REVIEW: G.I. JOE RETALIATION NINJA COMMANDO 4x4 with SNAKE EYES
As of this writing, the long-anticipated live-action movie "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is going to have to be anticipated a little longer. The premiere of the movie was bumped at the last minute from June 2012 to March 2013. The reasons for this are quite varied, including a conversion to allow for 3D showings, and I won't get into them to any extent here.
The announcement of the delay, however, came too late to stop the toys from hitting the stores, and Hasbro's official position was pretty much along the lines of, "Whatever we've already shipped to the retailers will be put out for sale, so go ahead, buy and enjoy them."
Thanks, I think I will. Despite a decent 30th Anniversary line with a partial tie-in to the Renegades animated series, it's honestly been quite a while since I've seen any decent supplies of G.I. Joe action figures and vehicles in the stores. One of these is an impressive medium-sized item known as the NINJA COMMANDO 4x4.
As to the movie - G.I. Joe: Retaliation stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Bruce Willis, with Channing Tatum, Arnold Vosloo, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce and Lee Byung-hun reprising their roles from the first film.
The film will feature the G.I. Joe team coming into a conflict with Zartan, Storm Shadow and Firefly, all serving under the newly released Cobra Commander. Zartan (who is last seen in the last movie in disguise as the President of the United States) controls the U.S. Government and frames all G.I. Joe operatives as traitors to the United States, exterminating most of them and leaving a small group of survivors.
Zartan and the Commander now have all the world leaders under Cobra's control, with their advanced warheads aimed at innocent populaces around the world.
Badly beaten, outnumbered and outgunned, the G.I. Joe team makes a desperate plan to overthrow Cobra Commander and take back the world, with their secret black operation called the "Second American Revolution", which involves the original G.I. Joe General Joseph Colton.
As to the vehicle. I have no idea if any vehicle like the Ninja Commando 4x4 will actually appear in the movie. I'd be a little surprised if it did, since the vehicle is largely based on an established G.I. Joe vehicle known as the AWE-Striker. However, the AWE-Striker isn't an especially implausible vehicle, so who really knows?
The basis for the Ninja Commando, the AWE-Striker, was first introduced into the G.I. Joe line in 1985. It was at that point in time seen as a second four-wheeled vehicle for the G.I. Joe team to drive around in when they didn't want to take one of the VAMPs.
The AWE-Striker, as much as anything, looked something like a militarized dune buggy. The "AWE" in AWE-Striker stood for "All Weather Environment", and I suppose that's accurate to a point, assuming you don't mind the fact that the AWE-Striker's passenger area was little more than a rollbar framework and whomever was driving this thing and whomever was sitting in the passenger seat stood a good chance of getting rained on. So much for "All Weather". Never mind the fact that you were pretty well exposed in this thing, so there was also a good chance of getting shot at on the battlefield.
One assumes that the advantages to the AWE-Striker over the VAMPs were that it appeared to be a lighter weight vehicle, so it was probably faster, and the wheel base, plus the suspension system, probably let it maneuver over a greater variety of terrain. Okay, there was that one time in the comic book when Clutch drove his VAMP right down the side of a mountain, but I think it's fair to say that it spent a fair amount of time in the garage after that stunt.
The original AWE-Striker was an appropriately military olive green in color, and came with a driver named Crankcase. It was a reasonably popular vehicle, and turned up several times in both the comic book and the animated series.
The next appearance of the AWE-Striker wasn't exactly a high point for the vehicle's history. It turned up in the Eco-Warriors segment, now dubbed the "Eco-Striker". The main body of the vehicle was a rather bright blue, and the framework on top was bright yellow. Like Flint said when he was inducted into the Eco-Warriors in the comic book, this team wasn't exactly a covert unit.
What was really wild was this big sticker for the hood of the Eco-Striker, that had the words "ECO" and "STRIKER" on either side of an elongated globe. The letters were red, the background was yellow, and it looked more than a little like the logo for Captain Planet, an overly eco-friendly animated series at the time that was likely an indirect inspiration for the Eco-Warriors in the first place, but I'm still surprised they managed that logo without any trouble.
While not a high point for the AWE-Striker, it could've been worse. The Cobra HISS was repurposed into the Eco-Warriors line as a vehicle called the Septic Tank.
The next appearance of the AWE-Striker wasn't even in the G.I. Joe line. There's something that doesn't happen terribly often! The vehicle turned up in the line for the Stargate movie. Since the figures for that line were somewhat larger than G.I. Joes, the vehicle had to be converted to a single-seater, but it still works well for G.I. Joes if you happen to own it.
Subsequent to this, the AWE-Striker has appeared on several occasions throughout the run of G.I. Joe, in a surprising number of color combinations. There was one that was part of the 25th Anniversary line that was very close to its original color scheme, another that was done in desert tan, another that was an all-black version, and one that even had black and gray camouflage on it. Some of these came with drivers, including modern versions of Leatherneck and Crankcase, while one of them was part of a set that included traditional versions of Pathfinder, Big Brawler, and Torpedo.
So, the vehicle has certainly proven its endurance and versatility over the years, and now it's been renamed the Ninja Commando, and turned over to Snake-Eyes to drive. Now, some people may think that a ninja like Snake-Eyes needs a vehicle about as much as Superman needs a bicycle, but let's be fair here. Whatever he's capable of, Snake-Eyes is still human, and really, why walk -- or climb, or bounce off mountaintops, or leap between buildings, or skulk through alleys, or whatever -- when you can drive?
The new name of the vehicle has a certain amount of history, as well. "Ninja Commandos" was slated to be a special team of G.I. Joe figures in 1995. But, with the cancellation of the original Real American Hero in 1994, the team never came out. The group would have consisted of Flint, Storm Shadow, Budo, a new character named Knockout, and of all people, the Dreadnok Road Pig. Would've loved to have seen this group come out, just to read his file card.
As far as I know, this vehicle is the first time the name "Ninja Commando" has been officially used for a G.I. Joe product that actually made it out to retail stores. And given the vehicle's driver, Snake-Eyes, both a ninja and a commando, it certainly fits.
So, how's the vehicle? Very impressive, and in some respects, surprisingly modified from the original, more than any previous version of it -- including the Stargate "reseated" version.
One of the questions that was in the back of my mind when I first bought the vehicle was -- how in the world did they get it in the box? The box for the Ninja Commando measures 11" x 6" x 2-1/2", approximately. Now, that's fine and well for the Ninja Commando's assortment-mate, the Cobra Fangboat, which is a relatively low-height vehicle. But the Ninja Commando has a fairly high roof. I opened the box with some interest as to how this was managed.
No great surprise, the vehicle was partially disassembled. It used to be, during the original line, that the bulk of the assembly of most G.I. Joe vehicles was left up to the buyer. And honestly, I never really minded this. An individual assembling and labeling a single vehicle is almost certainly likely to do a better job than a factory worker who has to put together hundreds of them on a tight deadline, if only because more time and attention can be paid.
During the 25th Anniversary line, and somewhat since then, most of the G.I. Joe vehicles have come at least partially assembled. This was especially true during the 25th Anniversary line itself, when the vehicles were displayed in window boxes. Say what you will about individual assembly over factory assembly, a pile of miscellaneous parts doesn't make for the best visual presentation. These tended to be almost entirely assembled, and even partly labeled.
The Ninja Commando pretty much splits the difference. The main body is assembled. Top attached to base, dashboard and engine in place, and so forth. But the wheels are packaged separately -- and very neatly in their own individual cardboard holders -- and the roof of the car and the large missile launcher on top of that need to be secured, as does the front grill. But, it does allow for the entire vehicle to be squeezed into a box into which it otherwise would not have fit.
Assembly is quite easy. Attach the wheels, attach the roof, attack the launcher, attach the front grill. And the first thing any longtime fan of G.I. Joe vehicles notices is that most of these pieces are entirely new. The base of the vehicle is still that of the original AWE-Striker. Heck, it still has a 1985 copyright date to "Hasbro Bradley", what the company called itself briefly after acquiring the Milton Bradley game company. And the wheels are the same as before.
But, the roof and front grill are definitely new. The grill isn't that different. It's still a small framework that is used mostly as a mount for the headlights and a non-functioning winch. But the basic design is slightly different.
The roof and rollbar framework is another matter. Although still having an angular look to it, similar to the original AWE-Striker, the differences are more distinct. There's a central bar in the front, sort of dividing the driver and passenger area, that wasn't there before, there's more of a distinct roof on the top of the vehicle that didn't previously exist, and the framework in the back is entirely different, giving the vehicle black panels with windows cut into them on the sides, and a very different area in the back with two small platforms for a couple of extra ninjas to stand on.
There's a curious aspect to the rear frame, as well. Four little circular clips, two on each side, that definitely look as though something was meant to be assembled there, but there are no additional parts. Are these meant as weapons holders? Hand-grips? Or something that was deleted from the design of the vehicle at the last minute? Honestly, I don't know.
The original AWE-Striker had a large, non-functioning gun mounted to its roof. This had a narrow cable that hooked up to a small camera on the dashboard for remote use. The camera is still there, but the cable isn't. One might assume that the roof weapon now operates on a wi-fi basis, perhaps.
The weapons carried by the AWE-Striker have changed from time to time. The Eco-Striker had a squirt gun up there. Told you it wasn't a high point for the vehicle. And the advent of spring-loaded weapons has had an effect over the years as well.
That's certainly the case with the Ninja Commando, which is equipped with a decidedly large spring-loaded launcher that fires a grappling hook missile that is connected to the launcher by a length of string -- rope as far as the G.I. Joe figures are concerned. This device comes ready to use, with the string already secured to both the grappling hook and the launcher.
The Ninja Commando has other interesting features. The front wheels turn, and the rear wheels have a built-in suspension system. It's a versatile little vehicle, and one can see why ninjas such as Snake-Eyes might wish to make use of it.
One thing the vehicle isn't, is particularly colorful. Okay, I know, it's a military vehicle for ninjas. It's not supposed to be colorful. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying. The Ninja Commando has about three colors. The main body is black, as are the wheels. The framework and cannon are a semi-metallic silver gray. And the big Arashikage Ninja clan emblem on the hood is deep red. So are the similar emblems on the sides of the vehicles, that are part of the labels.
Some of the lettering on the labels is white. Interestingly, none of the labels have an actual G.I. Joe logo on them. A couple of the labels for the sides of the vehicles have the word "G.I. Joe", but it's lettered in a basic stencil, not a fancy logo.
The Ninja Commando doesn't really have a lot of labels. Apart from the Arashikage emblems and G.I. Joe name and registration number, the remaining few labels are all warning and caution labels -- like a ninja needs to be told to hold onto the handrail when the vehicle is in motion. Hey, he's a ninja. He don't need no sissy handrail.
Of course, given that the driver of the vehicle is Snake-Eyes, one never knows. So, how's the figure? Not bad at all, really.
Snake-Eyes hardly needs any introduction for G.I. Joe fans. The character was first introduced into the concept in its very first year, 1982, and ironically enough, was developed to some degree to save a little bit of money on paint applications for at least one figure in what was at that time considered to be an untested, unproven, and downright risky new toy concept. Money had to be saved wherever possible. That's why so many of the first year figures shared so many body parts as they did, and why the original Snake-Eyes had no paint applications whatsoever.
I believe we can certainly credit writer Larry Hama with seeing something interesting in this black-clad commando, and before long, he was one of the stars of the concept, this ever-silent, highly-dangerous mystery man whose thoughts were unknown, but who you were very glad was on your side, especially in the middle of a pitched battle against Cobra.
The subsequent arrival of Storm Shadow into the concept in 1984 only deepened the mystery, as some sort of connection between Snake-Eyes and this new, very dangerous Cobra ninja was evident from the start. Eventually, the truth was made known.
Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow were in the same Long Range Recon Patrol unit in Southeast Asia, and following their respective tours of duty, Storm Shadow extended an invitation to Snake-Eyes to join him in the "family business" in Japan. Returning home to find that his family had been tragically killed in an automobile accident on the way to the airport to meet him, Snake-Eyes accepted the invitation. The "family business" was, of course, the Arashikage Ninja clan.
Snake-Eyes excelled at this to the point of surpassing Storm Shadow, and was in line to inherit management of the clan, until the clan's leader, the Hard Master, was assassinated, seemingly by Storm Shadow. It would eventually turn out that this was not the case, but the incident nevertheless left the clan in shambles, and Snake-Eyes returned to the States, and was eventually recruited by the G.I. Joe team in the earliest days of its formation.
An accident early on left Snake-Eyes' face horribly scarred, and his vocal cords useless. He was caught in a helicopter crash and took an explosion of fuel directly to the face and head. Despite everything that he'd been through, he remained loyal to his country and to his team.
The story as presented in the first movie is somewhat different, as Storm Shadow, as a boy, catches a starving Snake-Eyes attempting to steal food. However, much to Storm Shadow's chagrin, Snake-Eyes is immediately welcomed into the dojo. While Storm Shadow is initially superior, Snake-Eyes persists and eventually earns the favor of the Hard Master. Shortly after, Snake-Eyes is proclaimed the best student, and it is made to appear that Storm Shadow murdered the master and fled the scene. This turns their rivalry into bitter hatred as they find themselves on opposing sides. This, except for the aspect of Storm Shadow and Snake-Eyes knowing each other since childhood, is extremely similar to the comic continuity for the characters.
Snake-Eyes has had nearly countless figure versions over the years. The first revision was in 1985, which first presented Snake-Eyes iconic "venetian blinds" ridged visor, something which, while it has come and gone on various figure versions since that time, is generally regarded as one of the most recognizable aspects of the character, and has certainly been carried over into the movie.
While there is an individually-carded Snake-Eyes figure for the Retaliation line, the driver figure is a different figure. Notably first of all, the head is more stylized. Rather than a simple fabric-looking mask over the face with the ridged visor, Snake-Eyes looks to be wearing a helmet -- probably not a bad idea when driving the vehicle. It has recessed areas along the cheekbones, that somewhat remind me of a Clone Trooper's helmet from Star Wars, and the ridged visor is more ornate in design.
Snake-Eyes seems to be wearing a jacket, almost a sort of padded body armor, over his torso. There's evidence of a zipper down the front, and the arms are also padded. He has multiple straps around his lower arms, leading down to his gloves. Frankly, from the waist up, he looks like a rather sinister NASCAR driver. Are we sure we want to put him behind the wheel of this vehicle!?
The trousers are fairly straightforward, and he has boots that look to have protective armor or padding on the front, and armored knee pads strapped around the legs. The entire figure is black, but some details have been given a glossy finish. Nice touch, really.
Overall, the basic visual design of Snake-Eyes is very nicely done. But -- there is a criticism, and it's one which has been voiced loud and long by longtime G.I. Joe collectors, and it's one that I feel I must address in this review. And that is with regard to articulation.
Although Snake-Eyesr's head is on a ball-and-socket joint and has an excellent range of motion, the rest of the articulation consists of -- arms and legs. No elbows, no knees, no mid-torso, no waist.
One of the reasons the fans have been so vocal about this is because when G.I. Joe first came on the scene in its 3-3/4" format in 1982, the only other major 3-3/4" line on the market at the time was Star Wars, which at that point in time had five points of articulation -- head, arms, and legs. G.I. Joe trumped that with waist, elbows, and knees.
The articulation level went up in the 25th Anniversary line, adding wrists and ankles on most figures. And now we have this? So, what's going on here? Honestly, I've heard a wide range of explanations for this, most of which get into areas of economics and retailer relations, none of which I can conclusively prove, and really, none of which have anything to do with specifically reviewing this toy, so I'm not going to address them.
Let me instead address a few points. Is the limited articulation, compared to most modern G.I. Joe figures, unfortunate? Yes. Is Snake-Eyes, in and of himself, a bad action figure? No, I don't think so. I like the design of the character. He has a good visual. And at the very least, at least he can stand up on his own two feet without toppling over, and he's not at all pre-posed. And there is an individually-carded version available with plenty of articulation.
Ultimately, this is something that, those who want to maintain a full G.I. Joe collection will simply have to accept, and hope that it won't be a trend beyond the Retaliation movie line. My opinion here is that this Snake-Eyes is an impressive-looking figure, from a visual design standpoint, and I'm more than prepared to welcome him into my collection on that basis, with the hope, with others I'm sure, that his limited articulation will indeed be limited within the overall line.
So, what's my final word? I'm very pleased with this set. I like the Ninja Commando 4x4 as a cool extension of the history of the AWE-Striker, a popular and long-running vehicle that has had quite a few versions over the course of its history, and its latest entry, although more modified than most, is certainly another worthy addition.
And setting aside the articulation issue, the Snake-Eyes figure has a cool design, that does look different from his single-carded version, and does look as though accommodations have been made so that Snake-Eyes is better equipped and better protected to be driving a somewhat open vehicle over potentially difficult terrain.
I honestly don't know how the toy line is going to progress leading up to the now-delayed release of the movie. Supplies as of this writing may be somewhat limited. But whether you get it now, or have to wait for a re-release closer to the movie, I sincerely believe that any G.I. Joe collector will be pleased to add this item to their collection.
The NINJA COMMANDO 4x4 with SNAKE-EYES from G.I. JOE: RETALIATION definitely has my highest recommendation! Yo Joe!