Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: Avengers Assemble "Ghosts of the Past"

Yep. This episode had missiles. Whether it be the Red Skull keeping the Avengers busy or Grim Reaper trying to destroy Avengers Tower, this show sure likes to whip out missiles when a non-specific threat is needed.

What I do like about this episode is the fact that they don’t simply try to ape Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s handling of… the Winter Soldier. Both this episode and that film came out the same year, but “Ghosts of the Past” came out six months after the film, so any impact the Bucky/Winter Soldier reveal had was long spent.

Now, you could bring up that Captain America: The Winter Soldier might not be suitable for Avengers Assemble’s target audience. And you’d have a point. Perhaps the show could have milked some moderate suspense for the kids in the audience who weren’t privy to the secret.

And yet, the writers did something fairly amazing for Avengers Assemble as a whole. By treating the Bucky/Winter Soldier reveal like common knowledge, it allowed them to focus on how this information would fuel the interpersonal drama between the various characters.

A show that uses fight scenes as padding and features the same dang morals over and over actually did something a little different here. And I have to admire this episode for doing something different. Quite different, in fact. Considering the sort of hijinks the Avengers usually get into, this episode is surprisingly grounded in something that could conceivably be called "reality." No super sci-fi giant robots (apart from a single one in the teaser), no Atlanteans, no Asgardians, no magic. Just a man out for revenge, no matter the cost.

On the other hand, the episode suffers a bit because interpersonal drama kind of clashes with the standard Avengers Assemble elements.

First of all, the entire team shows up. And while it’s nice that Black Widow isn’t inexplicably absent like she was in many episodes last season, there’s really no point in getting the other Avengers involved. They don’t have much stake in the interpersonal drama and the episode introduces the plot point of the fifteen missiles simply to keep the Avengers that aren’t essential to the story busy.

Second of all, the missiles. The Avengers Assemble formula dictates that the stakes have to be as high as possible in the last act of the episode. And that takes focus away from Falcon, Captain America, and the Winter Soldier. As much as the Winter Soldier’s return affects Cap, the missiles he launches are the more immediate, tangible threat. And what this unfortunately means is that the final fight with the Winter Soldier kind of takes backstage to the other Avengers destroying missiles, when it should be the other way around.

For all of Winter Soldier’s ranting about what a monster the Red Skull made him, and Captain America’s rebuttals, this episode doesn’t do much to explore the idea of what Bucky was turned into. But the ideas of trust and betrayal come up a whole bunch.

Bucky and Cap trusted each other, only to be torn apart when, in Bucky’s eyes, Cap betrayed that trust. And Cap doesn’t trust himself with a solo partner after that incident. Add to that the Winter Soldier’s betrayal of HYDRA, and you’re got an examination of trust and the importance of forgiveness. Most importantly, the ability to forgive yourself.

Captain America
It’s a pretty big coincidence that the blame Cap puts on himself for Bucky’s transformation into the Winter Solider causes friction between him and Falcon as the Winter Soldier carries out an unrelated scheme… but at least it leads to an interesting story for Captain America as he learns to let himself trust again. Still, I wish his debates with the Winter Soldier carried a bit more weight than “I’m a monster!” and “No you’re not, Bucky.”

You know, I'm not sure why they ever revealed that Falcon was 17. Not only does it raise questions as to why Sam Wilson was apparently training to be a standard S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, as opposed to being in Spider-Man's little Sandwich Club, but I don’t think it’s ever brought up again. There could have been some brilliance by drawing parallels between Falcon’s age and Bucky’s age, but since Bucky wasn't a child in this continuity, that gets thrown out the window.

However, I do like the fact that this episode acknowledges the relationship between Cap and Falcon in the comics. One of the many things that irked me about the first season was how Iron Man sort of hijacked Captain America’s partner, Falcon, and his nemesis, Red Skull. This seasons is starting to reverse that.

Winter Soldier (Bob Bergen)
Bob Bergen might mumble his lines once or twice, but he gives a fairly good performance as Cap’s old partner. Certainly better than one might expect from the current voice of Porky Pig.

Unfortunately, I have a few issues with the character.

First of all, not a fan of his transforming arm-cannon, though I understand that not only does it makes his robotic arm feel like more than an affectation, but it also keeps Winter Soldier from using his usual weapon of guns. This is a kids’ show, after all. They make you shoot lasers.

Second, what exactly was his plan for revenge? Kidnap the Red Skull, take him to Belarus on a rocket… and? Kill him? Torture him?

He could have done either of those at any moment.
The thing with the missiles was only to distract the Avengers. So what was his actual goal after having kidnapped the Skull? something in Belarus. Who knows?

But I do like the fact that the rocket alludes to Bucky’s comic book “death,” which seems to hint that Bucky’s fate in Avengers Assemble was to fall off a HYDRA missile into the ocean, rather than fall off a train, like in the films. And his origin at the hands of the Red Skull seems to hint at his Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes origin.

In the end, though, Winter Soldier never really backs up his claim of being a monster. He seems to only be acting the way he does because he believes that he’s irredeemable, sort of making his actions a self-fulfilling prophecy. Again, I wish they could have explored the Cap/Winter Soldier debates in more detail but the possibility is left open that Bucky isn’t quite the monster he thinks he is. After all, he gives the Avengers a chance to save the day whether he’s shooting train tracks or launching missiles. And he never does kill Cap, despite ample opportunity.

This character’s story screams for a sequel, but it doesn’t seem like the show is interested in delivering one as of the third season.

Once again, Hawkeye tries to reinforce his lack of interest in men after a misunderstanding with a big, musclebound guy.
Does this mean that the interactions between Hawkeye and the Hulk are actually filled with sexual tension?
As Tony says "Project: Rebuild the Robot" et cetera, et cetera, the frame rate of him putting his hand on the wall is about 2 per second. It’s really jarring, since his hand is in the middle of the screen. Not to mention the fact that his hand is missing the wall by a good few feet.

Not even Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. pulled this crap.
Yes, I went there.

But honestly, this episode’s animation shines in other places. The fights are all really fluid and there are a few nice touches with Iron Man jumping out the window while his armor assembles, or choreography between Cap and the Winter Soldier.

Then again, there are a few times when characters make odd faces for no real reason.

Is Widow blowing him a kiss?
The sound balance in Avengers Assemble is marginally better than it was last season, but the music is still pretty loud. So loud, in fact, that Winter Soldier's mumbling is pretty inaudible sometimes. Even with the volume turned up.

Final Thoughts
I’d say this episode falls squarely in the middle, quality-wise. It does some things very well, like the attempt to focus on a more personal story. But there’s certainly some stuff it could have done much better, like how that story was actually executed. All in all, an average episode of Avengers Assemble.

Next time, we get a spiritual sequel to “Molecule Kid.” Hopefully, no more kids get turned over to Nick Fury, never to be seen again. See you then!

1 comment:

  1. I'd comment that I disagree, but right now my mind is preoccupied thinking about how awesome Telltale's Batman is...