Monday, September 21, 2015

Recap: Avengers Assemble "Exodus"

And so I find myself at the first half of the two-part Season 1 finale of Avengers Assemble. I must say that I have no idea what to expect in terms of quality.

I mean, I genuinely enjoyed "Hyperion," which payed homage to the Squadron Supreme/Squadron Sinister, "Blood Feud," which featured an interesting take on Dracula, and "Hulk's Day Out," which was like a version of The Hangover that was not only kid-friendly, but entertaining. And featured the Hulk.

"But on the other hand...."
I genuinely hated "Avengers: Impossible" and "One Little Thing."

And there were plenty of episodes that hovered somewhere between "pretty bad" and "pretty good."

As always, this is merely my opinion and you're free to disagree with me. And, also as always, I'd love to hear your own thoughts on this episode in the comments.

So lets take a look at an episode that, at the very least, I hope is better than Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Though that shouldn't be too hard.
The episode opens up back where it all began: at the Red Skull's Antarctic base. Hawkeye and Black Widow are staking the place out, and things are looking up right away, seeing as how Widow is not only present for this episode, but she's properly dressed for the weather, unlike how she was dressed in the premiere.

Unzipping that far in that weather is a mistake you only make once.
Hawkeye expresses his doubts as to whether the villains are still using the place, but Widow tells him that this is a S.H.I.E.L.D.-certified tip. And Captain America literally jumps in from off screen to remind them that this is a very important mission. After all, the Red Skull has the Tesseract and this is the first chance they've had to follow up on that little problem.

Wow, continuity and addressing a minor problem with the story arc. Avengers Assemble, you're spoiling me!

Iron Man swoops in and runs some scans for super-charged weapons, leading Thor to explain to Falcon (as well as remind the audience) that the Tesseract is one of the most powerful energy sources they've ever encountered. Inside the base, the Cabal has teleported in so MODOK can reveal a gigantic, blue, glowy rock.

Hyperion: "Iridium? Interesting."

Especially interesting because iridium is most decidedly not blue and glowy in real life. Iridium is a dull grey, as are most of the elements with really cool names.

This is as incorrect as showing a blue apple.
Hyperion is told to schlepp the thing, but he pauses to listen to a strange noise. And when Attuma yells at him for being paranoid and stupid, Hyperion responds by catching the arrow aimed right at Attuma's face.

Hyperion: "Doubt me again and I can always let the next one go."

But like most arrows that the bad guys catch, this one has an explosive tip, which ends up doing just that.  The Avengers attack in a surprisingly strategized effort compared to some of their previous outings, and when MODOK summons some Atlantean troops through a Tesseract wormhole, we see why that is.

JARVIS: "Success ratio has fallen to 18.2 percent."

Yes, it's the good old Stark Probability Engine. You know, the one that the Red Skull figured out how to trick a few episodes back? This might explain why when Iron Man ignores Cap's advice, Iron Man's order to Falcon ends up with the kid taking a Hulk to the face, courtesy of Hyperion, while the Cabal escapes.

"Well, shit."
Now, this episode has been fixing the problems of previous episodes. Black Widow showing up, continuity, et cetera. It's time for something else this show hasn't really had to deal with.

Consequences.

In previous episodes, the Hulk had taken a few knocks, but nothing he couldn't handle. Meanwhile, the other characters got off relatively unharmed. Here, Falcon, a normal human being, is hurt. Badly.

In a POV shot, we see Sam lose consciousness in the Antarctic, only to briefly reawaken in Avengers Tower as they wheel him to sick bay. As he drifts in and out of consciousness, I have to admit... this is very well done. Seriously. This feels like a different show.

Clint "Why Are All These Men Winking at Me" Barton holding another man's hand?
Things must be dire.
Falcon eventually stabilizes, but that's not to say he's better. He's hooked up to all sorts of life support.

Tony Stark: "Listen, Avengers. Effective immediately, I'm stepping down as leader of the team."

Finally.

I've said this before, but Tony Stark simply isn't leader material. That's not to say he's a fine Avenger, great fighter, et cetera, but being a leader simply goes against his character.

Tony Stark's biggest problem is his belief in himself. I mean, the guy's got a sizable ego, sure, but it goes beyond that. Due to that whole business with bad guys getting hold of his weapons, the only person he really trusts is himself. As a corollary to that, he trusts himself and his own technology to a fault. (As I've discussed many a time.) Why do you think he invented the Probability Engine? He basically created a way for himself to better trust his teammates by creating a computer to tell them what to do. Because he can trust his own creation, he can trust them.

So when Falcon got hurt, there was only one person for Tony to blame. He was leading the team. He ignored Cap's advice. He demanded Falcon follow the advice of the Probability Engine. He created the Probability Engine. Any way you slice it, Tony Stark is to blame.

I've criticized this show for the fact that Tony Stark has spent an entire season failing to learn to not rely solely on himself and his own technology. But for that stubbornness, Falcon just paid the price.

Tony Stark: "Think about it. Every counter-strategy they've done has been in direct response to my leadership."

Tony is still forgetting that he has a team to back him up. It doesn't even cross his mind that he can simply change his leadership style to accommodate suggestions from, say, Captain America. In Tony's mind, this failure is completely on him, so the only logical way to prevent it from happening is to step down as leader. Not because he trusts his team, but because he's lost faith in himself.

So then... who's going to fill the position?

Hulk: "I should lead."

"Now that we've broached the subject, I have some suggestions.
First, I think it would be beneficial to merge with my Agents of S.M.A.S.H.
Possibly set them up as some kind of 'West Coast' branch of the Avengers to better react to threats."
"What now?"
"Second, Spider-Man's been doing excellent work with S.H.I.E.L.D.
Perhaps we could set him and his team up as a sort of Avengers-in-training program?
Real-life conflicts could teach them more than endless training sessions."
"Uh... Hulk?"
"Thirdly, speaking of S.H.I.E.L.D., I've been growing suspicious of them.
Has anyone else noticed that Molecule Kid and Princess Python have 'disappeared' while in their custody?
I propose..."
"Let me stop you right there, Hulk.
Sorry, but you simply don't have the disposition to lead any sort of team."
"Actually, I've been leading the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. for about a year now.
Um... you guys know I have another team in Nevada, right?
Tony, you've met them, for crying out loud. She-Hulk flicked you in the face?"
"Hulk, please. We're trying to figure this out.
So, does anybody have leadership experience?"

"Well, Tony, as I've been saying...."
"Enough! We don't have time for your nonsense, Hulk!"
"...and you guys wonder why I'm so mad all the time?"
Tony appoints Captain America leader right before the tower's alarms start blaring. They rush to the computers to see what's going on, but JARVIS has been hacked. Luckily, it's not malware, trojans, or even a good old fashioned denial-of-service attack. It's Justin Hammer. Justin is continuing his slow descent from "credible threat" to "loser" by coming to the Avengers for help. It seems as though the Cabal are looting his place, and he's gotten so desperate that he's contacted his old enemies. Cap tells Tony to suit up so they can all get going, but he refuses.

Tony Stark's reaction to discovering that his weapons were being used by terrorists was to pull out of the weapons business and become a superhero. Basically, he took it upon himself to fix the problem he started. And by telling Cap that he's going to stay behind to look after Falcon, Tony's doing the same thing once again.

As the Super-Adaptoid and AIM loot one of Hammer's storehouses, the Avengers show up to save the day. Thanks to Cap's leadership, the Adaptoid and the AIM goons are taken out in under a minute.

Black Widow: "That actually went smoothly."

But when Cap demands answers from the Super-Adaptoid, MODOK activates the Adaptoid's secret weapon.... a helmet. But not just any helmet.

Thor: "That looks like the Tesseract's power sign."

The "power sign" being nothing more than a blue glow. I was going to make a joke here about how, by that logic, Tron shows evidence of being powered by the Tesseract, but then I remembered that cheat sheet I made regarding identifying various energies by color. Huh. Maybe that line of thought was more right than I knew.

Anyway, the helmet on the Adaptoid super-charges MODOK's technopathy and allows him to mold the various weapon prototypes into a giant robot for the Avengers to fight. Undeterred, Cap gives Widow the order to take out its shoulder turrets.

Black Widow: "You're giving me the giant robot? It's about time."

No, Back to the Future's about time.

I'll be here all week, folks.
She defeats the robot with the old tick of standing between the turrets so they shoot each other, and the Adaptoid overloads from feedback before escaping through a wormhole.

MODOK: "You don't know it, but you're already too late."

They leave Justin Hammer behind to complain about how much this ordeal will cost him and fly off in the Avenjet while updating Tony on the situation. Long story short, the bad guys can mask the Tesseract's energy signature form the Avenger's scans now, so who knows where the Cabal could be?

Tony Stark: "Thirty miles due west of Winslow, Arizona."

...wha?

Tony Stark: "Technopathic static. Covering one trail can sometimes make another."

That's... genuinely clever, actually.

After Tony tells them he's still staying behind to both take care of Sam and try and figure out Skull's next move, the Avenjet gets hit by a blast from some kind of weird array in the Arizona desert. Apparently, the Red Skull is done wielding the Tesseract's power and has instead plugged it into an anti-aircraft laser.

As Widow wrestles with the controls, I can't help but note that both Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and Avengers Assemble have the only female character piloting their ever-crashing plane. If Guardians of the Galaxy shows Gamora crashing the ship every other week, I'm going to be very disappointed.

The Avengers escape from the burning Avenjet, and Cap uses his hoverbike to take Hawkeye and Widow to the array in the hope that they can disable the laser. As they head off, he discovers that there are more than a few vampires beneath him. Luckily, the Hulk is there to start a-smashing them while Cap fights the AIM goons. Likewise, Thor fights the Atlanteans.

Attuma and Hyperion join the fight, as does the Adaptoid, which is odd. The Cabal hasn't shown this much teamwork since "By the Numbers," which doesn't go unnoticed by Black Widow and Hawkeye. And you'd think this is when they'd be backstabbing each other for their own world domination scheme. Clearly, something's up. So Cap quickly radios the situation to Tony.

Captain America: "The Tesseract's live! It's attached to a cannon pointed at the sky. The Cabal has an Earth-conquering army. We need Iron Man now!"
Tony Stark: "Did you say 'pointed at the sky'?"
Captain America: "Really? that was your takeaway?"

As Tony begins to try and put the pieces together by wondering exactly what Red Skull's plan for the iridium was, Sam wakes up and emerges from his medical chamber. Tony insists that he can stay behind and figure things out since he called S.H.I.E.L.D. to give the Avengers back up, but Cap insists otherwise.

Captain America: "Tony, you said you'd back my play. My play is 'Iron Man.' Now!"

Sam, still in pain, but awake and alert, tries to suit up to help the Avengers, but Tony forbids him. At first. When Tony realizes that Sam's mind is made up, he flicks his wrist, causing dozens of metal plates to fly out of another room and assemble themselves on Sam.

Tony Stark: "I made some upgrades while you were out."

Yes, Falcon has a new, armored look. This was likely done in response to the heavy criticism of Falcon's original outfit. Alongside the film-inspired looks for Hawkeye, Captain America, and the other Avengers, Falcon was looking just a bit silly in his red-and-white spandex. Which is why they solved that problem by making him look silly in a different way.

Yeah, I dislike Falcon's new armor. Visually, the red-and-yellow armored plates make him look too much like Iron Man, and the new retractable visor looks like it was straight-up lifted from Science Ninja Team Gatchaman.

"Yes, I know there's a neck piece missing. I'll find it by Season 2, Sam. I promise."
Falcon asks if Tony's coming with, but Tony reiterates that he needs to stay behind and act as mission control.

Falcon: "'Mission control'? Are you joking?"

When Falcon presses the matter, Tony opens up about his immense guilt over getting Falcon hurt.

Tony Stark: "I'm a liability right now, and I don't think you want me out there."
Falcon: "Right, this coming from the guy who told me to be an Avenger."

Falcon basically tells him that one mistake doesn't undo the fact that he saved the day several times over, and heads off.

Over in Nevada, the fight continues as the Tesseract fires up. Hawkeye shoots some arrows to take out the Tesseract no problem, but Falcon shoots some darts to stop them in their tracks.

Let's see, the distance from New York City to the Winslow, Arizona area is about 2,250 miles, and the time between Falcon being in New York and Falcon being in Arizona was somewhere around 43 seconds of screen time.  That puts Falcon's speed around 188,372 miles per hour.

Clearly, this is quite impossible, so let's assume that it actually took Falcon longer than what we saw onscreen. Now let us generously assume that Falcon's flight suit with no visible means of propulsion allowed him to travel at the record air speed of 2193.2 miles per hour, set in 1976 in an SR-71 Blackbird. It's still going to take him an hour to get to Arizona.

So either the Avengers have been fighting off three armies and the whole Cabal for an hour straight, or Falcon broke nearly every record involving a wingsuit. He beat the speed record (226 mph), the distance record (16.7 miles), and time spent airborne (0:09:06), but that last one only counts if he wasn't going 188,372 miles an hour.  Of course, Falcon's outfit is almost nothing like a real life wingsuit, but it's the closest thing I could find real life records for.

Thanks, Wikipedia!
Back in the episode, the Red Skull fires a beam into space while opening four portals on the ground. As it turns out, he's not conquering the planet with the Cabal. He's giving each member of the Cabal their own planet to conquer.

Captain America: "This just got a whole lot more complicated."

Dracula gets "a realm of complete darkness," which I can only imagine is Svartalfheim. Attuma gets a planet of nothing but oceans, Hyperion gets an advanced world that he could easily subjugate, and MODOK gets Asgard.

So, wait.

Asgard.

Defended by the mighty Heimdall. Home of the Warriors Three. A land where every citizen has the potential to be as strong as Thor. And defended by the treasures of Odin's weapons vault, which contains some of the most powerful weapons in all of reality. A place filled to the brim with magic.

And poised to conquer it is MODOK (a floating head who can take over the machinery Asgard doesn't have), the Super-Adaptoid (which, let's face it, probably can't take on an army of Thors), and an army of AIM goons (who are little more than humans dressed as beekeepers).

MODOK, you got screwed over.

The Avengers split up to defend each portal. Thor, of course, protects Asgard. But when he knocks the Adaptoid's block off with one hit (further showing exactly why MODOK got the short end of the stick), MODOK technopathically commandeers the Tesseract cannon to aim it at Thor. But even with MODOK nearly screwing up the Red Skull's plan, they can't hold back these armies forever. Luckily, Iron Man arrives. And he's brought Iron Man. And Iron Man. And Iron Man...

You get the idea.
Yes, this is a bargain basement rehash of the Iron Legion from Iron Man 3. But instead of around 40 armors, we only get 7. Including the Iron Patriot armor, which an episode of Ultimate Spider-Man from the previous year had shown not only being created by Norman Osborn in "Second Chance Hero," but was heavily implied to have been destroyed in "Return of the Sinister Six" when Norman was injected with the Goblin Serum again. It also includes a Hulkbuster suit, which is probably the one that the Hulk told Tony to keep "just in case" in an episode of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., meaning that we get good continuity and screwed-up continuity in the same scene.

Either way, the Iron Legion gets to work surrounding Red Skull and taking out the various Cabal members as Tony and Red Skull debate about having faith in your team. They also talk shop for a bit. Apparently, the iridium was a tip-off that Red Skull hadn't built a teleporter, but simply a fancy telescope. Those portals? Just a window to other worlds, not a door. And here I thought iridium was just for spark plugs. Oh, wait, it is.

Look, can I be frank about something? It's a bit of a tangent, but I'm a little sick of works of fiction where the writer just found a cool-sounding element like iridium or promethium and decided to make it the secret ingredient in teleportation, or time travel, or something. Made worse when they portray a real-life element that's dull grey with a glowy crystal.

Anyway, as an empty Iron Man suit demonstrates, walking into one of the "portals" results in disintegration. This whole affair was nothing more than an attempt to kill off the other members of the Cabal.

So, I just ranted about the whole "iridium is the secret ingredient for making portals" thing. But I understand that it's a reference to The Avengers. Except that the in The Avengers, iridium is used to make a portal. Here, Iron Man is tipped off that these aren't portals because of the use of iridium.

So this Avengers reference kind of reverses a plot point from the film it's referencing.

If this was on purpose? Clever.

If this was accidental? Then it's a pointless reference that also misses the point.

Back in the episode, the Red Skull is ranting.

Red Skull: "There can only be one ruler!"

Tony Stark, in the stealth suit, flies up behind Red Skull and knocks him down from his perch and into the containment for the Tesseract. As the climax of his speech about the importance of heart, Tony uses the unibeam on his chest to smash the Red Skull through the glass and out the other side. Tony ends up in the broken remains of his armor on the ground, the array ends up as a huge, flaming mess, and the Red Skull ends up with the Tesseract in his hands.

So... way to save the world and put it in greater danger at the same time, Tony.

Red Skull stuffs the Tesseract into his chest once again and turns into a big giant head before doing the first part of the YMCA dance and flying off into space.

"Es ist toll im Y-M-C-A zu ├╝bernachten...."
Tony Stark: "Cosmic Skull? That's 'end of the universe' bad...."

But alas, the universe's destruction will have to wait until the next episode. For now, the Avengers gather as the episode informs us that it shall be continued.

The whole team surrounds an injured Iron Man in an aerial shot?
I see what you did there. Nice bookending.
Though I'm going to review this two-parter as a whole, I have to say that this first half was really good. It addressed previous problems, told a good story, and was fairly tense. So it's not like they're going to throw all that out the window for the second half, right?  ...right?

I guess we'll find out in part two. See you then!

4 comments:

  1. So, Newt, I've been meaning to ask this... How do you feel about Ant-Man being an Avenger in Season 2

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    1. In theory, it's a great idea.
      In practice... I'm not sure how I feel. The real problem is that he came in partway through the season, giving us little time to see exactly how he works with the others. Though this season as a whole seemed rather fragmented, like they just up and merged two unrelated seasons into one.

      I'll really just have to see how I feel after I've let the season settle in my brain for a bit.

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  2. "As Widow wrestles with the controls, I can't help but note that both Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and Avengers Assemble have the only female character piloting their ever-crashing plane. If Guardians of the Galaxy shows Gamora crashing the ship every other week, I'm going to be very disappointed."

    Who do they think she is, Turanga "Can't go a week without crashing into a building" Leela?

    Yeah, Falcon's new look is pretty bad. The Gatchaman is a great look but here it looks bad.

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    Replies
    1. At least they fixed the styling to a degree in Season 2. The exposed neck was just distracting, and the colors were too solid. Like Falcon's previous costume, there simply weren't enough details to make it look like it belonged next to Iron Man and Thor.

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