areas where you’re likely to put much pressure when posing him.
There’s definitely a lot going on with various layers of highly detailed robo-parts overlapping other highly detailed robo-parts. Everything blends together cohesively and believably. One thing that really impressed me was that there are no visible ball-joints like those found on 3A’s own robot designs. Everything is structured to and succeeds in looking like a believable 1:whatever scale of the actual robot, if he were an actual robot.
Ambush is covered in the Triple Ds, dings, dents and damage. There’s the kind of stuff you’d expect from 3A in terms of scratches and overall molded-in weathering which are, of course, apparent. But what’s impressive is all the dented areas that look legitimately torn up. Beyond his signature dented “snarled” lip, there are various edges of the sculpt that are crinkled and sport believable battle damage appropriate for the not-so-successful fighting robot that Ambush is supposed to be. The asymmetry of the damage also adds significantly to his realism. Take all that and combine it with the paint work and it’s pretty difficult to tell if what you’re looking at is plastic or an actual metal robot.
Speaking of paint work…
The paint application on Ambush is next to none. It’s hands down one of, if not the, best paint work I’ve seen on a 3A robot. I’m not exaggerating. You can tell a lot of time and care went into the detailing. Rust looks good and crusty while stripped away bits of paint show shiny steel underneath. The only parts that do not share the same impressive application are the tiny pistons that support Ambush’s articulation. This was probably a good call to ensure that as stuff moved around, it didn’t become funked up over time. I do wish that 3A went with actual metal rods here instead of the clean plastic ones as I think it’d look better overall, but what’s here works well.
So he’s a marvel to look at but how does he dance?
Well, from a technical standpoint, he’s amazing. For example, when you twist his wrists, 4 little pistons rotate, expanding and contracting with the motion. Similar gears are at work at almost every articulation point and it just looks fantastic. The thing about Ambush is that it isn’t just how he moves, it’s how his various parts work together and how they look when he moves. He’s a plastic machine of independently moving parts working together. It’s a joy to see.
The Good: Ambush has a really solid range of motion in his shoulders, elbows and wrists. I didn’t figure it out until near the end of our shoot that his wrists not only turn, but bend up and down. You can get most of the rock’m sock’m poses you’d want to out of him. He can get a fairly wide stance to help balance his upper body heft. His legs, particularly his knees, ankles and the balls of his feet, work really well to keep him from toppling over, as well as give you a few nice pose options. Some smaller articulated garnishes include his mouth and wee thumbs.
The Bad: The neck joint doesn’t hold a turn. It simply springs back to facing forward when you let go of it. You can move his head up and down as well as cock his head side to side where it stays as it should, but an unmanned left to right position isn’t possible. Despite the fancy neck pistons, I can’t figure out why 3A designed it that way since it appears so similar to the wrist joint in function.
The waist articulation feels a little more limited than I expected it to be. There’s a few sliding parts that overlap each other that gives a nice visual effect when he bends and twists, but I think they might hinder his movement some as well. It’s probably a trade-off. I just wish the extremes of his possible articulation were a little more.. extreme.
Lastly, the hip joints for Ambush are the tightest I’ve experienced from 3A. I held my breath every time I set him up for a shot. I’m not sure if the inherent tightness of the joint was purposeful or not, but thankfully, it looks like 3A used a heavier duty post to support the extra strain. No snapping sounds yet.
The Ugly: I have one last small issue with Ambush. In a way, it’s actually more of a compliment and a testament to how good this guy looks.
Thanks to how well 3A crafted all the excellent, intricate gears and details on Ambush’s body, it can be a little difficult to tell exactly what SHOULD and SHOULD NOT move. His knees, for example, look like they should be double jointed. Trust me, they are not. Due to the stiff joints 3A toys sometimes experience when you first get them, you tend to have to apply a good deal of pressure to knock them free. There are definitely areas on Ambush you might be tempted to apply some pressure to, going off appearances alone, when you most certainly shouldn’t. This, of course, could lead to needlessly breaking parts off your shiny new (and pricey) toy.
My suggestion would be for 3A to include in future releases of their more intricate figures, a small printed sheet that illustrates the various articulation points on the toy. This isn’t out of the question as I’ve seen several other toy manufacturers do that exact thing, so hopefully 3A will consider it.
For Ambush’s photo shoot we wanted to do something special. So my ever supportive wife suggested that we hike up to the “pill boxes” (two lookout posts leftover from WWII) that overlook the beautiful Hawaiian beach of Lanikai and the two offshore islands, the Mokes. I was a little nervous stuffing the big guy into my tiny backpack, but he made the journey just fine. It’s always fun doing location photo shoots and that morning was no exception. With so many details on him, photographing Ambush was a real treat. I do wish I had figured out before we set out for the shoot that there were no batteries pre-installed. There were a few points during the day where I know some menacing looking eye-lights would have been super cool.
THE FINAL WORD
Ambush isn’t going to change your mind about the movie Real Steel, but 3A may change your mind about Ambush.
They knocked it out of the park. He’s definitely one of those toys that you can see where the money went. From paint, to construction, to articulation, he’s really top notch. It’s a true achievement in terms of articulated robotic action figures. So much so, it’s what you’ll want to see in every 3A bot. Admittedly, I’ll probably find myself at least marginally disappointed by future 3A bot releases if they don’t have the same obvious attention to detail Ambush does. I understand corners have to be cut occasionally.. but now that I’ve seen what’s possible, it’s going to be very hard to go backwards.
So the big question is, should you buy 3A’s Real Steel Ambush? Well, to answer that, we have to clear up a few things first.
- Do you like toy robots?
- Do you like the movie Real Steel?
- Regardless of how you feel about the movie Real Steel, do you think the robots themselves look really cool?
If you answered all 3 of the questions with “yes”.. then you probably already have Ambush on the way or you’re in the process of clicking the “buy button” somewhere.
If you answered question 1 as “no”.. then I’m really not sure why you’re reading this article and you are dismissed!
If you answered questions 1 and 2 as “yes”.. then don’t hesitate another second to shell out for Ambush.
If you answered 2 as “no” then see question 3.
If you answered 1 and 3 “yes”, then once again, I’d urge you to confidently hunt one down. I’m telling you, you’ll be very happy with your decision.
My gushing over the quality and attention to detail withstanding, you’ve probably already decide whether or not Ambush deserves a place on your shelf. I’m not here to try and change your mind about that. What I do hope I’ve managed to do is to shed some light on just how well 3A put this guy together. I want to put to rest any fears you may have had about whether or not they can deliver on the goods. Personally, thanks to this experience, I’m really looking forward to Atom being released. He’s easily my favorite from the film, and the prototype 3A teased at HK Venture already looks sick.
If you hated the film, and hated the robot designs, then there’s probably nothing for you here other than some amazingly shot photos (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). On the other hand, despite your feelings about the franchise itself, if you think Ambush is a really cool looking robot, then I know you’ll find a lot to enjoy by having him in your collection.
He’s positively one of the finest pieces 3A has put out to date…
that is, until Metal Gear Rex finally ships. 🙂
- An incredibly executed, impressively detailed giant robot
- Just an astonishing amount of attention went into the sculpt, paint and the design of the joint articulation
- Very accurate to the source material
- One of the best looking/conceived products 3A has put out yet.
- The neck articulation doesn’t allow for left to right positions
- Due to the high level of details that abound throughout the character, it’s a little tricky figuring out what moves and what doesn’t
- The hip joints were/are incredibly tight and difficult to move, but this could be an isolated case
- It’s a little thing, but it’d been nice if 3A included the wee batteries already installed so we could immediately experience the eye lights
A big thanks to Kim and Cody for getting this guy out to us! It was a pleasure. ~ knives