LEGO Marvel Super Heroes began in 2012 with the release of The Avengers and at least one set has been manufactured based on every movie since then, except for Thor: The Dark World. The forthcoming arrival of Thor: Ragnarok has finally provided a perfect opportunity for LEGO to explore the story of the Asgardian prince.
76088 Thor vs. Hulk: Arena Clash is the larger of the two sets based on the film and has just been released in Europe, although it appears the rest of the world will have to wait a little while longer. The trailer suggests that the gladiatorial arena depicted in this set will form the setting for a pivotal scene and the impressive minifigure selection will surely increase its appeal. However, at a price of £54.99 or $59.99 it seems rather expensive so I hope the arena itself will be more substantial than it appears in official images.
Thor has been completely redesigned for his latest outing and this is by far my favourite rendition of the character yet. He wears a pearl dark grey helmet which is moulded with impressive detail and appears faithful to the source material, as does the armoured design printed on his left arm. The sword sheaths, on the other hand, should be arranged in a cross and the blue pauldron does not appear to be present in the teaser trailer, although Thor may wear it in other, as yet unrevealed, scenes from the film.
The designs on the torso and legs look marvellous against pearl dark grey and I am glad to see that the circular armour plates appear on this outfit, as they have done in previous Marvel Cinematic Universe entries. Removing Thor's helmet reveals a double-sided head featuring a carefully tended beard alongside smirking and angry expressions, the latter of which includes some crackling lightning around the eyes.
Unfortunately, his shield and an alternative hair piece are not included while the red stripes seen in the movie are absent from the left side of his face. Nevertheless, this is still the best Thor minifigure to date in my opinion, perhaps equalled only by the similar version found in 76084 The Ultimate Battle for Asgard, a review of which will be published soon.
I have no doubt that the brand new Hulk big figure will be the most appealing aspect of this set for many prospective buyers. In this regard it does not disappoint as the olive green skin looks brilliant, with a series of white markings on the right of his chest as well as a grey sash running across the centre. The head features a matching design with bared teeth, much like that seen in the Avengers: Age of Ultron range from 2015.
It is the armour which truly distinguishes this figure from those that have gone before. Hulk sports a metallic silver helmet with a red crest during gladiatorial combat on Sakaar and this looks superb, as does the segmented armour on his left arm. The blue pauldron is certain to divide opinion though as it seems very bright in relation to the film. Metallic sand blue would have been ideal here, although that shade was retired in 2005 and a simple metallic grey would not have been appropriate either. Personally, this choice of colour does not bother me too much, although a more advanced design involving a metallic base element with some blue printing could probably have achieved greater accuracy.
Hulk is armed with a large axe which consists of five pieces and a war hammer featuring a studded head. This has been cleverly recreated using pearl silver studs based around a triangular Technic connector and is remarkably faithful to the movie. Both accessories fit in the hands of the bigfig and they can also grip bricks or the legs of a minifigure so you can recreate some smashing action from the films!
Loki has appeared in four previous sets based on his appearance in The Avengers. I have always found that design to be a little drab so welcome this updated and much improved incarnation. His enormous golden helmet remains intact and looks great, although a more accurate design would have incorporated some visible hair. Thankfully, a black hair piece is included as an alternative, unlike in previous instances. The double-sided head is also new, featuring a cunning grin and a concerned expression which seem apt.
However, it is his new cape and torso which marks the most significant advancement in my view. The pliable cape has not appeared in flame yellowish orange before and it looks splendid in contrast with the dark blue of his robes. A metallic gold belt crosses the front and back of the torso but the legs are left blank. The trailer suggests that Loki sees no action during Thor's battle in the arena and he therefore comes with only a golden goblet.
Grandmaster represents Jeff Goldblum's first appearance in minifigure form and I think this is a reasonable rendition of both the actor and the character. The head includes thick eyebrows and a very subtle blue stripe beneath the mouth which is hardly visible in the image below or even in person. Both sides are printed with sinister smiles and a dark bluish grey hair piece is used, replicating the shade of Grandmaster's hair but not its style. I wonder whether this element worn by Grand Moff Tarkin would be more suitable.
The torso, however, looks brilliant. I love the pearl gold robes printed on the front and back, particularly given the complimentary red lining and light blue shirt. These designs are faithful to the movie and the differing colours of the sleeves demonstrates pleasing attention to detail. Some printing on the legs would have been welcome though as we can see that they are speckled with a scaled texture in the teaser trailer.
The final minifigure is a Sakaarian Guard, the design of which is not unlike the Insectoids from the late 1990s Space subtheme. LEGO's previous efforts to depict generic soldiers like this one have met with mixed success but this example seems to be a good likeness based on what little we have seen so far. Two guards protect Grandmaster's viewing box in the trailer and they are armed with decorative pikes, represented here by a simple 6L bar.
They wear purple uniforms with silver armour over the top and that is replicated quite effectively on both sides of the head and torso, as are their four red eyes. I think a separate pauldron element would have been useful but the printed chest armour looks great, especially when shown off in the right light conditions as the finish is very shiny. This is perhaps the least interesting of the five figures but it is one of the most detailed and epitomises the development of minifigure design since the Chitauri appeared in 2012.
The Completed Model
Images of this set emerged a little over a month ago and the initial reaction from many fans was fairly negative, based primarily on the very brightly coloured arena walls. In the trailer we can see that the walls are painted in blue and red but the colours are not nearly as vivid as those seen here. A combination of dark red and medium blue would certainly have been more faithful to the source material but this would have required many recoloured parts so was probably prohibitively expensive.
The arena consists of six sections which are connected using clips. This arrangement allows you to alter the configuration of the model and expand the arena to play with the figures. It is also possible to swap the order of the modules, although decorative stripes are intended to line up across the wall if it is assembled according to the instruction manual. You could also complete the entire ring with a second set as a couple of clips are left open at the ends, although this would naturally make it more difficult to access the centre for play.
The largest module is the gate which includes of two sliding doors opened by pulling tabs on either side. I like the contrast of black against the bright arena walls but the teaser trailer reveals that the door is made from a light stone and should open in several directions at once. Nevertheless, this simple sliding function works well and stoppers ensure that you cannot pull the doors out all the way.
A medium blue frame surrounds the door. I like this colour but the shaping of the angular upper right corner leaves something to be desired. Presumably this blocky design is intended to represent damaged stone as the Hulk emerges but it looks too regular to me. The rear is supported by a pair of large columns and this angle also reveals the structure of the gates, each of which consists of a large 6x5 panel with a smaller 4x3 panel on top.
Grandmaster oversees the gladiatorial combat from a golden throne above the gateway. This is mounted on a hinge so can be tipped backwards should the battle move beyond the arena floor and into the viewing boxes above! The flame yellowish orange walls look great and I love the tall light fixtures on either side but the lime green slopes at the back seem totally out of place. The room is shown to be vividly colourful in the trailer but these lime green elements are excessive.
Two more floodlights are situated at a lower level. These also include some inexplicably colourful parts, although they are fairly well hidden when the model is viewed from the front. Striking the lights at the top will cause the support pillar to collapse, as shown in the image below, thereby creating even more destruction as Thor and the Hulk do battle. Toppling the lights reveals a pair of large stickers which are decorated with Sakaarian markings and these line up nicely with the brick-built designs on neighbouring wall panels.
There is room for a couple of minifigures to stand on top of the wall but it looks slightly precarious, especially since the next section includes an exploding function! Pressing the lever at the back will cause the wall to collapse and a hatch beside this can be opened to reveal a cache of weapons, just in case more characters decide to join the fray.
The opposite wall consists of just two modules but features some attractive decoration and a small viewing area with a seat for Loki. This, like the Grandmaster's chair, can be tipped backwards to send its occupant flying. I like the brick-built design at the base of the wall and the protruding ledge might be useful for play, although it looks a little awkward beside the two dimensional markings on every other surface.
Rotating the model reveals a small prison cell for holding Thor before he is led into the arena. The minifigure will only fit inside with his scabbard removed so you can hang such accessories from the hook on the wall. Details like these are always enjoyable and I like the printed keypad too, particularly since this is a relatively rare piece which has only appeared in six previous sets.
LEGO products are intended for play and in that capacity I think this is a very successful set. There are numerous functions included, all of which work perfectly, as well as an impressive selection of figures which can fight within the arena or beyond. Moreover, the many destructible features are bound to appeal to younger Marvel collectors, particularly given the presence of an enormous Hulk bigfig!
However, the arena itself offers little to interest adult fans in my opinion. The reconfigurable shape is pleasing but some of the finer details have been missed from the design and the set is not particularly suitable for display, particularly given the bizarre colour choices in certain areas. On the other hand, the figures are excellent and I would certainly recommend purchasing them, be that separately or by waiting for a good discount on the entire set.
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