Ultimate Ghost Rider and Flame Cycle

For me, something rather unusual is happening with the movie Ghost Rider. The initial and later trailers did nothing to convince me to see the film. I was completely ambivalent about Nic Cage in the lead - I have no problem with him as an actor, but he's not someone that convinces me to see a movie on his talent alone. The only real draw was Sam Elliot, but even that was only enough of a draw to convince me I'd have to see it once it hit DVD.

And then a weird thing happened. As the movie based merchandise started to come out, including the Sideshow maquettes and the Hasbro toys, I started to get more interested. I'm not thinking I just might have to hit this movie at the theater, convinced to go by the action figures. I have to say that this is truly a first.

Tonight's review covers another of the Hasbro releases, the Ultimate Ghost Rider and his Flame Cycle. Yes, you have to get past the fact that 'flame cycle' is as lame of a name as you can get. This guy is done in scale with the Marvel Icons, or sixth scale for those who haven't been buying the Icons. The bike and rider run around $40, and are hitting major retailers.

Packaging - ***
Hasbro has being doing some pretty nice stuff with their Marvel based figures so far in this category, and the GR box is decent. It does show off both the bike and figure well, and there's not too much wasted space. But to get that bike and rider in just the right pose, it required tons of twisties, and these aren't your usual twisties. No, these are atomic twisties, just slightly thinner than bridge cable. If you need to tow a boat, just string a few of these together and you're good to go.

Sculpting - ****
There are characters that need you really need some background on to care about, because they are fairly basic in appearance. If a kid didn't know who Superman was (of course, they all do, but I'm just using him as an example), he'd be hard pressed to find a guy in blue tights and a red cape all that cool. That's true of characters like Daredevil or Mr. Fantastic or Aquaman or...well, you get the idea. But Ghost Rider? This guy epitomizes everything bad ass, and a kid (or adult) needs to know absolutely nothing about the character's background or origin to think the character himself looks cool. He's a skeleton (horror cool) in black leather (Fonzie cool) who rides a bad ass chopper (biker cool) who just happens to be on fire (elemental cool). And somehow he managed to combine this laundry list of cool concepts into a single visual design that actually works, and doesn't end up looking like a silly mish mash.

That doesn't mean that Hasbro couldn't screw the pooch on the the actual toy though. And it doesn't mean the movie won't suck tennis balls through a straw. I can't guarantee anything about the film, but I can tell you that Hasbro held up their end of the bargain, especially with this 12" version of GR.

The overall sculpt is excellent, although the flames on top of the head still do look a little more like a flame-fro than I'd like. Still, the translucent orange/red flames do pull of the fire effect pretty well, and the skeleton head sculpt is top notch. Like in some of the smaller figures, the eyes themselves aren't merely painted into the sockets, but have sculpted 'stalks' that give them a nice three dimensional effect. The head and neck sculpt also work great with the nifty articulation (more on that in the later category), allowing for some great posing.

The body is scaled well, if a smidge small. He stands about 12" at the very top of his flames, so his skull height is more around 11 1/2". This allows the bike to still look nice and big under him though, so together they look fantastic.

There's tons of detail work on the leather jacket, pants and gloves, with nice texturing and added details like the zippers, pockets, spikes, seams, etc. The gloves are particularly well done, with lots of attention paid to the small details.

He stands great on his own in plenty of poses, and the sculpt itself doesn't hinder the excellent articulation in any way. While this isn't officially a Marvel Icon, I count it as one - and it's the best one Hasbro or Toybiz has done.

Paint - ***1/2
While the paint work isn't high end collectible level, it is certainly well above the usual mass market toy level. Just like the sculpt, the attention on the paint work (and translucent flames) here shows Hasbro is taking a chance on the idea that kids can appreciate such things just as much as adults.

There aren't a lot of colors here, since the bike and figure are predominately black and gray. But the bright flames really make a nice offset to the darker colors, and the complete package is definitely eye catching. The quality of the work, especially the small details that are present, is well above the usual mass market stuff, and certainly above the work Hasbro has shown on the Marvel Legends or Marvel Icons Thor. Not only is this work clean, there's also enough of it to satisfy the basic needs.

Articulation - ****
I just recently commented on how much I liked the tighter, stronger joints on the Icons Thor. Well, Ghost Rider takes it one better - unlike Thor, who still had the God awful ball jointed hips that are almost useless, Ghost Rider has perfect hips.

Yep, the ball moves both inside the pelvis and at the leg almost effortless, yet it's tight enough to hold poses great. My biggest complaint in general around the 12" Icons has been this hip joint, so I'm thrilled to see the first truly useful pair.

GR also has an excellent neck joint. The skull has the usual pin joint at the top of the neck, which allows the head to turn and tilt foreword and backward. BUT, and this is a big 'but', the neck itself also turns at the base, where it attaches to the torso. This means that the head can also tilt from side to side, working like an improved ball joint. Excellent!

That's not all for head articulation, because his jaw is also jointed. You can open wide, or shut tight, you decide.

The ball jointed shoulders are the only joints were I have some reserve. They don't move outward from the body quite as much as I'd like, but it's a fairly minor nit. This is partially due to the fact that these joints only move at the torso side of the ball, not at the arm side. I'm sure they did this to keep the upper arm of the jacket looking fairly smooth and seamless, and I can live with this since it improves the overall appearance of the sculpt without giving up too much.

The elbows and knees are both double jointed, and there's a cut joint at the top of the gloves. The wrists are a pin joint, and they have the single pin joint through the four fingers, allowing each one to pose independently of the others.

The waist joint works fine, and the pin chest joint allows him to lean forward nicely on the bike. The ankles are pin and rocker, but the pant legs do restrict them slightly. To finish off, there's the usual half foot pin joint, which allows you to pose the points of the cowboy boots up slightly, making them truly useful for the first time.

All the joints are nice and tight, and many use rachet type connections to keep the figure holding a pose. GR can pose on the bike holding the handlebars (it is doable, but you'll have to take some time), as well as in any number of other riding poses. He looks fantastic on or off the bike, due in large part to the excellent articulation.

Accessories - ***1/2
I'm counting the bike as an accessory, but your mileage may vary.

The bike is terrific, nicely scaled with rolling wheels and an unobtrusive kick stand. The flame effects work surprisingly well, especially round the handle bars and back wheel. There's a nice black wash that brings out the highlights of the cool sculpt, and there's a good amount of detail work for a mass market vehicle.

The bike is also articulated at the juncture between the handlebars/front fork and the gas tank/body of the bike. The front wheel can be turned left or right at this point, and it's designed with a connection that can be popped loose under extreme pressure, rather than breaking. That's a smart touch, making the bike more capable of handling play, but if this joint is weak, the bike tends to sag. I've heard some folks having trouble with that, although mine was tight enough that there was no problem.

The only other accessory is plumb-bob. Uh, I mean chain weapon. The chain is a good scale, but is made from plastic of course. On the end is a pointed spike, shaped exactly like a plumb-bob I made in eighth grade shop class, because it was the easiest thing to turn on the metal lathe. Maybe GR is just as lazy as I am.

Fun Factor - ****
Kids will love this guy. Excellent articulation, with very sturdy joints and hard plastic that can withstand normal play - and even abnormal play. The bike could be prone to more issues, but even it is designed for kids first, and collectors second. What kid isn't going to love a leather clad skeleton with a flaming skull and bad ass motorcycle?

Value - ***
The regular Hasbro Icons run $20. Considering some of the other 12" plastic superheroes on the shelf at $30, that's a Hell of a good deal. Not as good as when Toybiz was doing them for $15 - $16, but still good.

This guy will cost you about $40 with the bike. To be honest, it's rare to get any sort of sixth scale vehicle, let alone at a price like this. This is definitely a solid value, and well worth the cash.

Things to Watch Out For - 
The only issue I've heard some folks having is with a loose joint between the bike's fork and body. If it is loose, the boke will sag at that point. Mine doesn't have that issue, but you might want to try to compare the bikes at the store in the boxes just to be sure you get the best one.

Overall - ****
This figure proves that Hasbro is learning something about toys that some of us have been saying for years - just because it's for kids doesn't mean it should be poorly done. Kids appreciate good looking sculpts and paint just as much as adults, and are far more likely to say "Cool!" and grab their mom's arm to drag them over to a great looking action figure than a mediocre one. For far, far too long we've heard the excuse that "it's just a toy, so it doesn't have to look that great", and to compete, even the big companies have to recognize that's not true.

This Ghost Rider is about as perfect of a blend of toy and collectible as you'll ever get. It will appeal to both kids and adults alike, and all the features that make it fun for one group will make it fun for the other. If you're a Ghost Rider fan, do yourself a favor and pick this guy up.

Damn, I've done three four star reviews in the first month of the year. Considering that I usually do fewer than 12 in an entire year, I'm already way past my quota! Let's hope the rest of 2007 continues to give us exceptional stuff.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***
Sculpt - ****
Paint - ***1/1
Articulation - ****
Accessories - ***1/2
Value -  ***
Fun Factor - ****
Overall - ****

Where to Buy -
Major retailers are getting these in, so that's your best bet. I found them first at Wal-mart, but if you'd like to avoid shopping there, you can bet they'll be at Toys R Us and other retailers eventually. Hasbro has been doing an excellent job of distribution so far.

Related Links:
I reviewed the smaller movie figures earlier this month.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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