If you asked most Joe fans what the weakest part of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was, you’d mostly hear a two word reply: Channing Tatum. The Step-Up and now Magic Mike may have looked the part but his acting skills weren’t up the challenge of portraying a decisive charismatic field leader of a team of elite special operations soldiers. When it came to the film’s toy line, art imitated life—poor Channing couldn’t catch a break. The Duke action figures featured a head sculpt that was both slightly too large and fairly unflattering. When the Retaliation figures dropped, most fans met the inclusion of Duke in Wave 1 with a sigh of resignation. It seems that there was no escaping Channing whose single greatest contribution to Retaliation’s trailers was to say “security’s early.” Does the Duke action figure fit the performance of the actor? Read on and find out one Joe fan’s opinion.
When it comes to body sculpt, the Duke figure is actually pretty decent. He’s not even close to screen accurate as the figure is sculpting wearing what appears to be an olive drab flight suit. The body is loaded with molded wrinkles that really bring the appearance of fabric to life. Over the top of this is sculpted some silver chest and shoulder armor that evokes memories of the Accelerator Suit figure from the first film. This pseudo armor is held in place by some sculpted straps that have been given a black paint app. Silver shoulder and knee pads complete the look. As I’ve said before, there may be some disappointment from the perspective of G.I. Joe fans because this figure isn’t remotely accurate to anything seen during the trailers. However, once I started really looking at the figure I gained a new appreciation for the body design. (I’ll go more into this further down in the review.) From a strictly design standpoint, this is a pretty decent basic body mold with a nice range of articulation and the welcome inclusion of the swivel wrists that fans have come to love.
In terms of head sculpt, I’m willing to bet that this is a brand new head. When compared to the Rise of Cobra figures in my collection, there are some subtle differences. First off, the hair line seems more pronounced—as if the design team at Hasbro was aiming less for buzz cut and more for crew cut. The set of the brow seems stronger and the overall shape of the head is more square than oval. The design conveys a stronger impression than its character predecessors—one of an individual that is more resolute and hardened. I see this and I think of a more seasoned soldier whereas the action figures of Duke from Rise of Cobra just seemed… bland. There was a vacuous aspect to those sculpts that made me question whether or not Duke was capable of figuring out how to butter toast. Regardless of what I may think of the acting capabilities of the subject, I can’t fault the sculpt too much here.
Let’s talk accessories. So far, this review has seemed surprisingly positive. I don’t mind the body design and I really don’t seem to hate the head sculpt. So, it’s going to be the included gear that really pushes the figure over the top, right? WRONG! Since this is a movie-themed line, Hasbro has really tried to appeal more to the children in the toy aisles by including “action features” with the figure. There are two ways to go about this. The wrong way is to build the features into the figure, therefore producing a hunk of plastic that is disdained by collectors and that children will grow tired of once the gimmick’s novelty wears off. The right way is to build the gimmick into the gear—so that the figure is still useful once the missile firing action grows tiresome. However, you’ve got to include something besides the gimmick to round out the figure’s market appeal. Duke comes with a whopping three accessories: an orange shoulder mount, an orange rifle, and something that will hereby be referred to as the Blast-O-Matic 6000. (BOM6K for short.) The BOM6K is a giant over-sized rocket launcher that is powered by a ripcord and shoots the included plastic missiles a short distance. Normally I’d set this aside and focus on the rest of his gear—except that the only other piece is the orange rifle. It’s over-sized, doesn’t fit well in the figure’s hands, and just feels cheap. I understand that Hasbro put this in there to appeal to the kids but an extra AR-15 wouldn’t have hurt. Just give Duke something a bit more practical to use once the novelty of the BOM6K wore off. So, this is the part that really hurts the figure—I have nothing positive to say about his gear at all. (It’s kind of like my feelings for the movie Priest.)
So, I mentioned before that something helped redeem this figure in my eyes. As stated above, Duke’s gear isn’t trailer-accurate at all and instead resembles a flight suit. Since it’s pretty much the worst-kept secret in Hollywood that Channing isn’t in the film for long, it’s pretty unlikely that he gets much in the way of a wardrobe change. However, if you’re trying to rationalize this figure in your own personal collection, think of this. What if this isn’t meant to be his standard uniform but rather some gear for a spec-ops mission? What is this is the suit that Duke wears when he parachutes behind Cobra lines and has to travel fast and light—with only some minimal body armor? Toss aside the BOM6K and instead give him a Marauder MP5 and possibly some extra web gear that’s lying around. Suddenly, this figure takes on a whole new life. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if I’d have a much better impression of him had Hasbro chosen to include a G.I. Joe-themed version of the parachute harness that was included with the Cobra Trooper in this same wave. After all, Duke attended JUMP school and he’s wearing a uniform that would make for a great update of the classic Ripcord. It’s just a shame that Hasbro didn’t opt to go this route.
So, all-in-all is Duke worth spending your hard-earned cash? It’s a mixed bag. One hand, he’s got a great generic body design that would work for a whole slew of custom paratroopers.
He’s also got an improved head sculpt over the RoC versions of the actor likeness. On the other hand, he’s got gear that is really pretty useless for most fans and extremely limiting once the novelty of the action feature has worn off. Ultimately, as much as I like the figure, I have to look at the overall package for the price point when recommending a particular piece. In that sense, Duke falls short—especially with the ever increasing prices on action figures. If you’re a fan of Duke or a completionist, then you’ve most likely already purchased this figure. However, if you’re on the fence my recommendation would be to watch the store pegs for sales and snag him at a reduced price. He’s another case of a surprisingly good figure that is held back by a lackluster equipment selection. While most Joe collectors have a surplus arsenal of extra gear lying around, those same collectors shouldn’t have to reequip the figure right out of the package out of necessity.
End result: Buy but wait for a price reduction