Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review: Avengers Assemble "The Age of Tony Stark"

Since last season, Avengers Assemble has greatly improved. But this episode marks the second one in a row where the writers have tempted fate. Last time, it was the fact that Atlantis episodes are rarely great. And this time... I mean, come on, it's a de-aging story. Does anybody actually like this sort of plot as a whole?

Scratch that. Does anybody without an age-regression fetish like this sort of plot?

It's just that I've seen many a TV show tackle this story element, and I've never seen a single one elevate it from more than just a gimmick. Power Rangers, Star Trek: TNG's "Rascals"....

Even Justice League Unlimited barely got that plot to work.
Now that the Avengers are up to speed on the Infinity Stones, we can begin a sequence of episodes revolving around finding them and dealing with their amazing powers.

Except for one.

In the comics, there are six Infinity Stones (actually called Infinity Gems).

Collect them all!
But the Soul Gem is problematic in many ways.

1: It has its own separate plot line closely associated with the Gem.
2: The idea of a "soul" is difficult to deal with in a way that neither confirms nor denies the idea of things like "heaven" or "God."

It's that second point that provides the biggest problem, so Avengers Assemble has understandably decided to not adapt the vaguest and most problematic Gem.

And they've done this sort of thing before. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance features a whole chapter in Mephisto's hellish realm with every reference to a soul using the term "astral energy."

Also, is there a way to save both Jean Grey and Nightcrawler? Because giving every single subplot an attainable happy ending except for one is just bad game design. I get that it's supposed to be a sadistic choice, but if no matter what you do, Uatu the Watcher criticizes you....


So, yeah. No Soul Stone. Which might be for the best, since it's pretty hard to differentiate its abilities from the Mind Stone without going into semantics.

The Time Stone, on the other hand, is a plot device that could lead to any number of time-related stories.

You could have the Avengers go back and interact with the events that led to them becoming superheroes, though that was already sort of covered by "Planet Doom." Time itself could break, causing all of history to happen at once. (And indeed, this is sort of what happens.) But the writers chose to turn Tony Stark into a kid... and I'm not entirely sure why.

Obviously, it would seem to be a reference to the Teen Tony arc from the comics that people choose to ignore, or perhaps a sly little nod to Iron Man: Armored Adventures... or would it? I mean, what do these things have in common other than simply featuring a young Tony Stark?

And I don't think I'm alone when I say that character de-aging is a tired gimmick.

Having said that, I do like the idea of forcing Tony Stark, who looks toward the future, to become a child again and face his demons. And yet, those demons manifest in ways that have nothing to do with being turned into a kid. He snaps at Captain America, saying that his dad always wanted him to be more like the good captain. Sure, his teenage hormones are likely leading him to get so emotional, but it's still a sentiment that could be expressed by an adult Tony Stark.

To be clear, yes, I think the age regression plot is pretty dang weak, but that's not the only reason I dislike this episode. Heck, this episode has some positive aspects, too. Part of the problem is that each positive aspect is countered by a negative one.

Tony figuring out the Skull's mad ramblings, moving the ongoing plot forward: Good
Tony getting de-aged: Bad

Playing the de-aging for horror: Good
Playing it for laughs first: Bad

Delving into Tony's personal life and demons: Good
Bringing up a sudden sibling rivalry-type issue with Cap before abandoning it: Bad

Creepy hunt for Tony Stark: Good
Home Alone antics: Bad

And even putting aside the Home Alone antics, did Tony really have to build himself an entire armor? Seems to me that he could have just whipped up something to power up the unibeam from the arc reactor in his chest and just use that to blast the Red Skull out of the building.

Speaking of the arc reactor, why didn't he remove the Time Stone earlier? He spent most of the episode freaking out about it, but all he had to do was just pull it out. I get that they were trying to turn it into a thing about overcoming one's fears... but seriously, he could have clicked his heels together and pulled the Time Stone out the whole time.

Karma really seems to hate Hawkeye this episode, which is probably due to the fact that he keeps making unfunny jokes about not wanting to go back in time because he hated grade school. They weren't even worth mentioning in the Recap, they were just there to give Hawkeye his quota of snark.

I'd feel sorry for him, but the grade school running gag really annoyed me.
Tony Stark
Tony Stark had an annoying habit in the comics for a bit where he'd refer to himself as a "futurist" to defend his unpopular decisions, basically saying that he knows what's best for everybody because he's making a better tomorrow, yadda yadda.

Fun fact: The decision Iron Man's defending led to World War Hulk, and by extension, "Planet Leader."
So now, Marvel likes to poke fun at this. In Captain America: Civil War, Hawkeye sarcastically referred to Stark as "the futurist." Which doubles as a reference to RDJ's 2004 jazz album "The Futurist."

Synchronicity. It's not just a song by Rush.
So turning back the clock on the futurist would seem to be an exercise in ironic punishments. The problem comes when nothing really comes of it.

Young Tony Stark gets to go over his daddy issues again. But surprisingly for the MAU, this episode makes the best of "Show, don't tell" with the birthday card from Howard. That simple shot said more about their relationship than anything Tony said in "The Arsenal."

But that doesn't change the fact that we already went over his absent father in depth during "The Arsenal." Sure, the topic is retreaded better... but it's still retreaded.

Other than that, Tony Stark gets mildly mouthy and childish, reignites a jealousy of Captain America that go nowhere fast, and plays Home Alone pranks on "punks" the Red Skull.

It's not the worst example on an age-regression plot, since the actors portraying the younger Stark (Will Collyer and Brandon Hender) are pretty good. In fact, Teen Tony (Will Collyer) shows more emotion and vocal range than Adrian Pasdar does.

Captain America
I'm not exactly sure where the sudden rivalry with Captain America comes from, or why it sets him up as a big brother figure out of nowhere to never be mentioned again... but I do like his final moments with Young Tony. It's easy to forget that big, burly, buff Captain America was once the skinny, scrawny Steve Rogers, and this was a good opportunity for Cap to use that to save the day, rather than his super-soldier powers.

Red Skull
First and foremost, it's nice that his crazed ramblings have finally been deciphered, even though the speed and ease with which Tony did it sort of makes Black Widow look bad by comparison, since she's been fruitlessly interrogating him since at least "Thanos Rising."

Did she not think to read what he was writing?
So much for calling him "Hawkeye" because he never misses a shot or a clue.
To give the show the benefit of the doubt, however, it does look as though the big fingers that say "Mind," Power," et cetera weren't filled in until this episode.

But that doesn't change my main point. All the Red Skull did was write down the things he's been saying. "Mind." "Power." "Time." He's been saying that since the second episode of the season, so it's not like he wrote down any new information. And there's some stuff clearly written by the outline of the hand he's drawing; you'd think that could have clued in the Avengers sooner.

But with those ramblings deciphered, the Red Skull finally became more than a plot device; he became a character again. And what a character.

Crazy Red Skull chasing Tony throughout the tower started off in the vein of Home Alone, but once he nabbed a crossbow and stalked Tony... well, that was one of the best sequences in this entire show. With one crossbow, Red Skull presented more of an immediate threat than he did when he had Tony's stolen armor.

It's ironic that the more powerful Red Skull is, the more likely he is to engage in buffoonery.

When his mind is broken, he nearly murders a child. When his mind and body are restored to their prime, not only does he get his butt kicked, but...

But I have to criticize the lack of resolution with the Red Skull. Did the Avengers recover him and re-imprison him after Tony blasted him? Is his mind back to normal? Or was that undone in the same way that the other time-wimeyness was?

And why didn't he break all of his bones from the impact?
This will be eventually be resolved in an episode focusing on Ant-Man and Hawkeye, and his connection to Thanos and the Infinity Stones will not be followed up on. Most likely because by that point, the show will forget about the Infinity Stones.

The Tesseract all over again.
And now that I mention it, I wouldn't be surprised if the Red Skull's fate here was simply to get him out of the show quickly, now that he's no longer important to the Infinity Stones plot.

So... yeah. This is basically the end of the Red Skull's subplot. Didn't really amount to anything.

Howard Stark
It kind of seems as though the show is pulling a 180 on whether or not Howard was a good man. "The Arsenal" seemed to hint at Tony forgiving his dad, since he had built a robot to be Tony's friend... and yet, this episode depicts Howard as outright neglectful who should have made more time for his son.

Apparently, he had time to build a robot and fill it with holograms.
And the really weird thing is that this episode was written by the same writers as "The Arsenal" and "Thanos Rising."

If I were to give this episode the benefit of the doubt, I'd say that this might be a bit of a reality check. It's great to know that Howard Stark loved his son and was making him a robo-buddy, but that doesn't change the fact that he wasn't there for his son; a wound ripped open by Tony's regression to childhood.

But if that's the case... well... what's the point? Tony's daddy issues are swept aside as soon as he spots his old armor design. Like many subplots in this episode, it goes nowhere.

As much as the Marvel Animated Universe loves to bring us mediocre animation on a regular basis, this episode goes above and beyond on two fronts that the MAU rarely excels in.

The MAU doesn't usually present us with animation errors, but it rarely gives us animation that's cool to look at. Hawkeye fires arrows, Cap throws his shield, Iron Man shoots stuff. There's little in the way of flair in terms of cinematography or choreography. And yet, this episode gives us good examples of both.

Captain America's fight with the Red Skull has some excellent choreography, with each combatant executing cool attacks. And the Red Skull stalking Tony with a crossbow has some very suspenseful cinematography.

Final Thoughts
Honestly... it could have been worse. It's not as bad as the immensely-illogical "Thanos Rising," but it's not as good as "Nighthawk." Having said that, though, it's still better than a solid chunk of the first season.

It really does try to justify the de-aging by coupling it with time shenanigans, and it does have some solid action and the most suspenseful sequence in Avengers Assemble thus far as Red Skull hunts young Tony with a freakin' crossbow.

Then again, that only comes after a bunch of Home Alone-ing....

So I'm going to split the difference and declare it of largely average quality, with the good and the bad averaging each other out. Though with the caveat that your level of tolerance for played-out de-aging plots does play a factor in your level  of enjoyment.

Next time, MODOK returns to switch the Avengers' minds. Perhaps I spoke too soon when I harped on and on about how the plot of this episode was old hat.

See you then!


  1. Skull hadn't been seen writing anything... he started doing it in this episode.

    1. I went back and checked "Thanos Rising," and he has already started drawing on the wall by that point. The fingers aren't filled in, but there are still words scribbled on the wall.

      I have also edited this review to address the point further.