HeroesArentBorn.com Review: Captain America and Red Skull
Minimates - ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’
Review and Photography by Jeffrey A. Gouse (SithLord0498)
Review Date: July 2, 2011
SPECIFICATIONS: Captain America
SPECIFICATIONS: Red Skull
The first action figure review from this year’s Captain America: The First Avenger toy offerings ventures into uncharted territory for us at HeroesArentBorn.com with a look at the film’s Minimate line. For those unfamiliar with this product type, here is some brief background information.
Originally created by Art Asylum in 2002 and featuring characters from cult licenses such as Dark Angel and Star Trek, Minimates were a modern American take on the block-style figures originating with LEGO in the 1970s. Minimates, however, were slightly larger in scale and highly detailed, giving them more in common with Medicom Toys’ popular Kubricks. Minimates gained greater prominence in the adult collector community when Art Asylum partnered with Diamond Select Toys to release dozens of two-packs featuring characters culled from all corners of the Marvel Universe.
Nearly a decade later, Minimates have become a regular fixture in comic shops and Toys R Us locations across the nation. They have also become an integral part of Marvel’s movie toy merchandising, releasing figures from Iron Man and its sequel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Thor, and others. Now Captain America’s major cinematic debut joins the Minimate ranks, and HeroesArentBorn.com is pleased to present an in-depth examination of Diamond Select’s Captain America and Red Skull two-pack.
PORTRAIT (Captain America): Excellent
Because Minimates are stylized block figures, certain criteria commonly used in this website’s action figure reviews have been either altered or discarded. These include aspects such as proportions, performer likenesses, and some elements of accuracy. For example, each figure has the same basic feet, and the base torsos are always flat unless separate costume elements have been layered over them.
That being said, Diamond Select crammed an incredible wealth of detail into their little two-inch canvas—starting with Captain America’s portrait.
While technically a costume accessory, the helmet is the iconic face of Captain America and therefore considered one half of this figure’s portrait. Diamond Select did an admirable job converting the movie’s realistic interpretation of the Captain’s helmet into Minimate form. All the major elements are in place: the centered “A” with the WWII aircraft decal wings, double-line trim on the seams, and the leathery chin strap. The sculptors did an excellent job simulating the filming helmet’s leather composition in a plastic medium. However, the helmet does have two downsides. First, it fits too loosely on the Minimate’s head and frequently shifts. This shifting tends to cover up one of the eyes at any given time. Second, Diamond Select positioned the side decals incorrectly, so it looks like Captain America’s eyes have wings!
Probably one of this figure’s coolest features is its ability to portray the unmasked Steve Rogers with a simple accessory swap. Removing the helmet reveals a bald highly-detailed portrait. Consumers then plug a separate hair piece accessory (which even includes ears) into the head, which creates the alternate Rogers portrait. Obviously, there is no way this face will ever be a spot-on match for actor Chris Evans, but the overall presentation is a success. The paint lines are extraordinarily precise considering the head is the size of an adult’s fingernail. The piercing blue eyes are locked straight ahead in a determined warrior-like gaze. What’s funny is that companies like Hasbro have a difficult time consistently avoiding lazy eye paint apps on their 3.75 inch figures, but Diamond Select dodges this pitfall with relative ease.
The sculptors did impressive work on the hair as well. The whole piece has a very natural shape which is accentuated by the hair’s part and its subtle downward slope on the opposite side. The lines etched into the yellow-brown painted plastic flow nicely across the surface, and their non-uniform twists and turns produce an excellent simulation of properly combed and styled hair. In fact, the only fallacy is that Diamond Select put the part on the wrong side of Rogers’ hair—a minor inaccuracy.
PORTRAIT (Red Skull): Excellent
The Red Skull comes with two portraits as well—his human disguise and his true face—but interchanging them is handled a bit differently than its counterpart. Rather than a part swap, the ‘Johann Schimdt’ face simply slides over the Red Skull portrait like a mask with no need for separate hair pieces. This approach mirrors the footage of the Skull peeling off the Schmidt face in the film’s trailer.
Again, this is a stylized caricature of actor Hugo Weaving although the facial expression is befitting of the actor. Paint lines are not quite as crisp as those on Rogers, but this may be an intentional move on the company’s part to simulate an older, more rugged face. Regardless, the quality remains high. The same points hold true for the hair. While the etched lines are softer than those on Rogers’ hair, the overall look is just as realistic. Schimdt’s hair style does appear exaggerated compared against publicity stills of Weaving, but this was likely done for dramatic effect. The buzz-cut elements are simulated via paint apps directly applied to the head’s flat surface. These apps include a two-tone hair color and small dash-like brush strokes intended to simulate buzzed hair.
Lurking beneath the human façade is the devilish Skull portrait. Diamond Select continues their impressive work with the paint applications. The shade of red is a bit too saturated, but this is likely another intentional exaggeration. The painters did neglect to include two facial features that keep this from being a perfect caricature of the Skull—ears and properly sunken eye sockets. The sockets in particular are sorely missed as they (along with the nose) are the two most telling facial features in the villain’s skeletal portrait. While not a huge issue, their absence does throw off the effect on a subliminal level.
COSTUME (Captain America): Excellent
Eschewing the simplicity of Captain America’s comic book incarnation, the new cinematic version takes a functional real-world approach to the costume’s design, and practical elements such as padding, harnesses, and utility pouches now adorn the super-soldier’s suit. Diamond Select’s designers did an impressive job simplifying the intricate costume through both additional pieces placed over the figure and paint applications on the body.
The best examples of the former method are the ammo pouches and gray/red harnesses—although one strap clearly suffers from deformed sculpting (most likely a production gaffe and not representative of every sample), The add-ons stay securely on the body without needing to be glued down, an act which would have hampered the visual aesthetics. The gun holster is another admirable sculpting element. Not only is its design well-rendered, but it is fully-functional and snugly holds Captain America’s sidearm.
As for the paint apps, the standout elements here are methods used to simulate raised white padding and stitching on a flat 2D canvas by using solid and dashed lines in tandem. These elaborate apps continue downward onto the figure’s legs as well, replicating the basic shape of the film’s costume. Upon reaching the lower legs, the apps switch over to a minimalist replication of Captain America’s boot tops: a series of black lines that represent straps and laces.
That’s not to say every paint app has been executed perfectly. The work on the upper arms leaves a little to be desired. The border between gray and blue is very fuzzy although thankfully is not as noticeable to the naked eye as it is to a camera lens. The star insignias on each shoulder also suffer from ill-defined borders, and these flaws are more noticeable under general observation.
Regardless, the overall execution of Captain America’s costume is remarkable given Minimates’ scale and stylized nature.
COSTUME (Red Skull): Above Average
Softness and murkiness—those are the factors that ultimately keep the Red Skull’s costume from hitting a perfect rating. Several of the sculpted lines are too shallow and soft to convey the appropriate amount of layering. This is most evident in the silver button-adorned vertical straps. As for those buttons, the silver paint appears haphazardly applied—particularly on the right side of the torso. Accuracy, on the other hand, goes far beyond expectations. Compared against a high-resolution publicity photo of the Skull, it’s clear that Diamond Select went to great lengths to simulate every visible layer on the costume. Coupled with a remarkably accurate Hydra insignia on the belt buckle, the Red Skull’s costume remains quite impressive.
ARTICULATION (Captain America): Excellent
STABILITY (Captain America): Above Average
If the aesthetics weren't impressive enough, then the articulation will be. Diamond Select and their Minimates take block figures to a level above and beyond their predecessors by giving them 14 points of articulation, which is comparable to "super articulated" 3.75 inch scale action figures. This is undeniably the most surprising facet of the Minimates line because it's unadvertised on the package and not clearly noticeable until the figures are out of the box. Obviously, the articulation doesn't always function as well as its 3.75 inch counterparts. The arms tend to pop out of their sockets if overextended (easily fixable though), and the waist is difficult to rotate because of the gray/red harness. Nevertheless, consumers can still put Captain America in a wide array of dynamic poses.
The figure’s stability comes up a little short (no pun intended) because of the legs. In what appears to be a byproduct of the base body’s construction, the legs tend to become uneven once shifted into action poses and then put back at rest. Consumers can remedy this by making a deliberate effort to push each leg as far back into the socket as possible and then fine-turning the figure’s neutral pose. It’s not a huge deal, but it is a tad trickier than returning an action figure to an at-rest stance.
ARTICULATION (Red Skull): Below Average
STABILITY (Red Skull): Excellent
The Red Skull’s articulation, however, is not nearly as impressive as his heroic foil despite sharing the exact same base body. The reason is that the Skull’s inflexible and body-covering trench coat prohibits any productive use of the lower joints, cutting the figure’s functional articulation in half. The Red Skull can stand still, aim his sidearm, make wild arm and hand gestures—and that’s about it. Stability, on the other hand, is excellent since the figure’s center of gravity is barely touched.
ACCESSORIES (Captain America): Average
A quick disclaimer before continuing: accessories such as the helmet and alternate hair are not factored into this category since they were counted as portrait and costume elements. Therefore, this section addresses only the shield and sidearm.
Sadly, that iconic shield proves to be subpar due to severe aesthetic issues. The soft plastic is prone to warping. Also, the white paint apps are too thin to sufficiently cover over the red molded plastic, resulting in a prominent pinkish purple color rather than the mandated red, white, and blue. Furthermore, Diamond Select chose to again simulate a three-dimensional star by painting black lines inside it. Unfortunately, this star is supposed to be flat and following the smooth contour of the shield, making this paint app grossly inaccurate. Functionally, the shield is more than adequate as it attaches firmly to the pegs on both Captain America’s back and hand. However, that is far from being a saving grace for this accessory.
Conversely, Captain America’s automatic pistol is very impressive. It has plenty of finely-sculpted details, and the thickness of its grip is properly sized to fit snugly in the figure’s hand. Unfortunately, it is not enough to balance out the company’s huge misfire with the shield.
ACCESSORIES (Red Skull): Average
The quality of the Red Skull’s sole accessory—his sidearm—fares much better than the shield, but the lack of accessories keeps this category from rising past average. As with Captain America’s pistol, the Skull’s weapon is nicely detailed when considering its scale and format. The glaring omission here is the lack of the Cosmic Cube (seen in the post-credits scene of Thor and in some Red Skull publicity stills), a device from the Marvel Universe which appears to be central to the cinematic Skull’s master plan.
Captain America: Excellent
Red Skull: Above Average (Bordering on Average)
Significant issues with the shield notwithstanding, Captain America emerges as the clearly superior figure based upon the high quality of its design and painting. The costume retains a high degree of accuracy despite its stylized nature, and switching between masked and unmasked versions of the superhero is done with great ease and success. Even the horribly painted shield manages to be very interactive: it can be mounted on the figure’s back, “carried” on the wrist, and even held like a Frisbee.
The Red Skull is no slouch either as far as appearances are concerned. The sculpting work on the Hydra uniform is quite impressive even if it is a bit soft, and the paint applications on both portraits are intricate and crisp. Additionally, the mask’s hair is sculpted well, and it slips perfectly over the Red Skull’s devilish face. However, none of that can distract one from realizing this figure makes a better statue than a dynamic Minimate.
Nevertheless, the Captain America and Red Skull Minimate 2-pack figure set is well worth the $7.99 price tag at Toys R Us—especially in light of the poor paint apps seen on the initial entries in Hasbro’s comparatively priced Captain America: The First Avenger action figure line. By no means should casual collectors make it a point to collect this film’s entire Minimates line however. Some of the sets are simply too boring in appearance to justify the cost. These particular Minimates though will make intriguing and iconic additions to anyone’s superhero toy collection, and they are essential for any Captain America-themed collections.
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