Monday, May 2, 2016

Review: Avengers Assemble "Thanos Rising"

So, quick tangent before I go over this episode.

I was watching the Science Channel the other day, and I learned something about lunar dust which gave me pause for thought here. Because lunar dust is primarily weathered by quick micro-meteor impacts, as opposed to wind and water, it basically has the consistency of razors. Which means that it can do serious harm to spacesuits and equipment. And God help you if you breathe in any; that stuff's worse for your lungs than asbestos.

So if the Blue Area of the Moon here has air, then is the moon dust weathered and rounded by wind? Or are all the Avengers fighting in a sea of microscopic blades? Black Widow and Hawkeye might want to both hold their breath....

Plot
At its core, the plot is a good one.

Thanos makes his presence known, and Tony must sacrifice his new best friend in order to save the planet, which also kicks off the ongoing Infinity Stone arc. There is nothing wrong with that core idea. It sets up new story opportunities, gives Tony an ongoing subplot to rebuild Arsenal, and should give us a decent action story.

Should.

In practice, the episode suffers the death of a thousand cuts. Numerous minor flaws all band together to drag down the episode. These flaws include, but are not limited to, the following.

How did Thanos get to the moon from Russia when his ship was destroyed?

How can Tony Stark run holographic simulations on something he can’t even fully understand? Don’t you have to be able to understand how something works to know that you programmed your simulation accurately?

Why isn’t Black Widow investigating the plot-relevant things Red Skull’s drawing on the wall?
With no explanation, Grim Reaper would have defeated the Avengers by himself, were it not for Arsenal saving the day. And this isn't an indication that he’s not working alone?
How did Thanos get into such a position of power when he can neither predict nor comprehend that the Avengers launched a decoy ship?

Whatever happened to the Tesseract that Red Skull delivered to Thanos?
How the heck did Thanos reach outside of his own cage?
How did Red Skull manage to steal the Power Stone from Thanos (who is OP even without the Power Stone) and escape?

How did Thanos move a magically immovable object?
Why did the Avengers go to the moon, where Thanos would almost certainly be calling the shots with a secret plan up his sleeve?

Yeah, a lot of these have to do with Thanos. Even if Thanos had a more interesting personality, he pulls some stunts that simply make me scratch my head and wonder how the heck he could have accomplished that.

But that last point really bugs me. The Avengers could have kept Thanos at bay as long as they didn't play right into his hand.

"Come to the moon and challenge my might if you dare, Avengers."
"Yeah, have fun up there with no food, water, or Power Stones."
"...Well, flarg."
Themes
Sacrifice, pure and simple. But not the kind of sacrifice that superhero stories usually talk about.

We get an example of villain sacrifice as Thanos essentially sacrifices his mighty ship in order to take the Power Stone from Arsenal himself.

Wouldn't be the first time.
Self-sacrifice is the superhero go-to. Spider-Man sacrifices his happiness for his Aunt and New York. Batman sacrifices his chance at a normal life to help his city.

But there’s a type of sacrifice that can be harder: sacrificing someone else. Even when someone else makes the decision to sacrifice themselves for you, it can be hard to let that person go. Tony Stark is more than willing to make the sacrifice play. (Though he’ll try to find a way around it first.) But the chink in Tony’s armor is asking the same of someone else.

Arsenal is his only link to his estranged father. Tony would rather sacrifice himself than Arsenal. But in the end, that is exactly what he has to do.

Characters
Black Widow

Even though she doesn’t accomplish much with her interrogation of the Red Skull, at least Black Widow is putting her spy skills to use. Same goes for the decoy ship.

Hawkeye
Hawkeye’s apology to Tony at the end of the episode shows that he actually has hidden depths beneath all the snark and the sarcasm, which was sorely missing last season.

Falcon
This is where Falcon is finally able to begin differentiating himself from Iron Man. While Iron Man is the genius who usually whips out some new techno-whatsis to save the day (like with his hastily-assembled focusing-device for Arsenal), Falcon is starting to find his niche as an inventor of gadgetry. The ease with which his newest invention temporarily traps Thanos is a little hard to swallow, but I’m glad that the writers are finally giving Falcon a reason to be part of the team.

Tony Stark
Tony’s character arc continues as he finds himself in a situation that he can’t fix without allowing somebody he cares about to die. Even if that person is a robot.

But I like the idea of Tony rebuilding Arsenal as his ongoing subplot. Not only will that end up lending a sense of continuity to the season, but it gives him something to do other than learn not to trust technology over and over and over and over.

Arsenal
Arsenal is basically Baymax. It contains recordings of its creator, it was invented to help others, it has sacrifice at the end, the whole bit. I honestly can’t help but wonder if this was intentional, since Big Hero Six is based off a Man of Action comic book, and Man of Action serve as producers to this show.

Did they rip off an adaptation of their own work? Who knows? But the gap between the release of Big Hero Six and the release of the first episode makes this possible, at the very least. And it sure would explain the vast difference between this version of Arsenal and his comic book counterpart.

Thanos (Isaac C. Singleton Jr.)
I’m pleased to say that by the time of the Guardians of the Galaxy cartoon, Isaac C. Singleton Jr. had settled into his role of Thanos. But his first outing here is simply wrong for the character.

I don’t know if the guy simply gave this performance originally, or if that’s the performance that was asked for, or what, but Thanos sounds more like a barbarian warlord than a cosmic dictator. He sounds more childish here than when the film version uttered the line “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” But even without that vocal performance, the character is just wrong at his core.

The episode is named after a miniseries in which we explore the early history of Thanos and his classic motivation. That motivation being, of course, that he is literally in love with the metaphysical embodiment of Death. Everything he does is to win her affections, which is why most of his feats involve killing on a grand scale. As Captain America might say, take that away, and what is Thanos?

The answer is, unfortunately, not much. Thanos becomes another dime-a-dozen galactic conqueror. And not even one of the cool ones, like General Zod.

Though he does have a pretty impressive and mighty codpiece.
Howard Stark (Stephen Collins)
Stephen Collins, who some of you might know better as Captain Decker in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, puts a very fatherly tone into Howard Stark’s voice. It looks like Howard is giving a video will. And for all we know, that’s what it might have been, depending on the circumstances of his death. The performance as a man who knows he won’t be there for his son, but wants to raise him right anyway is just spot-on.

Unfortunately, Stephen Collins pled guilty to charges of sexual abuse, thanks in no small part to a recording of his voice that was leaked around the time this episode originally aired. Howard Stark has not been seen in any way since. And if he ever shows up again, you can bet that it will be with a new voice actor.

The Watcher (Clancy Brown)
I feel like the Watcher’s inclusion was a little suspiciously timed. I mean, the Watcher gets brutalized in his home base in an episode that originally aired the month after the Original Sin storyline? I’m pretty sure this was meant to keep interest in the story high until they could release the issues in hardcover that November.

But even with that, the Watcher’s inclusion doesn’t feel too forced. Although, again, I have to question how Thanos got to the moon in the first place.

Visuals
The animation is slightly subpar for this show’s usual standards. It’s pretty solid during the action scenes, but there are a few glaring flaws. For example, when Iron Man takes apart one of the Watcher’s gun-like devices, we see that either the animators never designed an interior for the device, or that the gunbarrel isn’t actually hollow. And when Tony is watching the holograms of his dad, during the line "'Smart' is an understatement," his eyes jump about an inch to his right after a blink.

I mean, I’ve seen worse, but these are the things you’d think they would have caught before releasing the episode.

Final Thoughts
If it weren’t for Thanos’s characterization/voice performance, this episode would be passable. But Thanos compounds every single problem with this episode and just drags it down. After the promise shown by the last episode, this is just absolutely disappointing.

Next time, Thor and Hulk have a big fight scene while the Avengers fight an endless army of identical enemies. Hopefully, it’s more interesting than it sounds. See you then!

2 comments:

  1. He didn't take the Power Stone from Arsenal sooner because he didn't know he had it until he got blasted by it.

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    Replies
    1. Excellent point. Question withdrawn.

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