Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review: Avengers Assemble "Head to Head"

Hey, I bet you can't tell I started writing the Recap for this episode when the Pokemon Go craze was at its height. But I did refrain from any overt Trump/Hillary jokes, which, if anything, would date this even more severely.


No, you know what? It's my last chance to use this picture, so I'm gonna do it.

No regrets.
The Mind Stone. A small, nigh-omnipotent gem that gives its wielder complete control over the minds of others. Imagine what sort of plots you could do with such a MacGuffin.

They could adapt the "Emperor Stark" storyline from the comics by giving the Mind Stone to Mesmero and having him manipulate Tony Stark into setting up a police state. Of course, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes already adapted that story, so it would probably invite comparisons between shows, which Avengers Assemble has been trying to downplay, despite the occasional nod to the previous show.

They could have done something more along the lines of Doctor Who's "The Sound of Drums," where the villain used subtle mind control through communication satellites to gently nudge the world's minds into a particular direction.

Or something like that Star Trek: TNG episode where the Enterprise crew suddenly lost their memory and had to determine what their mission was and whether they were fit to carry it out.

But I think those three previous suggestions show the problem with the Mind Stone as a narrative device. Unlike the myriad of opportunities offered by the Time Stone, there's really only so many stories you can tell with it, and all of them have been done elsewhere.

And yet, Avengers Assemble gives us both the least-interesting and most overused plot, a mind-swap. As already seen in "Freaky" and "The Incredible Spider-Hulk."

Unlike those episodes, this episode swaps around the voice actors so that the voice matches the mind, not the body. A lot of people are irked by this, but I actually don't mind it.

When two characters have their mind swapped, it's easy to remember whose mind is in whose body. But with the Avengers all scrambled, it could have been confusing for the audience. Keeping the voices matching the minds is an auditory shortcut, and we can easily assume that the Avengers aren't really speaking in these voices, but that this is just a device for the benefit of the audience.

And then there's the practicality aspect.

For many mind-swap stories, the actors being swapped do each other's lines to provide a baseline.

So let's say that just Hulk and Black Widow got their minds swapped, but kept their bodies' voices. Fred Tatasciore would do the Hulk's lines, and Laura Bailey would attempt to mimic his inflections as well as she can, making it truly seem as though the Hulk was speaking with Black Widow's voice. And vice-versa.

But with all the Avengers' minds swapped.... man, that's a lot of time in the recording booth, isn't it? In this case, I think making the voices match the minds was the correct choice.

As the mind-swap hijinks ensue, the secondary plot once again revolves around Tony Stark's unwavering faith in his own technology trumping his common sense.

So let's just skip ahead to talking about the characters, starting with Tony.

Tony Stark
To this episode's credit, Tony's stubbornness is surprisingly downplayed.

In previous episodes, Tony's belief in his technology would span the length of the entire episode and would often lead to complications, like when the Red Skull figured out how to use Tony's computer-generated plans against him.

Here, Tony just looks at a report from his computer and says "Cool, we can't possibly get better than this!" At best, this causes a minor disagreement between him and Hawkeye before the actual plot gets underway, eventually leading to the ending, where, thanks to teamwork, Tony discovers that there's always room for improvement, since his technology isn't infallible.

I mean, yeah, that sounds a lot like the other times Tony over-relies on technology, but at least Tony isn't actively ignoring his teammate's common sense and endangering everybody. At worst, Tony's just allowing room for them to get complacent.

I do like it when Hawkeye demonstrates that he does have common sense.

Each of the Avengers has their own type of wisdom.

Tony Stark is the realist.

Captain America is the optimist.

Black Widow knows a thing or two about forgiveness.

Hulk's deal is empathy with supposed "monsters."

Falcon knows that there's always a path to victory.

And Hawkeye, when given the chance to shine, is very good at bringing people back to their senses once distracted by everything going wrong. He showed it in "Beneath the Surface," and his final speech to Tony demonstrates it here.

MODOK has never exactly been too impressive in this show, but he has some good offscreen moments here, like taking over S.H.I.E.L.D. and presumably faking AIM's evil plot in order to draw out the Avengers. But as soon as he shows up onscreen, his competence takes a nosedive, starting with forgetting that Thor, Hulk, and Falcon exist.

Of course, when you have a super-powerful gem that allows you to control minds... Yeah, incompetence is really the only way you can lose.

One of the more glaring animation mistakes I've seen in a while, mainly because it takes up nearly half the screen. This is the sort of thing that you'd think could be easily caught, or easily corrected... but I'm reserving judgement.

Animation mistakes are going to happen. Some are just bigger than others.

Whether it be coloring Hawkeye's flesh purple...
Or showing Arnold inside the Magic School Bus while said bus is inside Arnold.
Even big-budget Disney movies have a few goofs. You can't expect 100% perfection.

Errors like this are largely forgivable until they happen on a regular basis, as on Batman: The Animated Series.

That show had some pretty solid animation at times, but when you're giving animation duties to several different companies (and often some of the lowest bidders), mistakes are going to happen. Just look up the animation work done by AKOM on 90s cartoons, and that should give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

When you look at the bulk of the animation in this episode, it lines up with what this show usually gives us.

And actually, I do have to compliment this episode in how it illustrated the mindswap. Each character moves and stands differently; Hawkeye, for example, still looks like Hawkeye, but he moves like Tony Stark. He stands up straighter and generally looks less relaxed.

The CGI, on the other hand, is terrible. I have no idea why the Marvel Animated Universe likes to resort to CGI for gigantic faces, but it never looks good. It doesn't blend with the visual style, it doesn't look good on its own merits, and it's always somehow worse than the CGI cartoons were giving us nearly twenty years ago. Just look at any given episode of Reboot; there was actual lip-sync.

Heck, the Silver Surfer cartoon from 1998 has better CGI on that show's version of Galactus.
The Marvel Animated Universe really needs to stop using CGI like this and keep it contained to robots, buildings, and suchlike.

Final Thoughts
Meh. I've seen worse from this show. I know that's not much in the way of praise, and you might be surprised that I'm letting this episode off the hook, relatively speaking, but I simply can't get that angry at issues I've seen before that aren't as annoying as they have been. And for every thing I can praise, I have something to criticize.

This is a "Meh" plot, featuring a "Meh" subplot, filled with visuals that average out to "Meh." It could have been better, but it could have been much worse. And honestly? I'll take that as a win.

Next time... you have to be kidding me. I was kidding when I said it would probably be an "evil parallel universe" plot!

Fine. Next time, we go three-for-three on stock superhero/sci-fi plots. See you then.

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