Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: Avengers Assemble "Valhalla Can Wait"

Sorry that my Review for this episode is a little late! I tried to schedule it for the usual time, but accidentally clicked PM instead of AM. Again. I guess my subconscious thought that "Vallhalla Can Wait" can wait.

Loki returns in full force with a clever scheme that allows an exploration of sibling rivalry. Not only between Thor and Loki, but the similar dynamic between Hulk and Thor. Thor and Loki’s competition bred legitimate resentment from the God of Lies, whereas the competition between Thor and the Hulk led to a friendly rivalry that is still one of the best developments of Season 2.

If we can't have the other half of the Science Bros show up, I'll take what I can get.
My main criticism would be with the cuts between Earth and Valhalla. While this allows the other Avengers to play a part in the story, their scenes kind of boil down to fighting a gigantic army of fragile skeletons. And when they all become one gigantic skeleton, it switches gears to one of Avengers Assemble’s most overused tropes, the “fight it until we figure out its weakness” plot. And the fight between Thor and Hulk does go on for quite a while. But the structure of the episode does a lot to remedy that, cutting back and forth between worlds. While fighting happens on Earth, plot goes on in Valhalla. And while fighting goes on in Valhalla… well, Loki monologues a bit.

Another criticism I have is the undead army itself. It never really does it for me, for a few reasons. Not only are undead skeleton warriors a fantasy cliche (and a Dungeons and Dragons staple), but they never actually seem like much of a threat to the heroes. Far from being the greatest warriors, their bony bodies are fragile and weak.

And slow, seeing as how Hawkeye had plenty of time to twirl that arrow before using it.
But I'll admit that the kaiju skeleton manages to change the pace of the Earth fight scenes for the latter half of the episode, forcing our heroes to use strategy instead of brute force. Even if, as I said, the strategy is “fight it until we figure out its weakness."

The two of them show that they can get into brawls just like in Season 1, but seem to have more self-control when it comes to stopping. Marginally, at least.

But their rivalry in general is similar to the arguments and roughhousing you’d expect from a couple of teenage boys, albeit on a more destructive scale. And I like that. The two had their moments of brotherliness in the first season (like when they ate everything in the tower during “Savages”), but it comes to the forefront here, allowing a nice contrast with Thor’s relationship with Loki. This episode also concretely establishes that despite caring for Loki, Thor never really understood Loki.

As “Megan” hints, Loki never considered his competition with Thor to be… well, competition. To Loki, Thor is just a domineering bully who always got his way. And that’s not because of any malice on Thor’s part, it’s just part of being a big brother that Loki blew out of proportion. The little brother always has to play as Luigi, know what I’m saying?

It’s the classic younger sibling perspective. The older sibling, being older, is better that things, seems to get more praise from the parents, and the younger sibling begins to act out. Of course, Loki also plays the race card when he claims that Odin disliked him for being the son of a Frost Giant.

Loki (Vanessa Marshall, as “Megan”)
Well, looks like Loki escaped the trolls after being left in Helheim at the end of "The Doomstroyer". Meaning that after being stranded in what is supposed to be Hela’s domain, he made his way to Hela’s domain.

But Loki continues to be a threatening presence in Avengers Assemble, even if his Thor-related monologues start to sound a bit childish after a while. His plan to literally trick death is actually a pretty clever one that would have actually succeeded, had Loki not underestimated Thor's own powers of trickery.

Loki really puts those manipulation skills to the test, not only egging on Thor and Hulk, but managing to steal the armies of death right out from under her nose. After covering “Run Pig Run,” it’s wonderful to return to a version of Loki that isn’t easily outwitted by a high schooler while shapeshifting and cracking jokes like a low-rent Mr. Mxyzptlk. If I wanted that, I’d watch "Avengers: Impossible" again. Which I’m never doing, by the way.

If that Loki had shown up, he probably would have enchanted Hawkeye’s cake to turn him into a parrot.
But as I said, it doesn’t help when he opens his mouth to complain about how Odin always liked Thor better and gave him preferential treatment. I feel that it makes Loki seem a little whinier than if he had been complaining about not earning the treatment he feels he deserved; a subtle, but important distinction. Less “I’m jealous of Thor!” and more “I was mistreated my whole life!” would have made him seem less childish.

While I firmly believe that one of Loki's major motivations is jealousy and pettiness, to be sure... well, what if Tony Stark's major complaint wasn't that his father as cold and distant, but that he never bought Tony that toy he wanted for his seventh birthday?

But what impresses me the most is a very minor detail, all things considered. When Loki disguises himself as Megan McLaren, there are no jokes about the fact that he shapeshifted into a woman. Nothing like “And I thought your normal outfit looked girly,” or anything. And for a show that can rely on Hawkeye’s sarcastic one-liners like a crutch at times, the fact that the obvious, potentially sexist jokes are completely avoided is a good sign for the overall writing quality.

Hela (Vanessa Marshall)
She’s a little bland beyond her three emotions of boredom, anger, and excitement, but Vanessa Marshall doesn’t dip too much into a generic “sexy evil female” voice, and manages to keep Hela’s voice distinct from Megan McLaren’s. And her mostly quiet demeanor, even when angry, differentiates her from the loud, showy Loki, which provides a nice contrast between the villains, as well as between the scenes on Earth and Valhalla.

Despite the usual animation shortcuts (like the rotoscope-looking background and the wipe effect I mentioned in the Recap), the cinematography is actually surprisingly good for Avengers Assemble. The episode makes use of some interesting angles, like when “Megan” is looking down at the street-level fight from the top of Avengers Tower, or the splash shot before the opening cliffhanger.

Cheesy? Yes. But it looks like it could be an old-school Marvel comic cover.
But on the other hand, I don't know if this season's repeated Mjolnir-catches are being put in the script, or if they pop up during animation, but whoever's doing it needs to stop.

Hammer time.
Thor's enchanted hammer cannot be moved by anyone unworthy of wielding it, which is a short list that does not include Hulk or Thanos. And that's not an obscure nerdy detail, it's as fundamental to Thor as spider-sense is to Spider-Man.

Final Thoughts
Though I can’t help but feel as though the Earth scenes could have used a bit more than just fighting skeleton goons, this is probably one of the best stand-alone episodes in Avengers Assemble up to that point. It’s definitely good to see a return to this level of quality after the mess that was "Thanos Rising."

Next time, we’ll see if they can keep up the good work with the introduction of the Winter Soldier to the Marvel Animation Universe. See you then!


  1. I'm a bit half torn on Hela's outfit. On one hand it looks nothing like what other movie based asgardians wear. On another hand, it's good comic book design that translates better to cartoon then some generic realistic armor they would probably come up with if they remembered that they're trying to ape movies.

    - Faceless Enigma

    1. As a translation from the comics, I like her outfit, though it does look odd next to Thor and Loki. But for me, that kind of works in the outfit's favor, since she reigns alone as the Queen of the Dead.