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McFarlane Action Figures: Are They Really That Bad?

McFarlane is a brand that has firmly cemented itself in the action figure and collectibles marketplace over the years, for better or for worse. They have gathered a reputation for being less than stellar, but that doesn’t mean everything they release is a stinker. Popular opinion is that a McFarlane figure is going to be bog-standard to subpar at the best of times, but this doesn’t stop their new releases flying off shelves. Don’t be deceived, however; this isn’t some sort of consumer brand loyalty; people aren’t often excited with the prospect of buying new McFarlane figures. Rather, they’re excited about the newest licensing deal.

Despite having a reputation that some would call less than glowing, McFarlane somehow seem to get their hands on the biggest licenses, letting them bring some of the most popular properties to the store shelves in figure form. From Marvel and DC, to Halo and Cyberpunk 2077, the McFarlane line of goods is one that just keeps on trucking, ensuring Todd McFarlane has enough money to last multiple lifetimes.

But do the McFarlane action figures really deserve their bad reputation? Well, surprisingly, it’s not all bad. I mean, sure, some of it is pretty bad, but there are definitely gems to be found and sets to collect. Before we go on, though, I think it’s important to preface what follows with a bit of a clarifying statement. Like sports, gaming, art, books and just about anything else that people can have a passion for, there are people who care a great deal about action figures. So, if you come into a topic like this with a “who cares?” attitude, then you’re just wasting your time.

Alright, with that said, let’s move on.

Something that irks collectors and fans of specific properties when it comes to a McFarlane figure is the articulation. What that means in this particular context is that some figures can have plenty of points of articulation, but that the articulation simply isn’t good. For the sake of example, I present Halo Legends: The Package – Master Chief.

That figure has “28 moving parts,” which sounds great on paper and looks just as great on the packaging. But in truth, it’s a fairly rigid figure. Just because a part can move doesn’t mean it’s well articulated. That’s why most of the time you see this figure, it will just be standing and holding its rifle.

Now if we compare this to the Halo 10th Anniversary Spartan II Black Team Figure from the Square Enix line of Play Arts Kai figures, I can’t even begin to fairly compare them.

But there’s a good reason I couldn’t begin to fairly compare these figures. The McFarlane Master Chief figure is pretty cheap and small when compared to the Spartan II figure, which is much more of a high-end premium collectors piece. And this is partly the problem. The McFarlane figure boasts of 28 moving parts but fails to deliver on good articulation, offering no swinging joints or complex moving parts, which just results in a mediocre figure. As someone who spends a lot of time with figures of a variety of scales, there’s absolutely no reason that McFarlane doesn’t up the complexity of their figures for better results. In some cases, tremendously popular properties get truly awful figures, like this Saitama from One Punch Man. It looks like a joke with those awful seams and the yellow paint still visible in places on the poorly painted cloak.

Where McFarlane is able to shine is when they are given something unique to work with, and that’s where they flex their talent. For example, if we take a look at this incredibly eerie figure from McFarlanes Monsters Series 2 set which features Dorothy of Oz fame in a Gothic Horror setting bound by rope by Munchkins you get an idea of what McFarlane is actually capable of.

It’s an incredible figure with exceptional detailing on the boots, the face, and the Munchkins, with the inclusion of real fabrics on the rope and skirt being a particularly nice feature which is typically reserved for higher-end products when it comes to the collectible market. So it’s very clear that there are highly talented people on staff, but that just makes things like the above mentioned Saitama figure all the more unforgivable.

The popular theory, which is most likely true, is that the McFarlane team craft a prototype ahead of time as a solid figure and then retroactively slice up the model digitally and add in the joints. Saitama aside, it’s likely that this is the case and that it can be demonstrated with an upcoming Warhammer 40,000 Primaris Space Marine figure.

Aside from the poor paint application on the Bolt Rifles Aquila, the poorly painted chest Aquila, the poorly painted eyes, and the poorly painted skull emblem on the helmet, you might have noticed that this figure doesn’t have any arm joints. The elbows are solidly cast pieces of plastic. That means it’s either not going to have elbow joints, which I doubt, or they are going to add the joints in later, meaning the image above is unrepresentative at best, intentionally misleading at worst.

Personally, when it comes to collectible figures and the like, I tend to go for something a bit more up market purely because I know there’s typically something awesome to be found like with the HotToys line. But when it comes to a small scale display figure, McFarlane aren’t always the worst choice in the world. Sometimes, a small figure without much articulation is just what you’re looking for.

McFarlane aren’t the worst thing in the world, but they aren’t the best either. At the end of the day, when it comes to tracking down collectible goods, you really need to take the time to educate yourself on what’s in the market and make informed decisions and purchases after that. And if that doesn’t sound too entertaining, just go with your eyes and make a judgement call. If worst comes to worst, you can always seek out a refund.