Better Living Through Building a Lego Marvel SHIELD Helicarrier
Earlier this year, Lego revealed its impressive Marvel Super Hero SHIELD Helicarrier set to the world at Toy Fair. The 2,996 pieces combine to form a mammoth 31"x17"x11" scaled replica of the vehicle du jour for Marvel's elite global security organization. Having recently rekindled my love of Lego with the Assault on Avengers Tower set, I tried to persuade my wife that the SHIELD Helicarrier would be the perfect weekend activity for the two of us to share.
Though the hefty $350 price tag initially raised some red flags, my constant
badgering convincing arguments appealed to her nerdiest instincts. Finally, my fiscally responsible better half agreed that we didn't just want the Lego SHIELD Helicarrier, we needed it.
You can't get the massive sets like this at places like Target or Toys 'R Us, but lucky for us, we live not too far from an actual Lego Store. If you ever want to bring a Lego Store filled with wide-eyed kids and parents struggling to come up with new ways to say, "No," to a complete standstill, strut in, plunk down $350, and say, "One SHIELD Helicarrier to go, please." Being a showoff only gets you in the door however; you still have to carry the hulking monstrosity out of the building and back to the car. And you also have to hope the bag doesn't break.
This is what 2,996 pieces look like when you get home and take them out of the box. There are nearly twenty different bags of parts.
The instruction manual is as long as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This is easily the biggest Lego project I've ever taken on. It's a good thing I've got a building partner to shoulder some of the burden.
Despite there being a load of tiny parts involved, the construction starts easy. Every "chapter" of the instruction manual has a corresponding bag (or two or three), so there's no digging around aimlessly for pieces. Before the base-building takes off however, the manual dictated we build a SHIELD emblem base for the normal minifigures.
The Helicarrier comes with Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Maria Hill and Nick Fury, all decked out in Avengers: Age of Ultron gear even though this Helicarrier is based on the design from The Avengers. They aren't in scale with the rest of the set (there are microfigures for that purpose), so they get their own little base. It's nice, but the figures are all spread out through the various bags, so you have to wait until you're almost done with the whole Helicarrier before you can enjoy them.
After you've got the little stand built, you're finally ready to begin work on the pinnacle of SHIELD transportation technology.
Before we really dug in, my wife and I planned to work on the Helicarrier in thirds based on the instruction manual. For a few hours every weekend (12 hours in total), we'd set aside some time to just zone out with some classic Veronica Mars and Grey's Anatomy, and build. It was like a couples retreat that took place in your own living room and required a pain-staking attention to detail to the tiny assembly line.
While building out the base, I knew what we were shaping as a whole, but the minutiae was a bit lost on me at first. I couldn't understand why we needed to attach all the little blue squares to the clips. It didn't look like anything to me at first glance. It wasn't until the directions asked for the application of a SHIELD logo sticker to a flat, circular piece that the command room was really tied together.
It's a bit unfortunate though that the command room is hardly visible once the Helicarrier is completed. You can still see it through the front windows, but it's so dark because that window provides the only light, so that few of the details we spent so much time carefully crafting are observable. It's also accessible through a removable piece of the runway, but again, you have to go out of your way to really appreciate the design someone spent so much time crafting and that we spent realizing.
The lower level is also home to the gearbox that drives the turbines that keep the Helicarrier afloat. There's a hand crank at the rear of the ship that turns seven different gear sets, which in turn will rotate the fan blades of the turbines once they are built and attached. There was an option to purchase a motorized accessory to spin the blades without any effort, but considering how rarely it would be used, it didn't make sense to spend another $40 or so to include it in our Helicarrier. I turn the crank every once in a while just because I'm amazed that we built something so complex, and it's much more satisfying than hitting an 'on' switch.
Despite how intricate the details are, it's surprisingly easy to build. I guess it shouldn't be that shocking considering Lego has a fairly low barrier for entry. While it does take a bit of patience and dexterity to finesse some of the more detailed portions, there's no reason to think you have to be an adult to put the Helicarrier together. The instructions make it fairly easy, as the step-by-step details are fairly clear and concise. We did still flub a few details along the way, but because of the way the construction is organized, it was easy to go back a few steps to replace a wrong or missing block.
Even hours into the process, the Helicarrier didn't truly start to take shape until those turbines and the exterior plating were added.
Turbines. Turbines are tedious. This portion of the construction process was the most draining, not because it was hard, but because it was the same steps repeated over and over. Each of the winged pieces took about an hour to complete. There are four of them. One third of our time putting the Helicarrier together was spent on these things. Sure, once they were on correctly and hooked up to the gear system hidden in the hull, I could say it was worth it. I'd be lying if I didn't say a wave of relief washed over us when that last block was snapped into place on these things.
It's amazing how into Grey's Anatomy I was when I casually stopped paying attention to the turbines. I don't really even like that word anymore, even though I've probably used it in this piece about 75 times. Did you know Katherine Heigl's character put herself through medical school with money she made modeling? Later I would learn from my wife that she got a brain tumor and had an affair with the ghost of the guy who played the Comedian in Watchmen. This show is pretty crazy.
Once those pesky buggers were finally done though, we got to some of the more fun parts: the runway and the miniatures.
Despite how long the runways are, there are a lot of small pieces used to build them. The few printed blocks take up a lot of the asphalt space, but the sides of the ship's deck still needed to be pieced together bit by bit. The secondary flight deck had even more little blocks to its foundation, but once it was added to the Helicarrier, it helped cement this thing as a reality.
By this point, we were about 10 or 11 hours into working on the Helicarrier. Though we knew all along what it would look like when it was done, and that all the pieces would come together to create this monstrosity, it didn't seem real until the last bits and pieces of the deck were assembled. Still, it looked a bit vacant until we added the microfigures and little jets and forklifts.
With the larger set, you can see how and where pieces might be used to bring such a spectacular achievement in military transportation as the Helicarrier to life. The creativity on display in taking those same blocks to create vehicles to scale with it is something else entirely. It takes something like eight pieces to create a fuel tanker; five to build a forklift. It doesn't look like you'll be able to make anything with the parts, until you start assembling them, and magically a mini-vehicle appears in your hands.
After 12 hours, the Helicarrier was complete. There are some flaws in the process in regards to pacing, but you can't deny that Lego knows what its doing. My wife and I would probably have spent that same amount of time in the same room during this entire production, but we wouldn't necessarily have spent it together. The Lego SHIELD Helicarrier was a significant investment of time and money, but it was totally worth it because now we have our very own Lego SHIELD Helicarrier.
I wish you could actually see into the command center without extra effort, and I wish there wasn't so much tedium involved right in the middle of it all. In spite of those small issues, now we have a real centerpiece to our collection of nerdy goods that we built with our own hands. That's more than enough for us.
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