Monday, February 29, 2016

Recap: Avengers Assemble "The Arsenal"

I was watching the Captain America special on ABC before the second season premiere of Agent Carter. For some reason, they mentioned that Avengers Assemble was going into it's fourth season.

So at the very least, I know that I won't be done with this show any time soon.
At the time of this writing, only two seasons have aired, so I can only assume that they've started planning out the fourth season already. Which means that even if Season 3 sucks, it looks like there will be another on the way. Or maybe Jeph Loeb simply can't count.

But for now, it's time to worry about Season 2 of Avengers Assemble, which takes place after last season set  up some dangling plot threads for us.

And now for something completely different.
The episode opens an indeterminate amount of time after the events of last season. Thor is somewhere snowy, busy fighting some kind of Frost Giant-y thing with the help of the Hulk. And in a call back to the first season's premiere, Tony Stark is monitoring them from Stark Tower. But instead of just keeping tabs, he's coordinating their fight.

Not that they actually need his help, because the Frost Giant goes down before he can actually give advice.

Tony Stark: "Okay, I guess you two were on that."

The real Super Smash Brothers.
So instead, he decides to tell Falcon and Captain America what to do in their current fight against HYDRA's post-Cabal leftovers.

Falcon: "Is someone playing 'Peeping Tony' again?"

Much like Thor and Hulk, these two don't need any help. But Tony's spirits momentarily lift when Hawkeye calls in from his and Black Widow's chase with AIM goons.

Tony Stark: "You need backup?"
Hawkeye: "What? No, I'm carsick. Tell Widow to stop driving like a New York cabbie!"
Black Widow: "Keep shooting, the meter's running."

Huh. Looks like Tony has no one to boss around.

JARVIS: "Your guidance seems to have made the team self-sufficient, sir."
Tony Stark: "Tell me about it. Loneliness. the high cost of dealing with a 100% success rate."

So... it's been a pretty busy time for Tony. I mean, between seasons, he designed himself a new armor, fixed Cap's shield, changed his beard up, slightly tweaked Falcon's armor...

Let's go over all that real quick.

1: The Avengers are now a well-oiled unit.
Thor and Hulk are getting together, and Black Widow's banter isn't just nakedly insulting the other team members. While it's not exactly clear why their dysfunction has been reduced, I have to admit that it's a welcome change.

2: Everything has been redesigned a little bit.
And basically, everything looks a bit better.

Tony's mustache doesn't have that weird gap....
Thor's helmet is sleeker.
And Black Widow zipped up her uniform like a professional.
Now, Black Widow can wear whatever she wants; I'm not judging her. I'm judging the artist who decided she should show some cleavage.

Oh, and the biggest change of all? Well, unless one of these episodes was miscolored ....

Tony's eyes have changed color. So maybe this season takes place in an alternate universe.
3: Captain America's shield has been fixed offscreen.
This bugs me, but not as much as it did when this episode first aired.

Cap's unbreakable shield breaking is a pretty big deal, and something that should probably be addressed. On the other hand, the plot point is probably being ignored because the guys who wrote it aren't as involved with the show as they once were.

Yes, you read that right. Season 2 marked the point when Man of Action stopped modifying every script for every episode. They got kicked upstairs into the role of producers, and while that still gives them a lot of creative control, it's not as direct as they used to be. The new team of writers mostly consists of veterans from Earth's Mightiest Heroes, which can only be a good thing.

So in the end, while I had initially planned a huge rant over how the writers were wasting a potentially interesting plot point, I'm willing to forgive the fact that the new writers are ignoring it.

In all fairness, it's not their plot point, and I can understand their desire to start fresh. And you know what? I'll be starting fresh, too.

As of this moment, I'm wiping the slate clean. The writers' room has some new talent in it, and I'll do my best to not blame them for the mistakes of the past.

So let's continue.

JARVIS suggests that Tony should find something to do to pass the time. Personally, I would suggest "fighting crime," but the other Avengers seem to be on it. So Tony has taken to going over his dad's unfinished scientific papers.

JARVIS: "I'm sure he taught you well, sir."
Tony Stark: "Taught me? He barely had time to speak to me. But as I know too well, being a genius keeps you pretty busy."

First up is "Project ARSENAL," a little something designed to absorb energy. But before Tony can sit down, relax, and look at some schematics, an alien ship enters the atmosphere. So Tony flies off to save the day in his usual style.

Iron Man: "I need a theme song. JARVIS, remind me to write one."

"Sir, shall I remind you..."
"The Armored Adventures theme does not count, JARVIS. Never mention it again."
As the alien craft speeds towards New York City, Iron Man insists to JARVIS that he can handle "one little ship." That's when some more ships appear, firing lasers wildly.

Iron Man: "On second thought, Avengers assemble!"

As Tony quips in his usual way, his scans reveal that there are no life signs inside the smaller alien ships. And the ships themselves are unrecognizable.

JARVIS: "Subjects match no known alien design, including the Kronan, Chitauri, or Spartax."

Hey, props for using some of the obscure Marvel aliens, writers.

Iron Man notes that first contact shouldn't begin with an all out attack (apparently, he's never met the Daleks) and wonders why exactly these guys are so angry. Speaking of angry, the Hulk jumps in to help fight the drones, high-fiving Thor in midair so hard that the shockwave destabilizes some of the drones.

Falcon and Cap arrive and want to know what Tony knows. Unfortunately, it's not much. When Hawkeye and Black Widow ride in on their flying car, Cap notices a nearby airplane full of civilians which quickly gets hit and loses a wing.

Captain America: "We've got a plane to catch."

Thor offers to save it, but Iron Man remembers the last time Thor tried to save a jet.

Thor: "That was Hulk's fault."

Iron Man pushes back against the spin while Thor helps stabilize the plane so it can land. So, during this sequence, we get to see some closeups of the passengers. And for some reason, they all look oddly familiar. I'm positive the resemblance wasn't intentional, but the following list of plane passengers is my personal canon.

Miles Morales. logo, Gwen Stacy, some random guy.
Pam Poovey, Rip Hunter.
Back in the air, Hawkeye and Black Widow notice that the alien drones are aiming for the initial ship that entered the atmosphere. When Iron Man arrives to scan this one, he finds a single life sign. So, being heroes, the Avengers rally around the lead ship to save its occupant.

Hawkeye: "What if it's some disgusting alien?"

Hawkeye, you racist.
Captain America: "Well, then you have a date for this weekend."
Hawkeye: "Whoa, Cap makes jokes now?"

Either that or Roger Craig Smith read a line that was meant for the Hulk.

Despite the team's attempt to protect the lead ship, it ends up exploding in midair. Tony tries to scan the bigger chunks for survivors, but finds it difficult, due to the alien metal used in the ship's construction. Luckily, Thor's more than willing to wreck one of the drones to get a sample of it.

The team reconvenes in the Avenjet, where Tony analyzes the metal and deduces it to be a dark star composite metal. He knows this because his dad wrote the book on extraterrestrial metals. Literally; it was Falcon's favorite book back in high school.

Falcon: "Okay, so I wasn't the most popular kid in school. Howard Stark must have been an awesome dad!"
Tony Stark: "Awesome scientist. He didn't have much time to be a dad. To busy saving the world to worry about his people skills."
Hawkeye: "Sounds familiar...."
Tony Stark: "You got a point, circus act?"
Hawkeye: "Nope. No point at all."

Oh, come on, Hawkeye. "Point"? You had some kind of arrow pun practically gift wrapped for you.

The Avenjet computer, with the new data, has tracked down the crashed ship in South America. The Avengers soon arrive on the scene to find their new alien friend, who seems a little familiar....

Dun dun dunnnnnn!
"Oh, my God, the Red Skull's an alien!"
Red Skull has seen better days. He's wearing nothing but his body suit and muttering about somebody from the skies trying to destroy him.

And his E.T. impression needs work.
Right on cue, more drones arrive. But this time, they drop off some robots to fight the Avengers on the ground. As they fight, Cap asks Red Skull exactly who's behind all this.

Red Skull: "Thanos the Mad Titan! He's coming to destroy us all!"

So much for that little partnership they were forming at the end of last season.

Black Widow: "Thanos? That's not even a name in the S.H.I.E.L.D. database."

Well, to be fair, space is really big. There's bound to be some aliens you've never heard of yet.

Hawkeye: "You read the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. database? ...Of course you did."

The robot drones are stronger than almost anything the Avengers have ever seen, even able to deflect Mjolnir. After a while, most of the Avengers are knocked away as the robots surround Red Skull. Cap tries to take him to safety, but the fool seems a little preoccupied with safekeeping a glowing stone in a small containment unit.

Once Cap reflects the robots' laser blasts back at them, Cap confronts the Red Skull, causing him to drop the stone. And when Cap picks it up, his hands starts growing as his body floods with unimaginable power.

Ermehgerd, ernermerginerble perwer.
He has a vision of Thanos using it to destroy an entire planet, but should probably be more worried about the stone's energy threatening to tear his body apart with what Falcon identifies as cosmic energy.

The ensuing energy burst breaks all the alien robots, and threatens to kill Cap himself until he finally manages to drop it back on the ground.

Hawkeye: "So... can I use that thing next?"

Tony looks at the physical and mental toll that the stone put on Cap, looks at the Red Skull, and puts two and two together. Whatever happened to Red Skull's mind, it probably has something to do with this mysterious, unidentifiable stone of mystery.

Thor: "Oh. The Power Stone."

Thor remembers a little bit about it from his days at the learning hall. But since he'd often sneak out to fight trolls, he doesn't remember where it comes from or what they should do. And they had better do something fast, because another drone fleet is entering the atmosphere.

Iron Man: "Great. This 'Thanos' doesn't quit, does he? ...She. It?"

Cap scoops the stone into its container and tells the others about his vision of Thanos destroying a planet. With more robots on the way, they want to use the stone again to defeat the next swarm. But since no one can use it without nearly being destroyed themselves, this presents a problem.

Once back in the Avenjet, Tony presents a possible solution he stumbled upon earlier: Project Arsenal.

Tony Stark: "Small problem. I have no idea where it is."

No, that's a big problem.

Tony Stark: "All he wrote was a series of equations and a nonsense word. 'Potter... yay-niles.'"
Black Widow: "Poteryani Les. Not nonsense. Russian. It means 'the lost forest.'"

Well... maybe. According to Google Translate, a closer version would be Poteryali Lesov. I'm taking this with a grain of salt, though. I mean... Google Translate. 'Nuff said.

Black Widow explains that the Lost Forest was the site of a major gamma reactor meltdown in Russia that forced the entire nearby city to evacuate. Basically, it's a fictional version of Chernobyl. I'm not sure why the writers didn't just use Chernobyl.

Was it to avoid offending anyone by using a real life tragedy?

Or because depicting people walking around Chernobyl would be unrealistic?

Hey, look, Spider-Man and the Sinister Insidious Six are walking around Chernobyl. Oh, 90's.
Anyway, the place has been abandoned ever since. So our heroes head forth to find Arsenal. There's just one problem. They have no idea what they're looking for. They know what Arsenal does, but it could look like anything. A weapon? A vehicle? A tool? A container? Who knows? As they search the streets, Hawkeye of all people is the person who raises what is probably the most important point at the moment.

Hawkeye: "So, Widow, did you happen to pack our SPF 4000 gamma-blocking sunscreen?"
Hulk: [sighs]
Hawkeye: "Look, I don't want to turn into some giant gamma freak."

"I mean, 'Hulked Out Heroes' was mediocre. Like, at best."
"I thought it was one of the better first season episodes."
"It was."
It's at this point that Iron Man starts wondering why his armor isn't detecting any fallout. This whole exchange is making me wonder whether or not Iron Man actually bothered to scan the area and determine whether it was actually safe to leave the Avenjet.

Iron Man: "Unless... Of course. Project Arsenal was sent here to contain the blast."

Working logically, Tony figures that Arsenal must be in the old gamma reactor. But before they can go check to see if he's right, a city-sized, sinister-looking mothership descends from space and spits out a bunch more drones. Tony attempts to give out orders, but the other Avengers have it pretty well in hand.

Once at the reactor, Iron Man asks Black Widow if she can handle the Russian codepad locking the door. She kicks it down.  Inside is the unmistakable green glow of gamma radiation. With, presumably, Arsenal in the middle. As the other Avengers take care of the drones, Iron Man takes a good look at the gamma reactor and realizes that not only should it have blown up long ago, but even the tiniest disruption could set it off at this point.

Which... no.

Nuclear reactors don't blow up, they meltdown. Which basically means that the nuclear reaction gets out of control, gets too hot, and melts some rather important parts of the reactor.

He asks Cap to distract the drones for a little while longer, but some of them manage to shoot the reactor building, cracking the containment.

Automated Voice: "Reactor core overload in 60 seconds."

Iron Man looks around and finds the failsafe, which breaks off in his hand.

Iron Man: "Yeah, that's a design flaw."

As the thing prepares to blow, Iron Man notices a humanoid figure inside the reactor, and realizes that it's Arsenal. It's been keeping the radiation at bay for all these years. He calls in the Hulk and hands him the Power Stone to give to Arsenal. Though power and pain floods through Hulk's body, he manages to enter the radiation-filled reactor and successfully place the stone in the chest of the robot inside.

At the very last second, gamma radiation floods out from the reactor, only to get sucked back in as the automated voice aborts the countdown.

Automated Voice: "Project Arsenal back online. Gamma blast contained."

Iron Man is utterly flabbergasted. After all, neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed. So where did all that gamma radiation go? Captain America, still fighting drones, tells him to worry about it later. The alien drones continue in full force as Hawkeye tells Arsenal to go fight them.

Arsenal: "Error. Unauthorized user."

But Arsenal recognizes Tony's voice as an authorized user and obeys his command to destroy the attacking ships. With its new Power Stone-amplified powers, it leads an attack on the mothership itself alongside Iron Man to completely wreck it and send it crashing to the ground.

And with no life signs detected inside the ship, there's no need to save their attackers, so they simply congratulate themselves for a job well done as the ship falls.

Captain America: "Nice work, soldier. Your help was extremely appreciated."
Arsenal: "User: Anthony Stark issued strategically sound orders. I complied."

"His plan of flying through the ship repeatedly until we hit something important was strategically sound."
Black Widow: "Great. An android that feeds Tony's ego."
Arsenal: "Mission complete?"
Iron Man: "Yes, mission complete, Arsenal. ...Thanks, dad."

Some time later, as the team returns home aboard the Avenjet, Red Skull is tossed into containment and told that his help stopping Thanos will be much appreciated.

Red Skull: "He will rise...."

But enough about Batman.

Once back at the Tower, Tony proceeds to break his equipment while trying to figure out how much energy Arsenal can potentially contain. Arsenal helpfully mentions that containing energy is actually his secondary function. And as for his first function, he first gets permission to engage his open user interface, and formally introduces himself.

Arsenal: "Hello, everyone. My name is Arsenal. Pleased to meet you."
Tony Stark: "Wait a minute, energy conversion's you secondary programming? What's your primary programming?"
Arsenal: "To be your friend, Tony."

As Arsenal explain, Howard Stark always regretted not being able to spend more time with his son. So instead, he decided to build a robot to be there for Tony when Howard couldn't.

Tony Stark: "My dad built me a best friend?"

That's right, Arsenal is an energy-converting flying bodyguard programmed to play catch.

As Tony heads off with his new robot buddy to show off the holographic baseball bat he invented, a powerful figure emerges from the alien wreckage in Russia.

Finally, Thanos got his butt out of that chair.
With a single punch, he levels a nearby tower and prepares to remake the world according to his liking....

So how does this episode compare to Season 1? Well, let's review.


  1. "Was it to avoid offending anyone by using a real life tragedy?"

    That could be it. Everyone remembers where they were when the fifth Die Hard movie came out.

  2. Isn't that the second time MCU character makes theme song comment?

    I would complain about reusing gags, but I prefer to believe we're dealing with some odd form of 4th wall breaking subconsciousness building up that Spider and Iron Men share.

    Peter, Tony, you need to visit Deadpool and ask him for psychiatric advice. You just might find something interesting.

    - Faceless Enigma

    1. Could be, but the shows are helmed by different creative teams, and from what I've seen, they rarely care about each other's continuity, let alone jokes.