Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: Avengers Assemble "Beneath the Surface"

As I finished writing about this episode, I realized that Marvel probably won't be utilizing Namor anytime soon since they don't own his film rights. And though I don't know the specifics, I would not be surprised if they didn't have his TV rights, either.

So I'm officially done with wondering why they aren't using Namor in these Atlantis episodes. I'm just going to assume that he's still walking around as an amnesiac homeless man.

Plot
Once again, this is a B-character episode. And once again, Black Widow and Hawkeye get to focus on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission.

Unfortunately, despite the episode starting off with a focus on espionage, it devolves into a quest to get the MacGuffin away from the bad guys involving the other Avengers.

And there was really no reason to get the other Avengers involved. Well, except for Tony, who provided a bit of intel on the Serpent Crown. But the only thing the other Avengers provided was a big fight scene to pad out the second half of the episode.

I get the feeling that somebody working on this episode was scared to not feature the more popular and/or marketable Avengers prominently, and so shoehorned them in by proving cutaways to a robot fight as well as a big fight in the end. But they don't really detract from anything, as the focus IS admittedly still on Black Widow and Hawkeye.

I also have to give this episode props for not simply being another "Atlantis attacks" plot. Too often, Marvel, DC, and others will simply default to an Atlantean invasion to provide a storyline, and these stories can often seem quite samey.

But this episode still defaults to the other recurring theme regarding Atlantis stories: politics. Ancient Rome and Greece had some very interesting politics going on, including backstabbing, murder, and coups. As such, since Atlantis comes form the writings of Plato, Ancient Greece/Rome has deeply influenced the depiction of Atlantis in fiction. Therefore, loyalties and politics in the vein of Julius Caesar.

And Zartra's rebellion against Attuma is a prime example of typical Atlantean politics. Heck, Attuma's whole schtick in the comics is his continued attempts to rule Atlantis.

But hey, it's the lesser of two cliches. I'd rather have a story about rebellions and backstabbing over the millionth Atlantean invasion storyline anytime.

Themes
The episode tries to pull the old "never judge a book by its cover" lesson with a smattering of "racial profiling is wrong" (hence the title), but as I said in the Recap, it falls flat.

And not because Attuma is just a less-interesting Ocean Master.
Of course S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to investigate a major weapon sale by HYDRA. And when the weapon is being handed over to a high-ranking official in a government that has led numerous invasions... well, what are they supposed to think?

This isn't like accusing some random Muslim on the street of being a terrorist.

Zartra is a confirmed member of Attuma's inner circle.

This is like accusing a drug dealer of wanting to deal some drugs... only to find out that he went straight and is now helping the cops in a bust operation. It's an understandable mistake.

But having said all that... I kind of have to admire the attempt. Considering the past few years... well, without trying to start a fight, let me just say that "Can't we all just get along?" is a lesson that humankind should probably be reminded of every once and again.

But along with that, this episode focuses on observation. Hawkeye not paying attention during his work on the boat before making an observation that saves the day, Black Widow's hyper-observance figuring out that the buyer was Atlantean, and the aforementioned book-by-its-cover-ness.

Characters
Black Widow
I feel as though her "never judge a book by its cover" lesson was done better in "Hulked-Out Heroes," when she learned that there was more to the big guy than what meets the eye. This seems like a pale retread that is neither as subtle nor successful with the lesson.

Still, it's good to see an episode that focuses on her again, especially now that she's more generally likable in this season.

Hawkeye
Finally, his goofing off is addressed. He's a prey unprofessional S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but it's also demonstrated that he can do his job with all the seriousness and professionalism that it requires, when he has to. As much as Hawkeye is written like a dumb joker, his hidden depths do show up here. Which, as in "Crime and Circuses," is greatly appreciated.

Attuma
So. The Cabal broke up offscreen.

They could have had the Avengers breaking up a Cabal plan to begin the season to drive them apart, thus establishing first and foremost that the Cabal has broken up through "show, don't tell," and establishing that the Avengers have grown as a team.

But instead, the plot point is ditched and handwaved. And the worst part is that this sets a precedent for that in this show.

Lady Zartra (April Stewart)
While I do like the vocal performance for striking a balance between "well-spoken and formal royalty" and "tough leader of troops," the character isn't nearly as subtle.

She's pretty generic as a rebel leader, all things considered. I'll take Princess Leia any day. Though I do like her marginally better than Attuma's one-note personality than can be summed up as "Destroy my enemies now, minions!" That's most of his lines in a nutshell.

Animation
Honestly, there are some nice touches to the underwater animation. I have to admit that Giganto's vomit does flow realistically under the water.

But the animation on Black Widow is pretty disappointing this time around.

Sure, her action scenes are well choreographed, but I have to criticize the... well, shall we say the rather male gaze of the animators.

So... look, Natasha Romanoff has big breasts. And that's fine. Giving a character big breasts does not automatically equate with needless sexualization.

But these breasts get a new focus when Natasha wears her t-shirt disguise, as they are now lovingly outlined. This, too, does not automatically equate with needless sexualization. (Although I'm fairly certain that her breasts are bigger with the t-shirt on, but whatever.)

But my actual point actually has little to do with sexualization, needless or otherwise.

The emphasis on Natasha's breasts has led them to be drawn in such a way that her arms are obscured. Meaning that Natasha's arms seem to clip through her breasts as she walks.

Which is a problem when she fills the screen.
Now, it makes sense that this t-shirt seems to be a bit tight on her, since this isn't her shirt. But yet, Hawkeye doesn't seem to have any such problems with his clothes.

Look, when you emphasize a character's breasts in such a way that it results in wonky animation filling the screen, you might want to rethink your priorities. I mean, you don't have to have Black Widow start gainaxing or anything, just animate them properly if you're going to draw so much attention to them.

I mean, you guys went the extra mile on her hair, here.
Final Thoughts
One of the better Atlantis episodes I've seen, if only because it deals more with a spy story than focusing on the traditional "war with the surface world" cliches.

But in the end... ehh. It doesn't really do anything for me. I'm pretty neutral on the end result. It's got its strengths and weaknesses, but neither the good nor bad aspects leave much of an impression on me.

Next time... well, I've already covered the second coming of the Squadron. So go ahead and read that again, and I'll follow it up with an episode that dares to dabble in concepts from the 90s that few dare to remember. See you then!

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