Six O’Clock Shadow – LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574)

Birthdays are always nice and being gifted a bunch of Amazon vouchers is even better, so the stars aligned and I was able to afford myself the LEGO Avatar Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574) package despite it being way over my usual budget. As I explained in my previous article on the subject the movie is a bit of a guilty pleasure and as I also already mentioned there I simply like the colorful nature of the whole thing. So I couldn’t resist temptation and committed to it – not just for this review, but because I really wanted to have it.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Box

Pricing and Contents

As the biggest set of the first Avatar wave of course this doesn’t come cheap and as usual LEGO are trying to milk the cow by adding a premium because it’s based on licensed IP. The original asking price for this is 150 Euro, which is way too much for 1212 pieces if you apply the conventional metric of 10 Cent per piece. Luckily you don’t have to let them get away with it as those sets are only mildly popular (people seem to want the unique minifigures and a few other things, but not necessarily the actual sets as a whole) and you can get decent discounts even from smaller retailers. I got mine for 111 Euro and currently with the Black Week/ Black Friday promos I’ve seen it drop below 100 Euro. This is reasonable, but nor perfect.

Realistically I feel this is more around the 80 Euro mark, with the point being that despite getting quite a bit of volume on the individual models, a lot of it has to do with the lofty nature of those builds. Yes, the tree is quite large (and so is the Toruk), but that’s mostly down to using some very large/ long elements enclosing/ circumscribing lots of open space. My “kitchen table photo studio” was almost to small to accommodate everything and I had to touch up a few spaces at the edges where I ran out of grey background, but individually each model feels pretty lightweight and like you’re not holding much in your hand. It’s really more that you have to be careful not to break off some dangle-y thing than the models being weighty.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Overview

Minifigures & Direhorse

As already mentioned, the minifigures for the Avatar series seem to be reasonably popular among collectors, a lot of which no doubt has to do with their unique appearance due to the blue skin and tall legs. With only for of them this package feels a bit understaffed not only because of the bigness of the set but also more generally based on what the set is supposed to represent. It could have done well with another three to five “generic Na’vi warrior” figures to deck out the scene. The characters in this line-up are Jake Sully again in a different warpaint, of course there’s also Neytiri and the two others are Tsu-Tey, the former’s ex-lover and Moat, the female chieftain of the tribe. The prints are distinct from those of the other sets and well-executed, which no doubt contributes why they are so coveted.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Minifigures

The animals of Pandora so far are seriously underrepresented aside from the big flying beasts and the Thanator, so it’s good to see that be expanded upon as well. I’m not saying that I’m a fan of the Direhorses, though. That whole Ant Eater like appearance and behavior with them licking honeydew from flowers just feels odd and of course the six legs just feel awkward and unnecessary. It has also always bugged me that conveniently these creatures have USB cables to connect with the Na’vi‘s minds. All of that is a bit hard to explain away and rationalize no matter how willing you are to suspend disbelief for the movie. The horse as such is just fine, but has zero posing options. It also looks a bit too uniformly colored for my taste and should have some more organic patterns, especially in the “mane” and the rear section as they can be seen in the film.

The Landscape Pieces

The landscapes of Pandora are their own character in the movie so it’s only appropriate that the corresponding LEGO sets also at least make some effort to render at least parts of it in brick-built form. I already mentioned the pros and cons of how well the translation into this miniature format works for me in my other review and this is no different here. While the landscapes are certainly colorful and other-worldly, they have very little to do with how this stuff is depicted in the movie. The building techniques are very restricted without any recognizable effort to actually re-create plants from the film and the color choices are not anywhere close to how most of this looks and feels. It’s all rather arbitrary and gives the impression of “As long as it looks different enough, it’s good enough.”.

This is still tolerable for the smaller pieces, but for me the wheels come of the cart on the big one. This is supposed to be the entry “gate” to the glade where the Tree of Souls resides and even if you’re only superficially familiar with the movie you will immediately recognize that it looks nothing like it does there. Many of the rock formations on Pandora clearly have the appearance of lava frozen along the magnetic field lines (due to the floating mountains and the Unobtanium) , which makes them look like actual arches. None of this is present here and one can’t help but feel that the designers didn’t even try. Yes, it would not have been easy, but there are enough curved/ arched elements in LEGO‘s portfolio to at least hint at this on some form.

On the bright side this large assembly is quite stable and thus easy to handle. You can literally just grab it in the middle and carry it around like a suitcase on its handle. This robustness is of course needed in order to perch the huge Toruk Makto on the short axle on the “floating” mountain piece.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Landscape, Large, With Toruk

Tree of Souls

The Tree of Souls is mostly a simple affair. It’s very obviously based on a Weeping Willow constructed from a bunch of arches, slopes and Technic connectors with the base being pieced together from different rounded and cropped corner plates. It’s really not too advanced or fancy and if you inspect the images closely you can see the simplicity of the build and the overall symmetry. It’s just disguised by the dangling boughs/ twigs and the cyan-green vines on the ground that represent the “magic” moss/ lichen used to transfer souls into a new body or revive someone.

Sadly it could have looked even better if LEGO had placed more emphasis on a consistent coloring. Especially the black parts on the tree trunk draw too much attention and overall there’s just a few too many different colors used with the real irony once more being that of course a lot of them were/ are available in Reddish Brown or could have been manufactured in this color. This is again this weird dichotomy with LEGO where somehow they seemingly cannot be bothered to consider these points even if sets like these would be more relevant to adult collectors that want things to look coherent than children who play with it.

The construction of the tree overall is rather tedious and after I was done with it, I didn’t feel like I wanted to finish the set that evening. It really helps to spread out the build process across multiple sittings on different days or else you get a bit aggravated. In particular the repetitive nature of plugging together the transparent antenna pieces is not very enjoyable and i even forgot some on the inner three petals. If you don’t know it, you won’t see it, though. Unfortunately it is nigh on impossible to make everything hang down perfectly straight. My gut feeling tells me that this would require treating the leave elements and the whip/ leash pieces with a hot air fan to relax them or bend them into place.

Toruk Makto

The Toruk Makto, which translates to The Last Shadow (because it’s the last thing you see before you die) is the evil big bad of the movie in terms of the animals. Unlike his scrawny distant cousins, the Banshees/ Ikrans, he’s a lot harder to catch and does not as easily bow to your will. That’s why anyone managing to do so is highly revered among the Na’vi. That of course is the only reason they are even willing to listen to him (or his remotely piloted Na’vi avatar clone, more precisely) after the big disaster of the Home Tree being destroyed by Quaritch and his goons.

The model of the indomitable creature is quite ginormous, not least of all due to the enormous wingspan. However, also the body has more “flesh” and is much more voluminous compared to the wiry Ikrans. This helps a lot to make it actually threatening and also presentable. It has real legs and the wingtips can be folded backwards. underneath it all is still an awful lot of Technic axles and connectors, though, which isn’t my favorite. It always reminds me that LEGO perhaps should have developed a Ribs & Spars system not just for this, but also for their Ninjago dragons and similar. You know, something that looks more like natural bones or bent swords, not ugly fat tubes.

There’s inevitably a dedicated new head piece and with the ones coming up in the second wave this shows that they invested quite a bit of design effort and money for the molds into this. The feet with the huge claws are quite a bit of building and feel massive. Interestingly enough, while absolutely not accurate to the film, this still feels natural. It only turns the logic of thee creature on its head a bit. Whereas in reality it would mostly use the claws to balance on rocks and trees or hang on walls, here it makes the Toruk look more like it would walk around on the ground as well similar to a dinosaur. Indeed a rare case of where the limitations of brick building still resulted in an accidental positive outcome.

While all this certainly sounds a lot more positive than the Ikrans, I’m still not convinced this is the best way to go about this. Somehow I can’t shake the feeling that if they had gone the full mile and created molds for the body and legs I would have liked it more and even perched the creature on my shelf. Sorry for the language, but this seems a bit half-assed and even more so given the price.

Pieces from another Planet

As you well know one of my considerations for buying a set is the potential harvest of pieces I can add to my own stock, in particular new ones and interesting recolored items, and in this regard the set offers quite a bit. The most visible new elements are inevitably the ones on the Tree of Souls such as the Trans Dark Pink antennas, the Lavender leashes/ vines and the Light Aqua clips and tail/ Bionicle spine pieces. Underneath it also has one of the newer 8 x 8 round plates in Reddish Brown. I also babbled on about the new column piece in my last article and it appears here in Trans Clear, which will be super useful for building nice presentation stands. Of course there’s also the new whip/ connector cable pieces in Black and Bright Light Blue. The Toruk has a few hidden surprises. One of them is the inverted rounded plate for the first time in Red plus there’s a completely new double-curved 4 x 6 slope piece.


Concluding Thoughts

Compared to the two smaller Avatar sets I reviewed earlier this has been a much more satisfying experience overall. You’re actually getting a bit of volume of stuff and everything looks reasonably nice. The only thorn in my side is the price or else I’d give this a full recommendation. At 80 Euro or thereabouts this would be some nice fodder for multiple evenings during the winter, but at double the price this doesn’t really work out. It’s simply too costly for what it offers and in particular people who have no relation to the movies nor a love for weirdly colored parts won’t get much out of it.

That said, I still believe these sets would work better if LEGO had just made them as nice display sets for adults instead pretending they would be play sets for kids, most of which likely never even won’t get to see the movies due to their age rating. The models are a bit too fragile for serious play and the functions too limited to really make it worthwhile. The thought of a five year old running around with the monstrous Toruk is equally odd, though it would probably be funny. so for what it’s worth, LEGO missed the mark on both these fronts. Again, this is for fans of the movie, but won’t hold much appeal for the uninitiated while at the same time being unsuitable for kids.

Pandora’s Boxes – LEGO Avatar, Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571) and Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572)

As you may have noticed, things have been a bit slow around here lately, which is not necessarily just to blame my laziness. Many sets I have on my list only came out in September and October and some others that have been out already for a while don’t have great availability, which means they sometimes are out of stock and if they are there are sold at high prices. All of that makes it more complicated for me to obtain stuff within my budget constraints and likely that’s going to remain this way for a while. So be apprised that the long gaps between reviews may be here to stay despite my best efforts to make things work. Now on to the article.


We all have those “guilty pleasure” movies, that is films that we know aren’t actually that good, but we keep watching over and over again for a specific reason. One of mine is undeniably Avatar. The reason for this is pretty obvious – as a 3D artist myself I was simply enawed by the sheer amount of hyper-realistic rendered graphics on display, even more so since virtual plant and landscape creation was one of my secret obsessions and I just knew how hard it was to make a leave sway in the wind or some stalks interact with an animal touching them. Combined with the fact that in 2009 a lot of this was still a lot harder to do than it is nowadays and many of the technologies used were in their infancy, how could one not be impressed?

Then there’s the whole other side that triggers my inner film critic – the story is very run-off-the-mill and full of corny stereotypes, terribly written dialog and yes, even those awful names for locales like the Hallelujah Mountains (!) make me cringe. Why am I telling you all that? Naturally, the upcoming sequel movies have caused a bit of a renaissance and brought the original movie back into everyone’s mind and view. They even went so far as to bring back an enhanced version of the original to cinemas. While this seems a bit too much hype for my taste, of course I can’t evade all the buzz. Knowing that The Way of the Water will likely be the same mix of weird and terrible storytelling with eye-popping visuals will not deter from making it a point to watch it, regardless.

All of this is the perfect opportunity for LEGO to bring out a few sets. when I heard about this, I was quite giddy with anticipation, hoping they would bring out the Dragon Assault Ship (that big flying pancake thing), but as it turns out they had other plans. Instead we’re getting a bunch of scenes from the first movies for people to relive their memories. The first two I chose for my review are Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571) and Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572).

LEGO Avatar, Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571), BoxLEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Box

Pricing and Contents

It seems to be one of those “unwritten rules” that licensed LEGO sets are considerably more expensive than others and this is unfortunately the case here just as well. Combined with the recent arbitrary price hikes they imposed on their costumers under the pretense of the overall situation in the world inflicting economic pressure this makes these sets a rather costly investment. The Thanator set comes in at 45 Euro, which on first glance isn’t all that terrible for 560 pieces. However, as is evident from the overview picture, many pieces are small and the individual models are also not the largest and most complex ones.

LEGO Avatar, Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571), Overview

The Banshee set fares a lot worse at 55 Euro  for 572 pieces. The problem here really is that right out of the gate you know that you’re not getting much for your money’s worth with the Ikrans being super skinny and the wings inevitably gobbling up pieces plus the actual wing “skin” undoubtedly costing a premium since the foil pieces need to be printed and cut specifically just for this set (an observation that applies to similar Ninjago dragon sets as well).

LEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Overview

With all that in mind, it’s once more time for retail discounts to save the day and make this work. Lucky for us the original movie has dropped from most people’s memory and at this point the new film isn’t even out, so demand for these sets isn’t that high and there is some wriggle room, so I got the Thanator set for 32 Euro and the one with the Banshees for 37 Euro. If you’re patient and wait for upcoming special promos in the pre-Christmas season or Black Friday in particular, you may be able to get even more discount. On the other hand popularity could grow once the new movie hits and people flock to theaters, so you can’t hesitate too much and have to trust your gut feeling.

Minifigures

A standout feature of these sets are of course the tall minifigures for the Na’vi, the oversized blue smurfs that roam Pandora‘s forests. This is achieved in two ways: One are the very obvious long legs. Instead of having two stud holes they are three holes long and at this scale this makes quite a difference. Those leg pieces are not the same as the one specifically used on Woody from the Toy Story sets a few years ago, by the way, meaning they’re a new mold. The second trick to gain some height are the elongated heads with an actual chin area. Again, a minimal change, but noticeably contributing to the overall perception of those creatures being 2.5 meter tall. This can be easily seen with angry Colonel Quaritch next to Neytiri, both from the Thanator vs. AMP Suit set.

LEGO Avatar, Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571), Figures

Since the Na’vi are basically butt-naked bar a loin cloth and some of their tribal garbs and trinkets, the whole body is Medium Blue. All the details are printed on, including their blue skin stripes and the aforementioned decorative items. the designs are very nice and each character is immediately recognizable.

LEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Figures

The Landscape Pieces

As stated in my lengthy opening paragraph, the landscapes of Pandora play a major part in the appeal of the whole movie. They lend to the credibility and even if in the first movie we only ever get to see sub-tropical regions, there’s already a lot of variation and diversity there which will only expand once we get to know other areas in the new movies. That said, of course re-creating those landscapes in the real world and especially in LEGO is a whole different exercise. Since most plants and creatures were specifically designed for the movie, there are no exact matches for them in our environment.

That can mean that a plant doesn’t exist at all in this form on our planet or that the designers drew inspiration from existing species, but changed their appearance. That can be anything from simply changing the scale (unless you’re into it, very few of us really know how weird some microscopic fungae or small herbs look up close), changing the color or blending features of different plants into a new one. Very experimental genetics, if you will. Apparently this means that LEGO would have to create a ton of new molds and recolored elements and as we all know this would not be realistic or reasonable in terms of manufacturing cost and in turn price. So they had to get creative and look at what they already had and could easily use.

A very obvious candidate are the palm leaf elements. The Magenta ones were in a few The LEGO Movie 2 sets along with the super rare Bright Light Orange variant and I for one am glad that we’re getting them back and from what it seems in notable numbers, given that they appear in more than one of the sets. Regrettably this is also where LEGO stopped being “nice to us” and giving us new colors with most other elements being pulled in from existing sets such as the small leaves in Magenta and Bright Light Orange having appeared in various Disney sets or the Sunflowers (40524). The only highlight other than that for me were the two Dark Red flower stems hidden in the green capsules. Those were only introduced last year in Minecraft and are still relatively rare.

Mind you, I’m not saying that this is bad and the designers didn’t try, it just doesn’t feel very Pandora-ish. A particular beef of mine is that many of the scenes with the Thanator (pictures at the top) for instance play out in the shadow of the forest and at dawn, so everything has slightly bluish tint. This surely could have represented better by using colors like Dark Turquoise, Dark Blue, Sand Green, Sand Blue and so on. Also the overall density of the jungle could have been better with “simply more stuff”. And with that we are also getting to the point of the glow-in-the-dark elements: The crowns (top) and upside-down carrots (below) would make so much more sense in a dark environment.

In the Banshees set there’s also a completely new element. Since it’s not yet listed on Bricklink I can’t provide you with a proper name and description, but it is basically the counterpart to this also rather rarely used support beam, only that instead of a flat surface it is a half-cylinder. Here it is used to create the illusion of a waterfall down the floating rocks and thus included in Trans Light Blue, in other Avatar sets it is used in Trans Clear to similar effect, only without the illusion of water. It’s actually a nice new element and I would predict that especially in the clear color it would also make for a nice support on other models that are being displayed mid-air.

On a final note: As you can see when studying the pictures closely they have clips and “hook” bar elements at their ends. This is meant to allow you to connect the individual pieces into a bigger ensemble. While it’s a nice touch, it doesn’t exactly make sense. The landscapes each have a different feel and appearance down to the color of the “grass” being different greens and there’s no real transition between the zones.

Also the landscape models are not very robust, being that they are only built on a two plate thick base with not much structural reinforcement and the risk of pulling stuff apart is rather high. Did I mention that he bar and clip elements being different colors is also kind of annoying? There’s some good intentions here, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. it would probably have been better to focus more on making each segment as detailed as they possibly could or in the opposite direction harmonize everything so that the individual sections could be plugged together with pins and form a solid piece of landscape.

The Thanator

The Thanator (simply “death bringer” derived from the ancient Greek word thanatos) is one of the first large creatures we get to see in the movie and it also plays a vital role in the grand finale. That latter scene where this creature is turned into an ally is what the set is about. Personally I never found it to be all to terrifying contrary to what the film wants to make you believe, which perhaps is already saying something. To me it’s just not the most interesting beast to begin with.

One of the factors that contributes to this feeling is the decision to have six legs, which makes the movements look awkward. It’s one of those sub-conscious things that you cannot put a finger on at first, but it becomes more and more clear the more you think about it. The second thing is the odd coloration. Yes, it makes sense for a creature that moves through the shadowy underbrush of the forest to have a dark skin to blend in, it’s just not visually attractive. The third and final reason why this fails to impress me is the odd sense of “He’s wearing a mask.” with the leaf-shaped skin appendages and the extremely protruding teeth. Yes, that no doubt is the intention – to create the feeling of the creature wearing a skull mask like a shaman or tribal warrior – it just doesn’t really work for me.

Based on my limited enthusiasm for the actual film creature I wasn’t expecting too much, yet LEGO managed to make things even worse. Just looking at the box art made me go “RLY?”. Everything about Palulukan (as the Na’vi call him) looks wrong and at no point do you believe that this is a slick predator stalking other animals in the jungle. The most obvious shortcoming is of course the extremely blocky appearance. You can see that to some degree the curved appearance of the body was captured, but everything else feels like rigid limbs hanging from a marionette.

The stiffness not only affects the look, but also the play value in that it is nigh on impossible to pose this creature other than the most basic stances. You can forget about that typical attack pose because the trunk doesn’t have a joint and at the same time the leg joints are way to weak to e.g. allow the thing to stand on its hind legs and rear up. In reverse, it is equally difficult to even get all six feet on the ground at the same time. When you manage to get it working it still feels wrong due to the claws just hovering above the actual ground plane due to how they are constructed. This just feels so wrong!

The other thing that rubs me the wrong way is the head. I mean what is the point of creating custom molds, if you can’t get it right? I may be critical of the skull mask design, but smoothing things over extremely can’t be the answer, either, don’t you think?! To me this looks like they are planning on re-using the mold on some Ninjago dragon with a bird-like head. In other words: It looks very generic. As it stands, I consider the Thanator a complete failure.

The AMP Suit

The second model in the package is the AMP (Armored Mobility Platform) “suit”, of course just a mech. Unlike many Ninjago mechs this is more reminiscent of the original Mechwarrior bots with the bulked-up, gorilla like chest and raised shoulders. From a mechanical engineering standpoint that would make a lot more sense. Compared to those overly tall mechs you have a much lower center of gravity and wouldn’t have to deal with some of the instabilities that long limbs bring. Naturally this doesn’t mean that this is “realistic” and could exist as a functioning vehicle in the real world. It’s just more logical and plausible, something the movie designers made a big point of and an established quality of James Cameron‘s movies that lends them that extra believability.

The AMP depicted in the set is not Cl. Quaritch‘s personal machine, which due to lots of repairs and usage has many parts in their natural dark grey “metal” color that never got a coat of fresh paint, but rather a stock model that was stored on the Dragon Assault Ship and with which he escapes as the vessel crashes down. The exact color appears to be more of a pale green similar to RAL 6028 Sea Green, but I guess Sand Green is a good enough match. The good news that brings about is that it required a number of pieces to be specifically recolored like the ingot piece or the rounded 1 x 2 plate. For me it also gives access to some other pieces in this color that have been around already, but in sets I never bought. This helps to bolster my parts stock.

The design of the model is reasonable for its small scale, but not particularly correct when you look closer at the details. For instance the shoulders would need to stand up and out more. It would also have been nice if they had put more effort in making the canopy airtight or create a dedicated new mold for it. After all, the point of this is that you could sit in the cockpit without requiring an extra breather mask. in an odd way this also reinforces my points about the Thanator: A more detailed and slightly larger AMP would have been preferable over so many pieces being wasted on a unrealistic creature. This would also have allowed for a more realistic chainsaw blade, which I consider the weak point of this otherwise neat little model. In the end they could have sold this alone for around 15 Euro and people might have jumped at it.

Jake’s Ikran

Moving on to the second set, we get Jake and Neytiri‘s iconic Ikrans/ Banshees. Jake’s is the bluish one as for whatever reason those creatures come in a million shades of different colors, allegedly having to do with how strong and dominant they are. This kind of diversity within the same (sub-)species is usually only found with lizards or some birds. Other kinds of animals often need multiple generations to develop these variations. That’s why I’m a bit torn on this, as technically these creatures are too large to spontaneously develop such drastically different skin patterns and is kind of a crutches used for visual distinction in the movie.

As you can see from the images, there’s really not much to say about the model as there ‘s just isn’t much volume. The body is more or less just a block of different two stud wide elements and some brackets and to this block a few hinges are attached to hold the wings. Those wings are just large pieces of printed transparent vinyl, a method used on Ninjago dragons as well. In contrast to those fictional creatures here they are extremely large and the wingspan could be sufficient to actually lift the creature and someone riding it. It is kind of realistic in aerodynamic terms.

The wings can be folded up, but not folded within themselves. That’s why these creatures have no feet, as actually they would “walk” on one of their “finger” bones from the wing like a bat or Pteranodon. That makes them look like they’re sitting and hatching when you don’t have them attached to the landscape piece. as you can see, LEGO created yet another new mold for the head, which perhaps is the best part about the whole thing.

Neytiri’s Ikran

Neytiris version of the Ikran is 100 % identical to Jake‘s, only with alternate colors. This makes for a very tedious and repetitive build and would be my main criticism of this set. Similar to the AMP I would have settled on just getting a single model, but a bit more elaborate. I strongly believe that a slightly larger scale also would have allowed for more rounding/ smoothing of the body as well because you would have had room for more slopes. This also would have opened up the opportunity to present a different scene with the wings folded up properly like when Neytiri first calls her “girl” on the big tree or when Jake earns his stripes when catching his one up high on the rock precipice in the floating mountains. An incidental side effect of this would have been that they could have re-created those locations as well instead of just including a generic Pandora-ish looking  looking lansdscape.

LEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Ikran Neytiri, Underside View

LEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Ikran Neytiri, HeadThe underside shot once more illustrates the huge wingspan and the “bone” structure built from Technic elements. The funny thing here is that in fact the wings are robust enough, but the attachment with the hinges doesn’t live up to that. it can barely hold the weight and moving the wings into other positions makes them come off quite bit. At least for the large wings they probably should have added a second hinge or at least some clip/ bar combo to make it more stable.


Concluding Thoughts

I regret having to say that both sets are quite disappointing. The irony here is that you can see the seeds of what could have been, but the result is a letdown. In particular the creatures, which should be the highlight, leave a lot to be desired. The new custom molds for the heads can’t disguise the fact that their bodies are severely lacking in details and the proportions are weird. It’s not even that more realism was sacrificed in favor of more playability, because that isn’t the case, either. A six-legged creature that doesn’t get its feet on the ground certainly doesn’t count and neither do some “flying wire frames” whose wings come off.

As it is, I cannot really recommend either of the two packages. The parts that are interesting (landscapes, AMP suit) are not elaborate and refined enough whereas the rest makes you feel like a lot of pieces are wasted on mediocre models that in no way manage to capture the magic of the movie. This really feels like someone was trying to “ride the wave” with the original movie having been re-released in cinemas in a spiced up version and the immanent release of the first of the new films for which LEGO sets have already been hinted at. In other words: This comes across as a cash grab preying on peoples love and nostalgia, but the substance of the sets is as lacking as the story of the movie itself.

Once more these are sets based on a licensed IP (intellectual property) that make you wonder who is signing off on those deals and whether the products are being reviewed thoroughly enough before being declared ready for release. I really have a hard time believing that the people making those decisions even care…

Non-Float Boat with a Goat – The Goat Boat (76208)

The Vikings are easily one of those people who are the most misrepresented across all media. There seems to be an over-emphasis on their exploits as conquerors and warriors, and while some of their legendary ruthlessness and brutality cannot be denied, a lot of other things like their rich culture and craft skills all too often are swept to the side or only presented in those aforementioned contexts. One of those are there ship-building achievements and while I’m not a fan of the Vikings per se, the elegance of those water-based vessels can’t be denied. That’s ultimately what interested me most about The Goat Boat (76208), as in fact like so often the movie it is based on didn’t interest me too much and I haven’t seen it yet.

LEGO Super Heroes, The Goat Boat (76208), Box

Pricing and Contents

The film this set is based on, Thor: Love and Thunder, barely made a blip on the radar here in Germany with a measly box office of just shy above 5 Million Euro and quite generally this is not Marvel‘s best and most successful movie. It came and went without much fanfare and barely anyone even remembers it. That being the case, the one good thing that comes out of this is that the set can be had at good prices with retailers sitting on stockpile that just didn’t benefit from the movie. I got mine for 32 Euro, which isn’t bad for a 564 pieces set and 5 minifigures. The original asking price of 60 Euro is once more utterly ridiculous, though, and under no circumstances would I have bought it for that. While it’s nice and reasonably large, the boat isn’t worth that much in my opinion for reasons explained later.

LEGO Super Heroes, The Goat Boat (76208), Overview

Minifigures

The figures included in this package are of course Thor himself, his love interest turned substitute Mighty Thor Jane, some Valkyrie (no idea about her actual name), Korg and of course Gorr, the God Butcher. A few special items aside like Jane‘s helm, the figures feel very generic to the point where Gorr looks like just another zombie. Something just doesn’t click here, which isn’t necessarily the fault of the LEGO designers, but rather those odd armor designs of the film not translating that well to the scale. For lack of a better explanation, the prints to me just look noisy, not detailed and interesting. Real fans may disagree and appreciate them more, so I’ll just leave it at that.

LEGO Super Heroes, The Goat Boat (76208), MinifiguresLEGO Super Heroes, The Goat Boat (76208), Minifigures

The Goats

The goats towing the boat aren’t ordinary ones, but rather oversized beasts more alike to donkeys or smaller cattle. They are of course also “magical” creatures rooted in the mythology. The big bummer naturally is that they are built from bricks, not molded items. When the set was first announced it had everyone wondering whether at long last this would be the moment when LEGO brought back the highly coveted and super rare goat or at least a different new version of it. None of that materialized, unfortunately, so likely we will have to wait another eternity before one of those horned animals appears in either a shitty City set similar to this year’s massively overpriced animal farm or a super expensive collector set. The goats themselves are just fine for what they are and at least they have printed slopes for the faces, but at the same time things could of course have been better.

The Boat

As far as I can tell from the trailers and bits of info available the boat itself is mostly some sort of a shuttle/ sightseeing vehicle in New Asgard and a quick way of transportation for Thor, but does not have any significance beyond that. At least the scenes I know are rather tame/ lame. As such, it is almost too elaborate for this mundane usage even if thanks to Asgardian technology it is a flying boat.

The appearance is immediately recognizable as being derived from original Viking/ Norse designs, though perhaps more along the lines of a smaller boat operating along the coast lines, not one to cross large oceans with, since most definitely there wouldn’t fit more than ten or twelve people at most even under best conditions. There’s only eight shields on the sides, after all, and there wouldn’t be that many more people on board if they hadn’t their own weapons at hand.

The construction is interesting as in a way just like on the real boat you build around a central keel with elements attached using sideways techniques. This ensures that the boat stays flat like the original, but at the same time has walls which are credibly thin and don’t take away too much usable real estate from the deck. This is achieved with a bunch of curved wedge slopes and, most interestingly, curved panels mounted upside-down and then cross-connected with each other and the other elements to form a rigid wall. Definitely an interesting technique to keep at the back of your head.

The boat has the typical carved bow and stern reaching very far up. The shapes at the bow appear to be (sea) horses either spitting water or having their tongues out. admittedly in the shots and photos I could find from the movie they look much, much smaller, which could indicate that the LEGO model is based off earlier concept art that later was changed during production.

The small hut/ house is a pretty straightforward build with a few rows of bricks and the roof attached via some hinges and it would also work as a standalone building.

Unfortunately there isn’t much inside, so the ability to fully open it to me is more or less just a side effect of how it’s built or a lucky coincidence, not so much a play feature.

The deck offers plenty of space to put all your minifigures on it (and more), but looks very barren. I know it’s that way in the movie, but this is a point where LEGO should have deviated and added some extra details like a barrel or a rolled up rope lying around. it just looks so terribly boring otherwise.

LEGO Super Heroes, The Goat Boat (76208), Top View

A shot from the side once more accentuates the elegance, but also reinforces the “boringness”. This also exposes one big flaw/ shortcoming: If you don’t use stickers, it all looks like no-one’s home. the irony here is that even some round tiles with a generic wood pattern print (as if they were barrel covers for instance) would have made things a ton more interesting let alone we would have gotten some genuine different crests.

LEGO Super Heroes, The Goat Boat (76208), Side View


Concluding Thoughts

I’m not going to complain too much, because for what it is The Goat Boat (76208) is just fine, but it’s a bit dull, after all. I don’t even see this being particularly appealing to fans of the movie apart from the minifigures, as usual. On the other hand – there’s naturally “that other Viking ship” the Viking Ship and the Midgard Serpent (31132) in the Creator 3in1 series and the latest LEGO Ideas vote turned out that we might be getting a Viking village some time next year. So if you put one and one together, buying those two packages now while they are still available and relatively cheap may be a good idea of you plan to get the village set and want to create a little diorama around it or have a general interest in that stuff.

From Disco to Disco – LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708)

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a LEGO Friends set here and the multitude of reasons is still perhaps something I should one day lay out in a separate article. Suffice it to say that the price is a big factor, but also the overall boring-ness that has crept into the series and there just isn’t the appeal anymore except for the rare occasions like with this Roller Disco Arcade (41708).

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Box

Price and Contents

As mentioned above, prices are really becoming an issue with LEGO and it pains me to see this effect ripple down to Friends as well. It has always been on the more affordable side of the spectrum, but these days it sometimes feels you have to sell your house just to be able to afford some packages. Mind you, I don’t have anything against “adapting to the market” and compensating inflation and money devaluation, but LEGO are certainly taking this way beyond what’s necessary and are being greedy. Having multiple 100+ Euro sets in the Friends series just didn’t happen in the past, if you get my meaning.

With that in mind, this little crazily colored building isn’t even the worst offender. At 642 pieces for 60 Euro it is still priced reasonably, though I have this feeling that not too long ago it would have been marked as 50 Euro only. That’s why even with discounts you have to pay around 45 Euro most of the time. There were some crazy special sales where it was fired out for 35 or 37 Euro, but you can’t bet on those to be available when you may want to buy, of course. I bought mine for 43 Euro, but a good chunk of the cost was offset because someone had sent me an Amazon voucher shortly before and I only had to cover the remainder.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Overview

Figures and Extras

The set comes with only three minidolls, which is rather meager not only in relation to the overall size, but also the bustling free time activities hub this purports to be. You cannot even man each activity nor do you have any spectators. This should at least have had five figures. The minidolls themselves aren’t that special and can also be found in other sets. Jackson, the male, is apparently the token wheelchair guy and Evelyn the new girl with the blue hair. Andrea got a tied up new hairdo, which is about time. The old long hair was really getting long in the tooth.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), FiguresLEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Figures

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), ExtraThe only side build in this set is a small palm tree with a trash can in Coral parked under it. This is a new recolor that also can be found in a few other sets. Outside the Friends universe it’s not that useful, though.

 

The Building

I have no specific like for bowling alleys, arcades or roller skate discos, but somehow this thing pushes a few buttons with me. I couldn’t get that scene from La Boum out of my head where the kids sneak out of their homes to meet in the hottest roller disco in town. That and then the mere mention of disco triggers a whole slew of eponymous songs, be that Alcazar‘s “Crying at the Discotheque” or Whirlpool Productions“From Disco to Disco” as per the title of this article. This brings back so many memories from the time when I was a young lad pushing my bum across the dance floor. 😉

The other thing that immediately caught my attention is the mere flamboyance and exuberance of the design. It’s completely wacko, but in a good way. It brings back this slightly off-kilter style that I used to love about Friends, but which unfortunately seems to have been lost recently with so many sets being all too realistic to the point of being completely boring. I guess now those naysayers loathing Dark Pink finally got their way, but where does it say that it has to be this way?  As I’ve written a few times, the problem was never that Friends was so colorful, it was rather some unfortunate use of color combinations that looked uneducated and unsophisticated. So for what it’s worth, I’m glad that we got some of that back with this particular set.

The build process for this set is pretty straightforward with most pieces simply being stacked linearly on top of each other. There’s no fancy SNOT building or any of that here, only a few brackets and clips used to attach some decorations. You start out with the center section, the bowling lane, then the two side wings with the other areas which are attached via hinges. The result is a quite spacious building that’s very accessible and provides good visibility all round.

The downside to all that is that the stability and robustness of the whole thing isn’t that great. This begins with the plates at the base, where there is often only a single layer of other plates or tiles that holds together the multiple pieces. some areas stabilize a bit more after a while when you add some bricks and interior details, but overall this is not the best. This trend continues with the walls themselves. It’s nice that they are thin and elegant, but at the same time this once again comes at the cost of stability. A few 2 x 2 plates or some inset bricks to enforce the vertical structure would have been welcome and you could have disguised them as corner seats or similar. The wobbliness not only produces gaps in the walls but also extends to the “roof” where individual elements tend to loosen themselves a bit. The roof also feels incomplete with too many exposed studs. It would have been better if the overlap was actually three studs and a second row of rounded bricks or at least some tiles had been added to cap it off.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Open, Overview

An interesting nugget of information are the Trans Neon Green windows, which is actually the first time ever they are available in this color according to Bricklink. Once more one of those things where you would think that LEGO had run through all colors in the last 30 or 40 years already, but no. On the promotional photos they look Trans Yellow, which in a way that would have been even more useful. I feel the same about the tubes used on the outside which are “rigid hoses”. Once you’ve bent them into shape, it will be hard to get them straight again an d in the long run the tension might break of the clips. I’ve mentioned this already when reviewing the Luke Skywalker Helmet (75327). I’m definitely not a fan, but LEGO have used them in so many sets recently, we might just have to get used to it.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Open, Left Side

The roller skate part of the building comes with a small pedestal/ stage made up of two turntables with a microphone in the corner also hinting at its use as a karaoke/ music stage. as you can see everything looks rather crammed to the point where the turntables have gaps between them because there isn’t enough room to insert more of the plates with the inner rounding to cover the gears underneath. in order to do that, the building would have to have more length, or more exactly depth with at least another window (four studs wide) having to be inserted. It would have slightly whacked out the square-ish layout and rhythm of the colored columns vs. the windows, but would have been perfectly doable. It’s a somewhat odd decision and omission. The ramp on the door would of course also be way too steep for any wheelchair-bound person and there should perhaps be some longer gentle slope along the windows at least on the outside, which incidentally also might have helped with those pesky stabilization issues.

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Open, Center

The center section has a bowling lane, which is actually even functional. You can take the pins from their studs and place them on the smooth surface, then topple them over with the red ball. The latter is the genuine “heavy” ball element LEGO unfortunately only drags out once every blue moon and that’s so coveted by people building GBCs, only for them to be disappointed and resorting to other alternatives. At the top of the gate you can see the two Technic arms forming a smartphone stand (also visible in other pictures). Unfortunately they were not recolored in a way that would look more graceful with this set, so they really, really stand out. Luckily they are easily accessible and only held by two pins, so you can easily remove them if you don’t ever want to use this functionality. 

LEGO Friends, Roller Disco Arcade (41708), Open, Right Side

The arcade section is just fine, but of course doesn’t really look interesting without all the stickers for the screens and bling bling. The best part of it is the “dancing machine” in the middle, a genre which seems particularly popular in Asia.


Concluding Thoughts

This set has a lot of pros and cons at the same time. It’s good that it brings back a slightly more crazy version of the Friends universe, but there are many shortcomings in the mechanical/ architectural design. It feels a bit too flimsy for the size it has and while it can be handled well enough, it still requires a gentle touch. In addition a few of the details could have been refined and the whole thing made more plausible. What point is there in harping on including special needs people, when Jackson never actually could move around in the place? The lapses in internal logic cannot be overlooked.

The colors certainly aren’t for everyone and that is something you also have to acknowledge. Even I think there is something a bit off and that perhaps a more stringent color scheme with fewer colors might have been preferable. Especially the many dark colors feel kind of depressing at times and give the building an unfriendly, uninviting touch while on the other hand there’s a lot of overly bright accents with the Neon Yellow stripes or the Dark Pink roof. The middle ground is missing that would have toned down the contrast and acted as an intermediary.

All that said, this is still one of the better LEGO Friends sets and if you have similar feelings about those days rocking the dance floor or feel that simply the theme and design appeals to you, you should definitely get it.

Silver Linings? – LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes-AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909)

I’m far from a car buff as you well know, but Formula 1 has a special place in my heart. It’s not that I was particularly interested to begin with, but in the early 1990s my brother couldn’t get enough of it and so I casually picked up a few things from his magazines and of course watching races on TV. That and of course the Michael Schumacher era began soon to be followed by Sebastian Vettel. That’s why even today I try to keep an eye on developments there, if only tangentially. Checking out the Mercedes-AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909) therefore was also a bit of a given, be it just to poke a bit of fun at my brother and have a discussion about the details of the model(s).

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), Box

Contents and Pricing

As a dual pack this set initially cost 40 Euro MSRP, but after LEGO‘s ridiculous recent price hike costs 45 Euro. The good news is that despite all this, this more or loss still equates to merely twice the price of single-item sets. Unlike e.g. with the Lamborghini Urus ST-X & Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo EVO (76899) they didn’t throw a large premium on top. At the same time the less good news comes in that you won’t be able to shave much off those 40 Euro. As an exclusive set only available at LEGO stores and a handful select retailers there’s no wriggle room for large discounts.

However, effectively I got mine for 38 Euro, which in a funny way is even LEGO‘s fault. they appear to be producing this set in such low numbers that they’re constantly running out and it’s out of stock. I tried to pick it up directly in the Leipzig LEGO store on three separate occasions before I gave up and ordered it from one of those few alternate vendors that still had some packages. You should be prepared that it may take a moment before you can get your hand on this.

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), Overview

Sticker Madness

Another of those things I keep boring you with is of course my dislike for stickers/ decals and in this case it’s really, really bad. As we all know, the Mercedes Formula 1 cars aren’t called Silver Arrows for nothing and consequently this would have meant that LEGO had to produce a ton of pieces for this set in Flat Silver, which of course never happens. Instead they are trying to compensate this with “illusion painting” by means of printed adhesive foil and here once more the sheer number of sticker pieces is beyond belief. And the AMG Project One doesn’t do much better, since in reality it’s also another silver Mercedes. So ultimately you end up with two relatively large sticker sheets and what makes it even worse for me is that you right away can see how they’re even trying to cheat the surface curvature by using gradients on the F1 car’s spine.

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), Stickers

The Formula 1 W12 1

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), F1, Variants PiecesInevitably LEGO‘s heavy reliance on stickers is a two-edged sword and while not using them increases the re-usability value of the sets, but it also diminishes the aesthetic value. Often this can be overlooked, but with the Formula 1 car it really shows very painfully. It has none of the magic it should have and more or less just looks black. This also affects the minute differences between Hamilton‘s car and Bottas‘ version for which some extra pieces are included. Aside from the distinct Yellow camera bar the differentiation is lost without the stickers.

As such, only the Dark Turquoise and Dark Red elements will really stand out and add some flair. The Dark Red 1 x 4 modified plate is exclusive to this set and so are the little knobs used for the rear view mirrors. The wedge slopes have since appeared in more sets, but initially were also limited to this one. There’s a few unique printed parts like the wheel covers used to shim over the regular wheels and create the illusion of those specially marked tires to indicate their softness rating. I feel that this is a bit of a missed opportunity. While the Blue looks very harmonious and calm for a display model, in light of the overall lack of contrast I would have preferred Yellow or Red markings. In fact it would have been cool if they included at least one of those options as an alternative. Other printed pieces are the Mercedes star of course or the faux air intake above the cockpit.

The assembly of the car is simple enough, but make no mistake – this is overall rather fragile. Many elements literally only hang by a single stud or clip and handling requires a tender touch. The model should be held by the modified plates mimicking the chassis or the wheels, but other areas will immediately come off if you don’t have a tender touch. That’s almost like on the real thing except that it doesn’t require racing at 300+ kph or bumping into a wall for the front or rear wing to fly off.

The other apparent issue is the lack of smoothness. At this point I don’t consider it so much a general limitation of using LEGO bricks, but rather of the scale. Point in case: With introductions like the recent “jester shoe” arch it would be possible to create some of the subtle, yet complex curves, just not at this size. This also goes for the suspensions of the wheels, which of course aren’t big fat tubes on the real thing. Neither are spoilers and winglets big and chunky, but I guess there’s really no good way to translate all those paper-thin carbon fiber bits into bricks.

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), F1, CockpitThe cockpit is surprisingly adequate in its sparseness and even using the game pad once introduced for the Collectible Minifigures series for the steering wheel is fitting. However, since there is no sticker for it I feel that including the printed version from way back then might still have been better, even if it doesn’t represent the actual button layout. A point that has caused much discussion is the largely inaccurate depiction of the HALO device. Using a rigid tube is really not ideal and overall it looks way too bulky and too large. Short of creating a new piece I can’t think of a much better solution, though. All the swords/ blades or hotdogs that come to my mind are not curved enough to capture the shape.

The Project One

The second car in the package is apparently one I know even less about than the F1 one. That’s why it more or less looks like the many other (super) sports cars in the series. Indeed it also almost builds like the Aston Martin Vantage or the Corvette, give or take the necessary variations to accommodate each car’s specific details. In this case this in particular refers to the large fin blade in the aft section.

Otherwise the car is rather mundane and once more one can only bemoan that there are no genuine silver parts. This would make things look so much more interesting even without the stickers.

Similar to other cars in this year’s Speed champions line-up this one also uses the new 2 x 3 curved wedge slope and all the same these are also printed with the shapes for the headlights. The other printed parts are the AMG logo on the intake grille and of course the canopy piece. The latter lacks opacity, something which sadly has become an “expected” (or dreaded?) standard, even if it didn’t need to be this way if LEGO invested a bit more time and care.

LEGO Speed Champions, Mercedes AMG F1 W12 E Performance & Project One (76909), AMG, CockpitThe cockpit is very plain again and shamelessly exploits the fact that a) those racing cars have very stripped down interiors in the first place and b) the dark tinted glass would further restrict visibility. Would be nice to have some bright red Recaro seats and support tubing from the inner frame shining through from time to time, though.


Concluding Thoughts

Despite my criticisms this is quite an okay set. LEGO (and by extension Mercedes AMG) had the good sense to not gouge their fans with excessive pricing inflated by licensing fees and that alone deserves some recognition. As someone who builds these models only for fun it would of course have been even better if the set were broadly available in retail and thus I could have gotten some discount, but sometimes it can’t be helped.

The Formula 1 car is clearly the weaker of the two due to the limitations of the system. This would probably make more sense as a Creator Expert/ Icons set in around 1/12th scale, but ironically then I might not be able to afford it. I guess I’m caught between a rock and a hard place on that. If you take the set at its face value it is definitely okay and will fit nicely into your collection of similar Speed Champions models.

Da Bond’s (DB) Five – LEGO Speed Champions, Aston Martin DB5 (76911)

Even if you’re not a fan, it would be hard to be completely unaware of the cultural phenomenon that is the James Bond movies. Even back when I was a child in East Germany in the 1980s it was hard to escape them and we watched the films in terrible quality via terrestrial reception on Western TV on a black and white TV. That inevitably also means that I hold dear a few of the more cheesy older movies from that era like Octopussy, but I also like several others and there can no be denying that Daniel Craig was the best Bond of them all. Strangely enough I can’t really get behind most of the Sean Connery ones, though, and think they are massively overrated. anyway, which version of the suave agent you prefer is of course entirely a matter of your own preference.

A staple of these movies have been the cars and while there have been many different ones over the years, the original Aston Martin DB5 has appeared and reappeared over and over again, including the most recent No Time to Die. That provided the opportunity for LEGO to sink their teeth into creating a brick build model and after a bigger one two years ago we now also got one in the Speed Champions line with set 76911.

LEGO Speed Champions, Aston Martin DB5 (76911), Box

Contents and Pricing

Regrettably, LEGO once again have raised prices and so now even a simple Speed Champions set like this one will set you back 25 Euro. On paper this still sounds good enough for 298 pieces, but one must not forget that primarily you’re still dealing with a lot of 1 x 1, 1 x 2 and 2 x 2 elements. In terms of the (perceived) volume of stuff we’re getting pretty close to this becoming a bad deal. Fortunately, and in some way this shows that the designers put their heart into it, this is offset further in this specific case by many new parts. This does not only include the usual printed parts, but also a bunch of exclusive wheel caps to emulate classic spoked wheels and a new type of canopy plus there’s a large number of  Metallic Silver tiles.

The minifigure is the man, the myth, the legend himself – Mr. Bond, but it’s very unspecific and not particularly recognizable in terms of which actor it is supposed to represent. If you feel like it, you can of course you can see him as Daniel Craig from the most recent movies, but to me a better match is George Lazenby from the  ill-fated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In the end it doesn’t really matter that much and you could even imagine this to be just a generic character. One thing that seems like a very obvious oversight or omission is the non-inclusion of a Martini glass. Given that this piece has been available for two years now it should have been an easy decision. It would have made the minifig so much cooler.

LEGO Speed Champions, Aston Martin DB5 (76911), Overview

Despite the price raise you can count on retail discounts and indeed I recently saw this package being sold for slightly above 14 Euro just like when the MSRP was 20 Euro. I had gotten mine for those 20 Euro because I wanted to be reasonably quick with my review and not wait too long, but as of now the average is somewhere around 17 Euro.

Sticker Conundrum

While I can fully accept that not everything can be printed on brick built models (it’s not just an issue of cost but also actual manufacturing capacity), I’m still not friends with the extensive or even excessive use of stickers. This is even more the case for such a prestigious model like the DB5. The most glaring WTF? moment is that not even the elements holding the company logo (here a 1 x 2 slope and a 1 x 2 tile) are printed. Furthermore not a single of the number plates comes as a printed version. I mean it’s good to have the option to pick from multiple variants as used in different films and they even included the extra 1 x 3 tiles for quick changes, but overall for us lazy types there should at least be one print.

LEGO Speed Champions, Aston Martin DB5 (76911), Stickers

A big stinker with the stickers is the incorrect color. As a graphics artist of course I have an eye for this and can’t unsee it, but even as someone with no such experience you can see the difference. The stickers are slightly warmer in color temperature, meaning the grey is a bit more yellowish/ brownish when holding one of the Light Bluish Grey pieces next to it. What makes this even weirder is the fact that LEGO could have done this without any of the grey color and just printed the White and Black on transparent film. There’s literally no other color that would have necessitated a background fond.

The Car

This model is LEGO‘s second attempt at a DB5. The first one, the big James Bond Aston Martin DB5 (10262), quickly became the Internet’s laughingstock. Not only did LEGO have the audacity to try and fool everyone into thinking it would be actual silver with some tweaked lighting and photo touch-ups, but also was the front looking anything but correct.  Here in Germany references to the Trabant 500 were common. The proportions just weren’t right, everything was too straight and then those terrible “googly eyes” for the headlights. They really screwed this one up. Thankfully things have changed and right from the start one can say that this smaller Speed Champions rendition is the better, more realistic version.

Even at a superficial glance the model looks pretty gorgeous right out of the gate. Everything just seems right and you can really feel the “classic British car” vibe with a bit of heavy, conservative design, but also a certain unmistakable elegance. A first disappointment is the non-matching color of the printed canopy piece. I can bluntly say that this is just sooooo lame of LEGO to create a new part design and mold and then not invest in the manufacturing process. The problem here is pretty clearly and unsurprisingly the lack of opacity and thus the light not fully reflecting off it while at the same time the black interior exposes the transparency and makes things look darker. This definitely would have needed a second coat of paint or a white underprint.

I understand that they are doing it to not get into alignment issues when two stamps need to hit the same area or else they’d end up with a ton of rejects that don’t pass QA, but at the end of the day it’s one of those “Why should I care?” things. If they have to put up an extra worker or develop a super fancy machine that checks alignment this with a ton of cameras before applying the second layer I don’t know that it should matter to me as a customer. It’s not like LEGO is cheap to begin with, you know, and they definitely ought to have the money for such an investment. This is one of those points where there highly optimized automated production has gone one step too far in the wrong direction and they need to fix it.

In contrast to some other Speed Champions those last two years the construction techniques used on this car are pretty ordinary. It’s to a large extent based on stacking elements from bottom to top with not too many sideways building moments except where you would expect them like the rear lights. Those are printed on a new 1 x 2 tile with rounded corners, matching the similarly shaped plates. A weak point are the various silver tile elements. Many of them are only held by one or two studs and you kind of wedge them between other elements. This is a somewhat fragile solution that’s okay for a showcase model, but would be terrible for a play car. To some degree that’s also true for the Pearl Silver horns mimicking the mounting points for the front and rear bumper. They’re attached to bar holders under the car and move around. You have to pay attention to alignment to make things look good.

The thing that broke the camel’s back on the big model is also still the most critical area on this small one. It is markedly better, but still incorrect as the cooling intake grate isn’t flush with the hood’s edge and the area isn’t curved accordingly. This is one of those things where I wish LEGO had invested in designing a new slope or wedge piece. In a way they of course have done so by introducing the 1 x 1 quarter dome elements with the headlights printed on, but there’s no counterpart on the inside for a really smooth transition. Those domes are built on top of another new piece, BTW. The cooling intake is another of those wedged in constructs, but since it fits the gap tightly, there is no risk of it falling out. you only notice the loose parts when touching it and they move slightly.

The interior is generously large and would allow to place a full quartet of figures in it, so you can re-create any such scenarios from the films, be that Moneypenny sharing a passenger seat or a bad guy tied up on the rear bench. It’s just too bad that Bond‘s car has a Black interior indeed even in the movies, so we’re getting another model that exploits the “black hole” illusion and thus can pass on more details and prints.


Concluding Thoughts

It is probably fair to say that this is one of those rare “essential” sets that you can’t avoid buying one way or the other simply because it offers something for everyone. Fans of the movies will want it just as a small memento of their love for them. Car fans will want it, because the DB5 is so iconic. Even people like me who always have the later usage of the parts on their mind rather than filling up their showcase will love it because of the many interesting pieces. The many Metallic Silver tiles alone are a major bonus. I really can barely imagine anyone not wanting this except for kids that are too young to have seen the James Bond movies.

The design is of course not without flaws and once again it would have made a good impression if LEGO had designed a bunch of new curved slopes/ wedges to get a more correct shape on the front. At the same time the staggering quality issues really get on my nerves. Considering that LEGO still bill themselves as a premium toy manufacturer, those color differences on the stickers and the rear canopy piece are simply not acceptable. They basically negate all goodwill on display with the custom wheel covers, the other silver parts or for that matter having included a new canopy mold in the first place. It’s like they were hoping that users would just be glad this model exists at all and forgive any production flaws.

Despite those issues I would still recommend this set, but as always pay attention to getting a good price. At full price the metrics just don’t add up (unless you are a collector who doesn’t mind) as ultimately this is a very simple model where the main cost driver clearly are the exclusive printed and metal-coated parts and the new molds introduced with it/ created for it. Ironically, just a bit more of that could perhaps fixed the biggest shortcoming, the hood, and made this a near perfect set…

Veggie Wagon – LEGO City, Farmer’s Market Van (60345)

I don’t put up reviews of LEGO City sets that often, but that doesn’t mean I’m not buying any at all or don’t like them. Most of the time it’s just that I buy small, cheap stuff that is not worth turning into an article unless there is a specific reason like when I elaborated on the new Neon Yellow color. Apparently this must also be the case for the Farmer’s Market Van (60345) then, don’t you think? As a certain Juno Birch would say: Yes, that’s happening! 🙂 So let’s look at what we have here.

LEGO City, Farmer's Market Van (60345), Box

Pricing and Contents

This package is part of this year’s farm-centric line-up that also includes the Chicken Henhouse (60344), Grocery Store (60347) and then Barn & Farm Animals (60346). Apparently it’s been ages since LEGO had such sets in their portfolio, so it was about time and these sets have generally been welcomed. However, there’s a an ugly dark cloud in this scenario: Except for the 10 Euro chicken pen (which I also got in the meantime, by the way), these sets are prohibitively expensive. The store has a MSRP of 60 Euro for only 404 pieces and at 50 Euro for 230 pieces the farm house doesn’t fare much better despite containing many desirable molded animals.

By comparison this makes the van the cheapest in the whole sub-series with 30 Euro for 310 elements. This pricing logic doesn’t make any sense on any level even if you figure in factors like large pieces or 4+ sets always being more expensive. It doesn’t make this little truck a steal, but by and large the most cost-efficient of the series. That’s even more true once you factor in the discounts. I got mine for still relatively expensive 24 Euro, but as of now you can find offerings for around 21 Euro.

LEGO City, Farmer's Market Van (60345), Overview

As you can see in the photo there are many smaller parts, so there’s ultimately not that much “volume of stuff”. That does not only extend to the field/ plot of land but also the car itself, which is quite hollow (not in a bad way, though). Point in case: While the models look good, you don’t have much in your hands in terms of pieces once you break them down again. The pile really isn’t that big. That’s why aside from my usual very cost-aware attitude I feel that 25 Euro is really more in line with what you get and any additional discounts sweeten the deal further.

The Minifigures

The set comes with three minifigures, which isn’t bad for such a small and affordable offering. The figures themselves don’t look anything special, but interestingly the girl with the blue hair has not only said hairpiece in Blue for the first time but also a new and unique torso print. Inevitably, the “farmer guy” called Horace also had to have a custom print with an imaginary logo on his dungarees. If you look hard enough you can see a slight color mismatch to the Lime Green leg piece. regrettably this seems to be more the norm than the exception with LEGO‘s prints these days. Also included in the set is the small rabbit, for the first time in Light Bluish Grey when before it was only available in White. A nice expansion of the color if you ever plan on building your own little brick farm.

LEGO City, Farmer's Market Van (60345), Figures

The Field

One of the main attractions in this set is undeniably the field with the green stalks on it. There’s so much new to find here and that alone could make it worthwhile. The use of green minifigure candle elements is not new and has been seen in the Spring Lantern Festival (80107) where it was used to emulate bamboo stalks. However, this has been heavily expanded upon here. The most obvious addition is the new branch element that fits into this system and onto which then more stuff can be added. In this set this includes Red horns for peppers, Dark Purple bubbles/ ice cream scoops as berries (first seen as wine grapes in the Heartlake City Restaurant [41379]) and the new dual molded corn cob piece. The stalks are fixated in Bright Green round jumper plates that were only introduced in this color earlier this year (see Antonios Magical Door [43200] for instance). Finally, we also get a Medium Nougat barrel, yet another recent recolor.

The field is built from two structurally identical segments that can be connected with pin bricks, so in theory you could expand this if you buy multiple packages. In such a case one would likely also consolidate the plant stalks into sensible groups. Personally I would have preferred the set contained more of these pieces from the outset and one could build at least a second row or ideally a fully decked out square plot with up to sixteen plants. That would also have sensibly allowed to throw in a wheel barrow for harvesting and perhaps more rabbits and some chickens sneaking through the greenery and “pull out” carrots as indicated by the little slightly hidden mechanism that flips over to reveal the carrot in place of the former stalk. For me a massive expansion of the field would have been one of the few occasions where I then also would have accepted having to pay more simply for the fact that those plant elements can be used to such great advantage elsewhere. With that in mind I also hope that the branch element will soon enough come out in other colors so we can start building nice trees or branching water pipes.

LEGO City, Farmer's Market Van (60345), Field, CratesThere’s a small add-on by ways of some crates mounted on swivel hinges. This segment connects to the field in a similar fashion thanks to Technic bricks providing the necessary pin holes. Unfortunately LEGO are cheapening out again, as clearly there is plenty of room left to fill the boxes. This would have been yet another good opportunity to sneak in a few extra corn cobs, but they reserved that little trick for the expensive supermarket. A third apple, Lime Green bananas or a Tan/ Bright Light Yellow pumpkin might have been other ideas that would have made this more interesting.

The Van

The transport vehicle is pretty much a “Seen them once, seen them all.” thing. This for me includes the Surfer Van (31079) for instance, but I could just as well point to others I have either reviewed here on this blog or built, including of course from other series like Friends or Creator 3in1. that’s not meant to put blame on anyone, as after all there’s only so many ways to skin a cat, but I really yearn for some variety. Just doing the mudgard pieces in an unusual color like Yellowish Green would totally make my day, considering that the majority of them are still one of the greys, White or Black. LEGO are oddly conservative in this matter and reserve other colors mostly for police vehicles and fire trucks, give or take the occasional exception from the rule.

For what it represents the car is not bad, just a tad mundane and boring. As I mentioned earlier, the build is pretty spacious with a lot of room on the inside and this shows during the assembly. All the side walls stand openly nearly until the end when you add the top plates and wedges, which makes them fragile and has you believe something is wrong because there are larger gaps left until adding the force of the plates pulls everything together.

The build is not completely symmetrical and uses a few different techniques to accommodate a hinged sidewall on the right hand side of the van and a sliding window on the left side. To me this seems a bit of an odd choice as it’s more likely that this would have an flap swinging upward and doubling as a protective roof when selling goods at the weekly groceries market. Slide windows are more appropriate for food trucks, after all.

LEGO City, Farmer's Market Van (60345), Car, Interior, Right ViewThe interior is sparse, to put it mildly and slightly disappointing. There would have been plenty of opportunity to spruce it up like again adding a (small) create with corn cobs or other fruit, a small glass door fridge with soda cans in it and so on. It’s also unfortunate that you cannot easily remove the roof due to how everything is built and held in place by it. Mind you, it’s not that you cannot access the inside, it’s just not as easy and efficient. This also applies to the small deck behind the rear doors. You know what it is supposed to represent, it’s just not that terribly useful in light of the absence of something to put there.

The door itself is made from the 6 x 6 window frame introduced a while ago and the new 3 x 6 door elements that came out this year for easily creating double-winged doors. I’ve blathered on about the novelty and use cases for the elements of the field, but there’s a few more hidden gems in this set. More specifically the big carrot uses two significant elements: One is the 3 x 3 cone, which only once has been done in Orange so far in a Nexo Knights set and next to it there is its companion 3 x 3 dome. Those large chunky pieces are not what you would use everyday, but it’s nice to know they exist and are available just in case you may need them.


Concluding Thoughts

This set certainly doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but is what people call a solid effort on LEGO‘s part. Most importantly it reintroduces a theme that has long been underrepresented or even totally absent from the City series and this should help to familiarize and popularize the subject with younger audiences who hadn’t seen it before. For adults there’s of course the rich harvest (cheap pun alert!) of new and unique elements that could make it worthwhile. In conjunction with a straightforward assembly and the result looking nice this is a relaxing and fun experience. My only gripe really is that there could have been more agricultural stuff and by that I mean a lot more of the veggies and a larger field to “grow” them on.

Car Triple – LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd’s Race Car EVO (71763), LEGO Creator, Street Racer (31127) and LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181)

As a LEGO user on a limited budget it’s sometimes not easy to find something to buy, strange as this may sound. Some sets don’t interest me right out of the gate, others I may actually want are out of my league and then there’s this weird thing where you have downright lulls when you have ticked off your “Must have” list and newer sets aren’t released yet or there’s no worthwhile discounts that deter you from buying something. In those situations, especially when the drought becomes too long and I get this nervous itch, I like to resort to my alternate “Would be nice, but only if…” list. This is sort of a random collection of sets that I might buy, after all, to scalp them for parts. This inevitably requires them to be cheap or offset the cost by being able to sell minifigures for a good price. The three sets featured in this article are exactly that. None of that means that they would be bad on their own merits, it’s just not the main focus of this review.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), Box

LEGO Creator, Street Racer (31127), Box

LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181), Box

Pricing and Contents

Not being much of an actual diesel head or any other kind of car aficionado, the underlying logic for these purchases has always been the potential long-term usefulness of the parts vs. the price and the short-lived fun I might derive while building. As it is, I never got too worked up over the specifics of Ninjago lore or the The Batman movie’s details and the accuracy of the model. With that in mind, the motto of the day always has been “It needs to be cheap!” and so I was biting my time on each of the sets until my gut feeling told me to buy them at what logically seemed to be the lowest price realistically feasible.

That mostly worked except for the Street Racer (31127) where I missed my window of opportunity and had to buy it at slightly higher cost. This one was 15 Euro, which is not too bad, given that a 20 Euro set would not be discounted as much proportionally compared to others. Interestingly, this set seems reasonably popular, so the price is pretty stable and it more or less never was “dumped” anywhere for 10 Euro during a promotion or something like that. The lowest I’ve seen is 13.50 Euro, which really isn’t that significant compared to what I spent.

The other two sets have a regular asking price of 30 Euro, which quite frankly is ridiculous, especially for the Ninjago car. Sure, the number of pieces is there that would fit the usual piece count x 10 Cent per piece = price, but there just is not enough volume of stuff. LEGO are even giving away their game with the marketing photos. One can’t shake the feeling that only half the parts are actually being used anywhere. That said, of course you can rely on discounts, which kind of is the point when you want things cheap, so I ultimately got both packages for around 18 Euro. That’s so much more tolerable and feels more in line with what you would pay for a comparable Speed Champions car for instance.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd’s Race Car EVO (71763)

Perhaps the most disappointing of the three, Lloyd’s Race Car will be the first to get a look. It comes with 279 pieces, which on paper sounds good enough, but as mentioned before it just doesn’t feel that way. This isn’t unexpected or even untypical for a lot of Ninjago sets, as a good chunk of the elements are always swords, blades and other appendages/ decorations as well as side builds and minifigure add-ons. Once you strip them down and put them on their own pile, you sometimes already have 50 pieces that don’t contribute much to the bulk. In this case this is further reinforced by the EVO concept where you are supposed to upgrade a barebones base build to a fully decked out maximum version or vice versa. More on that later.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), Overview

The minifigures in this set are very colorful with Lloyd having multiple shades of green and the snake warriors heavily featuring orange. This makes them almost look a bit too friendly compared to other iterations of these characters. Still love the snake head piece as much as back then, though. If LEGO were to produce Light Bluish Grey or Tan versions, they’d make for wonderful decorations of some similarly themed temple.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), Figures

There’s a small buggy for the bad guys, but it’s basically one of those lazy lackluster designs I’ve criticized a million times in my LEGO magazines reviews. It’s an utter waste of pieces and simply not worthy of even being there.

The main vehicle as depicted here is the maxed out and leveled up version. Not only was I simply too lazy to take photos of the lesser variants with some pieces removed, but in my opinion this EVO stuff also just doesn’t really work that well. The base version looks rather underwhelming and a bit weird and one can’t help but shake the feeling that this was fundamentally designed the wrong way. By that I mean that my overall impression is that the car was designed as the complete version and only then they started thinking about which parts could be removed when in fact it should have been the other way around.

This isn’t helped by the modular concept not having been thought through. Whenever you try to remove the sub-assemblies there’s a good chance you also pull off other parts that are supposed to stay on or at least you loosen up some connections. This isn’t the end of the world, just sloppy design and it feels utterly unnecessary.

The car itself is just fine and has a few things going for it in terms of useful pieces. For instance the green wedges haven’t been in any set in ages and could be interesting to some. Similarly, the relatively new golden “motorcycle style” wheel hubs haven’t been in too many sets yet. This package is also one of the few to have the 2 x 2 corner tile in Green. The most important item however, if you wanna call it that, is the transparent windshield element. It’s rather common in Trans Black, but outside this set it has only been once done in Trans Clear. That means it has been rather expensive (though not particularly rare) and increased availability will help to bring down that cost. Personalyl I can see that piece being useful if e.g. you want to convert a Speed Champions car to a different version and are tired of the shaded windows.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), Front ViewOn a somewhat broader note, I really hate LEGO for doctoring their promotional images the wrong way. I was under the impression that the Green would actually be Bright Green, which would have made the car look a bit more aggressive but would also have been cooler overall. You can imagine that I was mildly disappointed when I realized that. As a Photoshop user myself I find it baffling that they don’t put much emphasis on a reasonably correct rendition of their own colors. It really cannot be that difficult, considering that no doubt they can easily afford all the bells and whistles of expensive photographic equipment and high-end calibrated computer screens.

LEGO Ninjago, Lloyd's Race Car EVO (71763), CockpitThe play value of this model is acceptable. The car is pretty robust and the cockpit is large and accessible. However, there’s not much else to do. Unlike some other Ninjago offerings this one doesn’t have some hinge-based transformation features or hidden functions that can be triggered with some lever. Even the stud shooters feel less than ideal, considering that the round 1 x 1 studs more often than not tend to be consumed by the carpet monster and are harder to retrieve compared to arrow shooters.

LEGO Creator, Street Racer (31127)

I got this set somewhat reluctantly. It’s not that I totally disliked it, it just didn’t strike me as essential when viewed from the angle I was treating the whole operation. Arguably one could say that this is a bit of an acquired taste and my interest only grew when studying the digital building instructions and realizing that it would offer some unique Dark Turquoise parts and a few useful ones in Light Aqua as well.

LEGO Creator, Street Racer (31127), Front Left View

The set comes with 258 pieces and they are put to good use, at least for the primary model. Apparently I haven’t built the Formula X racer and the custom dragster, which use less elements. I might have if the set had a different color scheme, which is a bit of a qualm I have with this. I don’t mind the Dark Turquoise, but I feel that other contrast colors would have served the set better. The Light Aqua could have been substituted for Yellowish Green or Dark Azure and if nothing else, at least the Red decorations should be Bright Light Orange. That and of course the exhaust pipes and the compressor intake would look way cooler if they were in a metallic color.

Building the model is pretty straightforward as unlike some other cars this one use mostly conventional building techniques and not fancy sideways or upside-down construction as often found on Speed Champions these days. This makes for a rather relaxing time and a quick turnaround. I’m a slow builder at the best of times due to often being distracted with other stuff like watching TV, but this was a pleasant build that didn’t drag on for a whole evening.

One thing you’ll notice right away is that this car is rather big and has a lot of usable volume. The downside to that is that it’s definitely not minifigure scale and any of the little guys you put in the cockpit and behind the wheel will look like an elementary school kid having hijacked his parents’ ride. The available space is really huge as evidenced by the images below. There’s even a well worked out stowage area, it’s just that in order to actually use any of that and make sense scale-wise you may need to find some dolls/ puppets/ figures from an alternate manufacturer like Playmobil.

LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181)

The The Batman movie came and went without much fanfare. It was barely marketed and then it felt like it was in cinemas for two weeks only. The short window of opportunity certainly hasn’t helped to compel me to drag my lazy ass to the movies, but I won’t use it as an excuse. I haven’t seen the whole thing and only know bits and pieces from trailers and isolated clips. Based on that, the model appears to be an adequate rendition.

LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181), Overview

LEGO Super Heroes, Batmobile: The Penguin Chase (76181), FiguresThe set comes with minifigures of Batman himself and his nemesis The Penguin. The decapitated head isn’t some unfortunate victim, it’s a replacement for Batman without the cowl. I guess for the realistic look of the film they’re okay, it’s just that they don’t look very spectacular, either. Bats doesn’t even have any weapons and for Mr. Cobblepot  you can build a small rocket launcher (forgot to include it in the images), but that’s pretty much it.

The set officially has 392 pieces and they’re are used well. as you can see on the photos, it has a certain fine granularity with many individual details breaking up what otherwise would just be a sea of black. It even has the flames from the nitro charger to make things look more intimidating. They get a bit tiresome to look at, so if you want to keep the model around for your showcase, it’s likely better to remove those transparent blue parts.

The car in the movie is a custom build, though it has clear references to a Mustang, a Pontiac and some others, depending on which details you look at. Within reason that has been translated well enough to the smaller scale version, though of course some of the straight surfaces would be curved on the original. In terms of size this feels like an oversized Speed Champions car and it even builds similarly. You start out with a 8 wide chassis element which is considerably extended front and rear and then add the other elements.

One of the things I found slightly problematic is how fragile some assemblies are. It is inevitable that some of the flames will come off occasionally, but there’s also several other locations where pieces are only attached by two studs and you can break them off just by handling the model wrongly. The overhang of the front hood is the most annoying of those, but also some of the 1 x 2  slopes used for the sharp ridges tend to dislocate. Another weak spot is the “forked” suspension of the motor. With all that in mind you should handle the model carefully.

The interior details are sufficient. Personally I’m a bit irked by the shooter mechanism. It requires you to have the arrows in the model at all times or else the hinged mechanism will just drop down and stay at an angle, ruining the illusion of a solid surface on the hood. If I were to build this a second time I’d just forego the arrow shooters entirely and close up the gaps with regular bricks and tiles.

The motor is an interesting little assembly and sells the illusion nicely. Most importantly it does so by using some Flat Silver elements that have only been introduced in this color this year such as the 90 degree clip/ bar and the Fez cone. Definitely interesting pieces for anyone building machinery or designing Steampunk stuff.


Concluding Thoughts

Given that I bought all the sets under the premise that I would harvest their pieces and derive a little distraction from them rather than looking at them too critically for their originality, realism and other factors, I’m not that disappointed. Yes, they all have notable shortcomings, but I don’t find them too bothersome within my reasoning.

Of course my opinion would be most definitely different if I was more serious about the matter. I might criticize the lack of more minifigures on the Batman set and its less than robust handling and I might simply write off the Ninjago set as lame and unpolished in relation to the official retail price. In reverse this however also means that I really would not necessarily have bought those sets if they hadn’t been discounted massively. Such is the logic forced upon us by LEGO‘s crazy pricing.

To my surprise I really liked the Creator 3in1 race car and if you’re on a budget and can get over the slightly weird color scheme I would recommend picking this over the others. It’s just as robust as the Ninjago car while looking a lot better and at the same time it’s as big and reasonably detailed as both its alternative offerings. The Batman car would be last on my imaginary list due to its stability issues and boring black look. There simply are way too many other black cars out there.

I am Plastic – LEGO Super Heroes, I am Groot (76217)

As I’ve written on numerous occasions I’m anything but a Marvel fan and struggle to sit through any of them once the few “good” sections are over and I had my laughs. There’s one exception from that rule, though, and that is the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I wouldn’t watch it on repeat like I do with some other of my favorite films, but I enjoy it whenever it’s on TV. Regrettably, the second part in the series is nowhere near as good. However, it has hugely popularized Groot thanks to him appearing as a slightly annoying teenager in it right from the opening scene. That’s why it was foreseeable or even inevitable that the pesky adolescent might one day get the LEGO treatment and that indeed happened earlier this year when the LEGO Super Heroes I am Groot (76217) set was released. Everybody just loves the little wooden creature!

LEGO Super Heroes, I am Groot (76217), Box

Pricing and Contents

The set essentially more or less falls into the “just another mech” category. Some people may frown at this statement, but that is what it basically comes down to for me. For all intents and purposes the overall structure is the same and the only difference is that it tries to emulate an organic shell in place of the usual armor pieces. I don’t think there’s an other way to see it, at least in the context of a brick-built model.

This informed of course my expectations in terms of pricing when this was first announced and while I didn’t expect it to be cheap as a Ninjago mech due to the third-party licensing, I was still disappointed at how expensive it is e.g. when compared to the Iron Monger Mayhem (76190). The part counts are pretty close with this set having 476 pieces and the grey bot having 479, so the metrics are comparable. Specifics of the technical details, elements included and so on notwithstanding it therefore just doesn’t feel right that the little wood guy costs 50 Euro MSRP and the retro mech “only” 40 Euro.

What makes this even worse is the discounts being equally askew. Currently Groot firmly sits at around 20 percent off and that’s it. That’s the curse of popularity and in turn high demand for you! I bought my package for 36 Euro or the like in one of those weird surprise flash promos on Amazon that you never know about unless you accidentally happen to check their site, but more or less you should plan having to splash out 40 Euro. That is if you don’t want to wait half a year for prices to drop more noticeably.

LEGO Super Heroes, I am Groot (76217), Overview

Sticker Alert

As unfortunately has become a standard, we’re not spared the sticker treatment. It’s even more regrettable as the only essential stickers, the additional red stripes and the labeling for it could have been printed. The writing could even have been on a single brick and you just flip it over depending on what is your favorite version. Collectors naturally also would love the plaque to be printed, but I find the design done so poorly that I would not have used it either way. The bark elements feel completely superfluous, as this is something where I feel that more actual built details would be a better option, anyway.

LEGO Super Heroes, I am Groot (76217), Stickers

The Cassette Tape

Unlike Quill I’m not a kid of the 1990s, but of course everyone had a Walkman back then. It was one of the few luxuries I afforded myself shortly after the German reunification, being that we did not have access to such technology before here in the Eastern part. The first commercial cassette I ever bought was Jean-Michel Jarre – Live! (later renamed to Destination Docklands) and it ran on a loop for quite a while. I had many more after that.

Oddly enough I was never much a fan of self-recorded tapes, so I never really had an actual “mix tape”. This of course is entirely different in the movie and so the notorious “Awesome Mix” Vol. 1 & Vol 2 make an appearance with many of the 1980s classics allegedly being Peter‘s favorite childhood memories also providing a good chunk of the sound track and framing the action.

I don’t have any actual cassette at hand anymore to verify this, but the size and proportions feel about right and should match the original pretty closely. The details of the actual tape spools are also nice. One omission is the visible tape at the top. I can’t offer an immediate solution, but I think it would have been possible to integrate something like that. It might just have required a different building style. Anyway, one of those things that may be worth figuring out as a MOC.

Groot

The little guy looks the part and arguably even the size is about right if you assume pre-schooler Groot rather than the slightly more grown up version in the film. At around 28 cm tall you could likely even completely re-create that scene from the second Guardians of the Galaxy movie where he’s constantly trying to push the red button to set off the bomb all in LEGO and at real world scale.

The figure itself is rather stiff and has limited posing options, which is common for most of these mech-like builds and in this case not even that much of a disadvantage, as he’s rather rigid in the movies, too. There’s no good way to find too many alternate poses, anyway. The head being so big and heavy tends to get in the way, as things get off-balance quite quickly. You can spread the legs slightly and pose the arms a bit, but that’s basically all she wrote. In order to achieve more freedom of motion you’d have to fixate him by e.g. pinning one of the legs to a custom-built stand.

The building process for the model requires some care and attention. Though many elements are built symmetrically twice as you would expect from such a creature, many of them have minute variations to mimic the irregularities of the bark and it’s easy to get things mixed up. Additional challenges arise from the clips and single stud connections used to hold the vines and leaves plus there’s a whole lot of similar stuff on the head where it’s used to fill in the angled gaps. In the end it’s less dramatic than it may sound, though, and perfectly manageable even with limited experience. As I said, you just need to take your time and check more often.

LEGO Super Heroes, I am Groot (76217), Detail FootA thing that riled me up once again is LEGO‘s unwillingness to recolor structural elements consistently such has in this case soem elements of the large ball joints. why are they in Dark Bluish Grey, when the counterpart just next to it is in Dark Brown? I fully understand that they can’t and won’t recolor every element, but c’mon! This is too obvious and on such a prestigious model mostly aimed at collectors, where they have already introduced so many other recolored elements should not have even required spending a second thought. You just do it!

As mentioned already, the head uses somewhat elaborate techniques to achieve the right look. This includes popping elements onto a SNOT block in the center and filling in the gaps of the resulting octagon with small strips that are clipped on. Similar techniques are used for the eyes and the region around them. This also involves some “invisible” upside-down building as well as the very visible lower mouth of course just being a mudguard piece turned on its head. While it’s pretty clever and perfectly serviceable, the downside to that is that many of those connections are very sensitive to touch. If you grab the head in the wrong places you basically push the elements out of their clips again. Some caution is advised!

Parts Mania

I’ve already hinted at this and it’s really true: The set is a treasure trove of recolored elements. Even better, since many of those are actual visible elements and not some hidden bracket or SNOT brick on the inside, you really can add a lot of pieces that simply didn’t exist before in a given color.

For starters, we have the arch style mudguards introduced with the Speed Champions Mini Cooper (75894) set in Olive Green used here for the eyebrows. Someone at LEGO seems to have recognized the value of this element as lately it has come out in several new colors to be used as intake lips on vehicles, overhangs on windows and so on. I will definitely try to get as many of them as I can for my own adventures as well. The ones in this set already give me ideas for building a small military vehicle. The other Olive Green element that gets me really excited is the triple leaves piece. At long last! Now all we need is Sand Green and Dark Green as well so we can have nice “natural” looking plants and flowers, not just Lime Green salad leaves. 😉

The other significant pieces are in Dark Tan, making them suitable for landscaping, all manner of buildings or anything that is supposed to imitate soil, mud and clay. In particular the claw/ rock slope will benefit many scenarios where you want to build a non-hardened road or similar all mucked up by the rain or similar. The smooth wedge element could be useful for some cars, which incidentally could in fact include older models of a Mini Cooper in a subdued contrast livery. The last in line is the other mudguard from the mouth. It’s perhaps the least useful of all the items mentioned, but regardless, it could still be used to build e.g. a car from the late 1970s when somehow people thought those stuffy earth tones looked good.

If you’re building creatures, the printed eyes will please you. They adapt the methodology from the buildable Harry Potter Hedwig (75979), but are executed based on shield pieces instead of inverted round plates.


Concluding Thoughts

It’s hard to resist the charme of this little rascal and one can’t help but think that he’s super cute even if you can’t relate to the movies. It’s also done pretty well as a LEGO model despite some unnecessary sloppiness like the visible grey parts. That reduces the value as a collectible/ presentation piece. That is also not helped by the limited posing options. If that is not a concern, you still get a nice result. At the same time this is absolutely not a play set, not even within the confines of what other mechs would offer. It is far too delicate and fragile and should not be touched too much. Regardless of all the good qualities, the price is still a bit of a head-scratcher. This is the kind of madness that drives me up the wall with LEGO and that is making it harder and harder to even afford the simplest sets. For a company that already makes billions each year this feels so unnecessary and it’s a disservice to fans who may need to think twice about a purchase.

Insignificant Helmet – LEGO Star Wars, Luke Skywalker (Red Five) Helmet (75327)

Before we dive into the details of the Luke Skywalker (Red Five) Helmet (75327) from the LEGO Star Wars theme series, let me clarify a few things.

The collectible “Helmets” series has been around for two years now and this (unofficial) moniker not only covers various Star Wars headgear but also some notable Super Heroes stuff like Batman‘s cowl, Iron Man‘s helmet or Venom‘s entire head for instance. Again, there is no “Helmets” series per se, as they’re all filed under their respective other themes, but people habitually call it that because of the undeniable similarities and commonalities they all share with regards to scale, overall style etc..

When the first one was announced, which of course had to be a Stormtrooper Helmet (75276), I was mildly enthused, but not over the moon. The idea had merit and it could be cool to have some iconic helmets lined up on the shelf. Still, even back then I already feared that LEGO would milk this and the pricing would be outrageous, so I remained slightly skeptical. And wouldn’t you know it, what I suspected indeed came to pass, so my reservations were warranted (more on pricing considerations in the next chapter below as usual).

What made this even worse is that the actual results looked rather naff and by that I simply mean way too many visible studs, gaps and recognizable building techniques. That may get some fans drooling, but I decided it’s not for me and basically swore to myself to never buy any of these things. I just want my collectibles to look nice and in case of these helmets that would have meant much more of an effort to make them smooth and rounded and solid without resorting to cheap tricks, which badly enough also includes having to use stickers because even with these expensive items LEGO can’t be bothered to just print everything.

So how did I end up buying the Red Five helmet, after all? I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but the core motivation was simply a number of distinct and unique parts I could add to my collection just by buying this set. Some are also in other sets, but still rare, some are exclusive to this one for the time being. I also of course wanted to check if my own prejudice against these helmets was justified and if a positive build experience could not sway me and convince me otherwise (hint: It didn’t!). So let’s see how things went…

LEGO Star Wars, Luke Skywalker (Red Five) Helmet (75327), Box

Pricing and Contents

As already mentioned, I find these sets shamelessly overpriced. That’s nothing new in the LEGO universe and you’re probably tired of me complaining about it, but it still stings/ stinks. Worse yet, they don’t even pretend that this is in any way related to the parts count or other factors. The smallest set, the Classic TV Series Batman Cowl (76238) with its meager 372 pieces costs just as much as the others – 60 Euro. There are a few exceptions with the Darth Vader Helmet (75304) at 834 pieces even costing 70 Euro, but at the same time the Scout Trooper Helmet (75305) with 471 pieces costing only 50 Euro. Does that make sense to anyone? There’s just no rhyme or reason to it and it seems totally arbitrary.

Luke‘s helmet is somewhere in the middle with 675 pieces and on paper when applying the old formula of 10 Cent * piece count the math turns out just fine. However, as you would expect many of the elements are just 1 x 1 and 1 x 2, so this is not necessarily a good price. All things considered, what’s there really feels more like it should have cost you 40 Euro from the outset. Of course you can get this price with discounts at many retailers, but ultimately this is not a sustainable model in the long run. While LEGO keep raising MSRPs and wholesale prices, those vendors barely make a cut. When their businesses crumble, everyone may feel the repercussions.

Anyway, for now I’m a beneficiary of this policy and even if I don’t feel good about it (Wouldn’t it be fantastic, if those products were simply sold for reasonable prices from the get-go and we all could afford that?), in my situation I’ll take whatever discounts I can get. I bought the package for 36 Euro and only recently I saw a special promo for 32 Euro. So keep your eyes peeled! There’s always a chance to get this for a better price if you’re not in a rush.

LEGO Star Wars, Luke Skywalker (Red Five) Helmet (75327), Front Left View

The Helmet

As mentioned in my intro, I’m not that terribly enthralled by these helmets due to the designers not even attempting to make them more rounded and smooth. This becomes extremely apparent on this particular example due to the stark contrast between the center ridge, the ear covers and the rest. It is even more noticeable when you compare the overall shape to images of the original or other replicas and it just feels wrong on so many levels. Even if you allow some room for the usual limitations that come with brick-built designs it just feels inadequate.

On top of it, the build is of course quite tedious and repetitive. By that I don’t just mean the inevitable symmetrical building, but also some decisions in how elements are laid out and which items are used. For instance there are several locations where the 1 x 5 plate introduced late last year could have been used favorably, but instead you are forced to piece together several sections using 1 x 1 plates in conjunction with a 1 x 4 or a 1 x 6. It is highly questionable why nobody gave this a last minute polish and substituted the elements, even if you consider the potential delays in production due to additional lead-in time. It really would have helped to minimize some frustration.

In a similar vein I found it quite annoying to piece together stacks of plates that barely overlap or are only held together by tiles. Typically you end up building three or four plate high sub-assemblies that are very wobbly and only stabilize once they connect to the various SNOT bricks and brackets on the central block. That can be really annoying if you don’t have a large flat table to built your stuff on and like me prefer to “freestyle” holding them in your hand.

LEGO Star Wars, Luke Skywalker (Red Five) Helmet (75327), Detail StandThe socket/ stand is more or less the same standard type as used on the other helmets and heads, but has been extended quite a bit towards the top to allow for the hollow construction and disguising the attachment points. in the upper dome and rear. This works, but naturally only by creating a “black hole” illusion where you can’t discern any of the interior details because it’s all dark.

LEGO Star Wars, Luke Skywalker (Red Five) Helmet (75327), Detail Print DamageThe prints in this set are a pain, which really doesn’t surprise me anymore, given how LEGO have dialed down the thickness of their paint application (faster drying = more throughput = larger quantities in the same time). The white stripes on the central ridge are rather faint and thus look pink-ish plus they appear oddly frizzled and uneven. The prints on the various dishes are actually okay, but leave it to LEGO to even screw that up. Yupp, there’s some damage on one of the dishes with the Rebel Alliance insignia where clearly the paint has been peeled of by the stencil or shortly thereafter. This should have been caught at the factory. The irony here is of course that this would actually be cool in a way if the helmet had been designed to represent a worn out version that has seen battle many times.

Now I’m gonna sound like a hypocrite when I tell you that I didn’t request replacements despite my complaining about it. Yes, LEGO would have probably sent them without much fuss, but I just didn’t wanna go through the steps, knowing that the bust would not have a long shelf life and after disassembling it I would just stash the printed pieces somewhere until I may one day have an idea on how to use them for something else.

One thing that is causing me outright agony is the simulated pin stripe on the central ridge. This uses a yellow “rigid hose”, which despite the fact that you can pre-bend it to mimic the curvature is still an element that has tension. Even more critically it is only affixed at two points at the start and end, respectively, which does not bode well once you consider that the elements used are 1 x 1 modified plates with a bar holder on one and a C-clamp on the other. Here’s the thing: This isn’t much of an issue for the few weeks and months I usually have my models around, but in the long run you may end up with a damaged model.

LEGO Star Wars, Luke Skywalker (Red Five) Helmet (75327), Detail Strip, Lower Back AreaAs the plastic ages and gets more brittle there’s a good chance that in particular the C-clamps are going to go *kerplang*. The forces here are simply too strong and I find it incomprehensible how this could pass quality control (QC). It’s just one bad decision on top of another. There would have needed to be two more fixation points along the perimeter of the tube. Not only would that have relieved the tension and stress on the material, but it also would have helped to lock the whole thing in place and better retain its shape.

The inside of the helmet emulates the real thing by having the typical earmuffs to isolate the radio voice from exterior sounds. I’m not too sure about the color, as most images suggest that inside it’s actually clad in sheer pig’s leather, but of course anything is possible and I’m not that deep into Star Wars that I would nerd out about it. For all I know, across multiple films there could have been different props with different coloring. The way the inner headphone padding is constructed is interesting, but I honestly felt that the designers really had to stretch their imagination to make it work for the simple truth that to this day LEGO does not have direction inverter plates. If they had, this would have been a walk in the park and they could even have made it more elaborate using different pieces.

On that note – the rounded corner pieces used here were one of the reasons I committed to this set. They appear useful and currently there is no other package that has them in Dark Bluish Grey. That may of course change at any point. The situation is pretty much the same for the 3 x 3 round tiles in Yellow that in large part are hidden under the rounded bulges on the side to again create the illusion of some decorative pin striping.

LEGO Star Wars, Luke Skywalker (Red Five) Helmet (75327), Detail GlassesFinally there’s the Trans Orange curved brick/ slope that premiered in the Porsche 911 (10295) last year put to good use on the glasses/ protective goggles/ anti-glare shield, complemented by some other elements. Personally I’m inclined to think that this might also have looked good in Dark Orange with the 3 x 3 pancake piece and some extra slopes and in fact the extra curvature might have produced more convincing highlights and reflections on the shelf. It’s up for debate, though, and the way it is is just fine.


Concluding Thoughts

The short summary of my review could be: “This sucks!”, but that wouldn’t be useful. So who is this actually for? I can basically only see two groups of buyers for this – people who buy all the helmets because they want a full line-up on their shelf and on the other hand Star Wars die-hards who would be interested to at least add the relevant sub-set of the helmets to their collection. None of that does preclude the random anomalies where people just pick it up for other reasons and enjoy it, but those two core demographics probably make up the biggest chunk.

Outside that I cannot see the appeal. As a pure LEGO set it is simply too boring and even for casual Star Wars fans there are enough alternate options to get a helmet in their home from expensive premium collector’s replicas to moderately priced smaller toys. Funny enough, even some cheap toys beat this model hands down in the accuracy department be that with better proportions or proper prints. At least the latter should be a non issue, but no, LEGO once more chose to annoy their customers with stickers, which of course I haven’t applied anywhere.

Combined with the outrageous pricing the many shortcomings make it a hard sell and I wouldn’t really recommend this. You get a relatively small model the size of an adult man’s hand that has notable issues and won’t stand scrutiny from up close. Given the small price gap to some alternate offerings you may forever wonder if those 60 Euro couldn’t have been spent better. I guess the real point is that i get what they were going for, they just weren’t terribly successful. A lot of that clearly has to do with their usual half-assed-ness and cutting corners and it’s all too apparent…