Monday, December 5, 2016

Recap: Avengers Assemble "Back to the Learning Hall"

Well, it’s time for Avengers Assemble to finish up the Avengers’ quest to track down the Infinity Stones. And as with all of them but the Time Stone, it will simply drop into their lap after foiling a villain’s scheme, rendering all of Falcon and Iron Man’s work with tracking algorithms entirely pointless.

Except for finding the Time Stone. No scheme there, just Tony Stark nearly rewinding reality simply because he wanted to show off and have the Time Stone materialize above his hand.

But I think we all know what Tony would say about that. “Worth it.”
The episode opens with the Avengers drawing straws, which I find odd.

"Drawing straws" is one of those things that is occasionally still done to make decisions, but mostly in fiction. Basically, somebody holds onto a bunch of individual straws, and everybody grabs one. Whoever picks the shortest straw has to do whatever unpleasant task nobody wants to do. For the Avengers, it's the laundry.

The reason I find this odd is because when I say "straws," I mean like the stuff animals lay down on. You know, straw.

And apparently, the Avengers seem to be using fresh-from-the-farm straw.
Now, admittedly, this is a very minor nitpick. Heck, I wouldn't even count it as a "nitpick," because I'm not complaining. It's just a stray observation.

It would be 100% in-character for Tony Stark to fly over to the nearest farm and grab a handful of straw if it meant giving somebody else laundry duty. If Robin over on Teen Titans Go! is willing to eat the duty schedule and whip up a competition between all the Titans... yeah, a five-minute flight seems downright logical.

Not only that, but the animation style makes it unclear whether or not the Avengers are actually using straw instead of... heck, maybe they're using small coffeeshop straws?

But since I brought up the animation, I have to point out that the very second shot of the episode contains a major continuity error. And the first shot of the episode doesn't even really count, since it's just an establishing shot of the tower.

This is Hawkeye's hand. You can tell because it's wearing Hawkeye's glove.
In the very next shot, and every other shot, it's Tony's ungloved hand holding out the straws to the other Avengers.
And it's not like Hawkeye handed the straws to Iron Man, who then held them out for the other Avengers. The close up of the hand is accompanied with Iron Man saying "Step right up and rip off the bandage,"

And, yes, in the grand scheme of things, this is but a small mistake. I've certainly seen more egregious mistakes in cartoons, like when Arnold was sitting in the back of the Magic School Bus... while said bus was inside Arnold.

I know I keep bringing this example up, but I don't think a more blatant example exists.
But as I've said before, I do try to pay attention to things that fill the screen. Especially since this is the third episode in a row to pull something like this.

For now, maybe I should actually start talking about the episode itself, since we're not even a minute in.

The Avengers are piling their laundry up on a table, with laundry duty to be decided by the drawing of straws, rather than each Avenger alternating in order every week.

Black Widow: "This is ridiculous. Not to mention, highly unnecessary."

"You're telling me that Tony Stark can't afford a laundry service?"
"I try to keep a minimal staff. That's why we don't have any sort of catering service, either."
"Wait, Tony, how many employees do you have in this building?"
"None. That's why you've never seen them."
"Who does the janitorial duties?"
"Don't you remember the little janitor robots that went out of control thanks to those Pym particles?"
"Okay... then if the seven of us are the only people in this tower... then what are 90% of the floors used for?"
"I... don't know."
The straws are drawn, and Falcon gets the short straw for the second week in a row, which Falcon is understandably upset over, since it illustrates just how random and unfair this system is.

Captain America: "Cleaning helps discipline us, Falcon. Drawing the short straw isn't a punishment. It's duty. But we'll all pitch in."

I've been waiting for a chance to use this image since it first appeared in Ultimate Spider-Man.
But before the Avengers can all pitch in, Thor gets a convenient way to leave when a trumpet blast resonates throughout the tower, heralding the trans-dimensional arrival of mail from Asgard.

And indeed, all the Avengers split up and leave Falcon to do the laundry all by his lonesome.

Black Widow: "Remember the rebreather. Hulk's gamma shorts are gamma-deadly."

Oh, great, now I'm thinking about Hulk's skid marks and junk funk. Thanks, Jacob Semahn. Thanks for putting that in my head.

Combine that with Hulk's remarks about his shorts being "airy" in "Head to Head," and all I know is that I don't want to be downwind of the Green Goliath.

When Thor gets to his room and reads his mail, it seems to put him in a bit of a mood. He doesn't even want to join in on Hawkeye's plan to test his new grapple-arrow on Hulk's face. So instead, he tests it on Thor's letter.

Hawkeye: "'We proudly call on Thor Odinson as honorary guest at the Learning Hall games.' Sweet. A vay-cay. Let me pack my bags."
Hulk: "Asgard? Better things to hit! I'm in!"

But Thor grumpily tells them that he won't be going.

Hawkeye: "Whoa-whoa-whoa, Thor. You are like the Prom King and football captain all rolled into one. Reunions were made for people like you."

"You know, people who peaked at eighteen."
But Thor would rather play fetch with his bilgesnipe, even though Hawkeye needs a getaway from Tony talking to Arsenal's head yet again.

"I caught them cuddling in there. I didn't know whether to take a picture or drink until I forgot that little encounter."
Thor: "The Learning Hall was no mere school. Every day was war. People banded together and challenged their peers for superiority."
Hawkeye: "Yeah, sounds just like school."
Hulk: "Pretty much school."

So, wait, does this mean that Hulk has Bruce Banner's memories of school? Or does Hulk just like to watch Mean Girls while arranging his glass figurines?

Thor: "Oh, I guess it is only in the banquet hall...."
Hawkeye: "Whatever that means."

Does Hawkeye seriously not know what a "banquet hall" is?

In the end, Thor is convinced, so he raises his hammer and calls for Heimdall to create a portal to Asgard. This would seem to confirm that Thor's room does not lead to Asgard as some fans have theorized, but is merely bigger on the inside.

The three heroes jump through the portal just as an earthquake rocks New York. Arsenal's head detects the signature of an Infinity Stone, and Tony tells the assembling Avengers that the Space Stone seems to have been activated.

"And during cuddle time, no less."
Captain America: "Remind me what this Infinity Stone does?"

Hm. I don't know Cap. What could the Space Stone possibly give its wielder complete dominion over? I'm going to guess... cabbages. Power over cabbages are causing these earthquakes.

As Falcon spells it out for the good captain, Thor's portal drops the three heroes into the fire pit of Surtur.

Which I'm sure Thor would misidentify as being in "Vanaheim," considering this show's usual track record with the Nine Realms.
Luckily, a second portal quickly shows up to take them to Asgard like they wanted, where Heimdall awaits at the Bifrost bridge.

Heimdall: "Apologies, Odinson. Something interferes with my control of the portals."
Thor: "Heimdall, old friend. While it is good to see you, speak plainly."

"As you wish. 'Something interferes with my control of the portals.' What part did you not understand?"
Heimdall: "The Nine Realms are shifting from dark magic. But even I cannot see its cause."

And a quake punctuates his warning to Thor. A quake that is apparently moving through all Nine Realms at once. Or at the very least, Asgard and New York. Speaking of New York, the Avengers are busy with a burning building. Cap leads occupants to the roof while Black Widow helps him knock over a water tower to put the fire out.

Really, you have to pick between fire damage and water damage.
I'd like to take this moment to praise this.

Just last episode, I once again gave this show a verbal what-for over depicting mass destruction as an easily-fixed romp.

Showing the Avengers doing rescue work like this (heck, showing anyone doing rescue work) goes a long way toward depicting mass destruction in what you could call a more mature and tasteful manner.

Of course, Cap just kind of leaves the survivors on the roof of and heads off on his hovercycle, but it's a rescue attempt. I'll take what I can get.
Back in Asgard, Hulk reads the Asgardian runes on a pillar, identifying a nearby building as the Hall of Learning.

I have better things to do than question why Hulk can read Asgardian. Maybe it's like how, in the comics, everybody hears the Asgardians speaking their native language, known as the Allspeak. This is contradicted by Danny having to translate the Asgardian runes in the Ultimate Spider-Man episode "Field Trip," but...

Dang it, I keep getting bogged down in minutiae this episode. ...And most others.
Anyway, Thor wants to get to the Banquet Hall, but Hawkeye and Hulk are excited to take a quick detour to Thor's alma mater. Once inside, they spot the trophy case... where something seems amiss.

Hawkeye: "Why is Loki everywhere on this wall?"

Yes, it seems that Loki did very well in school, earning all sorts of awards and commendations.

Putting him in good company alongside Tom Riddle.
I initially disliked this plot point, since it meant that Loki should have something in his life to be proud and content with... until I realized that this means that Odin still favors Thor despite all of Loki's achievements. It sort of puts a new perspective on why Loki feels that Thor doesn't deserve to be Odin's favorite son.

But Thor has always been proud of his smart, if misguided, brother, and remarks that his unfortunate fate of being trapped in Valhalla is a darn shame. And that's when Hulk notices that Thor's name is nowhere to be found.

Hawkeye: "Thooorrrrrr, tell me you graduated crazy magic school."
Thor: "I would have, but father... He needed my strength on the battlefield, and... and..."

Basically, this is the fantasy version of a father pulling his son out of school to work on the family farm.

Thor: "I left before the final day of the Learning Hall Games. I did not, in your words, graduate."

With one day to go, you'd think that Odin could have waited until his son finished school. Was Odin just really intent on slaughtering some Vanir that day?

But all of a sudden, some kind of green-Force-ghost-Loki appears and walks through a nearby doorway. Thor demands to know how he's doing this, and... wait. Last we saw, Loki was in the afterlife.

How could a dead man possibly have become a ghost? It boggles the mind!
Anyway, Thor and the other Avengers follow. Once inside the hallway, the doors close behind them and seal.

Thor: "Once sealed, those doors will not open."

So... Thor knowingly ran into the doors that won't open once they're closed?

Of course, those doors aren't the only way out. And Thor figures that this whole thing was a ploy by Loki to get him inside this very hallway.

Hawkeye: "I was tricked into school? Man, my fifteen-year-old self would be really disappointed in me right now."

As they head deeper to the exit, Thor explains what's going on.

Thor: "The portal lies at the center of the school. However, to get to it, we must complete the Learning Hall Games."
Hawkeye: "What do you mean 'we'?"
Thor: "A leader is only as good as the warriors he chooses. Three are meant to compete. Hence, the Warriors Three."

Huh. Nifty.

I hear things work similarly on Mount Olympus.
Wait, when Thor backed out, did that mean that two other students failed to graduate, too?

So our heroes enter the first chamber, where the hunting wolves from "Run Pig Run" await to challenge one of the three Avengers. Hulk happily accepts the challenge of strength and starts pounding away on the beasts, with Thor keeping Hawkeye from assisting him.

Thor: "No! It is Hulk's challenge. Evade, but never engage. That is the second rule of the games."
Hawkeye: "What's the first?"

"We don't talk about the games."
As the Avengers Three begin the games, the Avengers Rest-of-Them continue to do what they can to aid the oddly-absent disaster relief teams with the casualties in the oddly-empty streets of New York. Still, at least they haven't spun a yarn about evacuating the whole city this time.

As the quakes intensify, Iron Man tells the others that Hulk, Hawkeye, and Thor teleported away right before the first quake. And they're getting worse. As they try to figure out how to contact Thor in Asgard, Asgard appears upside down in the sky, all wibbly and glowy like it's not quite physically there yet. When Iron Man and Falcon fly closer and scan it, this turns out to be the case.

The spacey-wacey really is wibbly-wobbly this time.
With either Asgard or Earth behind this spacey-waceyness, Cap venture's a guess that it's something in Asgard behind this. And because the Avengers are able to recognize a pattern, they realize that Loki probably has something to do with this. Which means he probably has the Space Stone. Which means he's probably trying to escape Valhalla.

Back in Asgard, Hulk finishes beating up the wolves, so Loki appears to taunt the Avengers Three, Thor in particular. After all, it is suspicious that Thor was pulled from school right before the games. Almost as if Odin didn't think Thor could cut the mustard....

But soon enough, the floor gives way and the Avengers Three fall into the darkened second chamber for a fight against a gigantic fire-breathing serpent. And since Thor had his fill of fighting serpents last season, Hawkeye gets this one.

After jumping around on the chamber's platforms, Hawkeye figures out the creature's weakness (It can't fly, and it's in a bottomless pit) and defeats it with a well-aimed arrow.

...For some reason, I really want to play a Zelda game right now.

All Hawkeye's missing is a HUD and a heart container as a reward.
As the Avengers Three enter the final chamber, the other Avengers try to figure out how to get into Asgard.

Falcon: "But we can't get into Asgard unless we're Asgardian."

True. It was established in "Valhalla Can Wait" that Heimdall won't open a portal for just anybody who yells "Heimdall, portal!" Guy takes his job as gatekeeper seriously. I can respect that.

Back in Asgard, Loki tells Thor that his friends have bested the Tests of Strength and Agility, leaving only the Test of Mind. After giving his usual spiel about how Thor was always the favorite son despite his lack of anything but muscles, the test begins as a stone guardian asks the first riddle, chosen by Loki himself.

And to prevent cheating, Loki whips up some magic vines to keep the other two Avengers at bay.

Guardian: "If my opposite given free, you shall never know me. If given effort, you may. What am I?"

"Free... like a bird!"
"Precisely, Robin! And what is the opposite of a bird?"
"The opposite of sky is the ground... an earthworm!"
"Correct. If you are as free as a bird, flying through the air you will not know of worms unless..."
"Unless... you put in the effort to become an early bird and get the worm!"
"Precisely, Boy Wonder. A worm. The only possible answer."
Thor: "You're failure!"

"That makes no sense."
So that leaves one down, and one to go.

And yet again, Thor has reduced a stone man to pebbles.
Guardian: "I stand tall, but fall short. Worthy, but disregarded. My lands strange, and yet home. Who am I?"

Oh, that one's easy. Loki.

Thor: "'Worthy, but disregarded'? This, brother, is what you think of me."

Since when has Loki ever thought of you as 'worthy'?

Thor gives his answer, and the Guardian lifts its hammer...

Causing its arm to suddenly disappear in the space of a single frame.
...And starts laying the beatdown on Thor.

Guardian: "Failure."

As the Guardian starts smacking Thor with its hammer, Loki taunts Thor's intelligence as he suddenly finds himself unable to lift his hammer. Then a portal opens.

Loki: "Your failure opened the gates to my prison."


No, really, why?

Thor did state that there's a portal at the end of this test, by why is it triggered by Thor's failure?

Shouldn't it work like a Legend of Zelda boss battle where winning gives you a teleporter that leads out of the dungeon? Why would getting beaten to death open up a portal to leave?

Regardless of the logic, Loki and a small army of undead warriors from Valhalla emerge from the portal.

Loki: "The Space Stone could always transport me out of Valhalla. I just needed a failure like you to open a portal."


Okay, I figured it out.

Earlier in the episode, Thor said that failing the games meant a one-way trip to Valhalla. I thought this meant that if you fail, you die. I also thought it was just a throw-away line meant to illustrate to the audience how high the stakes were, which is why I didn't mention it.

But apparently, if you fail, you literally go to Valhalla. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just walk into the portal and accept your fate. If you fail crazy magic school, they don't even have the decency to kill you before they ship you off to become one of Hela's ever-dueling skeletons.

Hey, speaking of them, why doesn't Hela have any objections to Loki hijacking her army, anyway?

"I finally got Netflix. I'm catching up with Orange is the New Black."
But Thor decides to stop beating himself up over not being worthy, and starts to fight back against the guardian as we cut to New York, where Falcon is placing his Redwing module on Thor's bilgesnipe, which is hooked up to Black Widow's hovercar like a chariot.

The theory is that the Asgardian bilgesnipe will be able to get them into Asgard, because apparently non-Asgardians are barred entry by some kind of energy barrier which has something to do with the Space Stone and blah blah blah. The point is, they need the bilgesnipe to lead the way. And since Bilgey loves to play fetch with Mjolnir, Iron Man has a hologram rigged up to fly into Asgard. And it works.

And things look up as Thor finally figures out the answer to the guardian's riddle, causing it to crumble.

Loki: "Hmm. Even a broken clock is right twice a day."

So Loki simply has his skeletons fight Thor while he gloats some more.

"I'm going for it! I'm going for it!"
"Ack! How is he cutting off my air supply? And why do I need air?"
But the Avengers show up to assist, just in the nick of time.

Falcon: "Thor, what's the situation?"
Thor: "Everything I've been told is a lie."

That's not helpful, Thor.

As Thor mopes, the others pick up his slack and fight the undead army. Fighting Loki himself doesn't go as well because Loki is a master at Portal, using all sorts of clever tricks like falling over sideways into a portal on the ground to dodge attacks.

I will admit, Loki's space stone-fueled tricks are pretty cool.
Look at that face. The only way he could be more full of himself is if he teleported inside himself.
A pep talk from Falcon gets Thor out of his funk, and he summons Mjolnir to his hand, which apparently means that Thor is only worthy as long as he believes he is.

Makes sense to me. If Thor doesn't believe himself to be worthy, why should the hammer argue?

With the Avengers having defeated the undead army, the final showdown is between Loki and Thor. Thor opens with his usual tactic of "throw the hammer," but Loki apparently watched the end of Thor: The Dark World, because he opens some portals to teleport the hammer five feet away. As opposed to teleporting it to the other side of the universe, but perhaps merging Earth and Asgard is taking up most of his concentration.

After a few attempts to throw his hammer at Loki, Thor charges it up with lightning and... throws it at Loki. And for some reason, Loki doesn't teleport it away.

So... Thor wins because Loki basically forgets that he can teleport the hammer away... seconds after continually teleporting the hammer away.

"Wait, should I be doing something about this?"
"So it would seem. Oh, well, too late now."
The remnants of the skeleton army crumble away, and Thor grabs Loki's cracked Norn Stone, revealing the Space Stone inside. I'll just assume that it teleported in there, being the space stone and all.

And you know what? This makes sense. Look at what he did to Thor's portal in "Valhalla Can Wait." He changed its destination to Valhalla. Look at the color of Loki's Norn Stone-powers: Pinkish-purple, the same color as the Space Stone. (And while the jury's out on whether or not this space stone is the Tesseract that Red Skull gave to Thanos, the presence of a gem in Loki's staff confirms that, in this reality, his staff does not contain the mind stone, since that gem is locked up in the tower.)

I'd just like to say "Well done" to the writers behind this; it just goes to show that Avenger Assemble is capable of great things with such writers at the helm.

Anyway, the spacey-waceyness is undone, and Loki is quickly locked up behind bars as Thor thanks him for helping him graduate.

"you will remain here, brother, until our golden force field cells are fixed."
Back at the tower, Hawkeye is finishing up the laundry. Uh, didn't Falcon get the short straw? Or is this the episode's way of letting us know that a week has passed Probably the latter, since Thor arrives with his trophy and diploma. It seems that he completed the games in record time.

To commemorate this achievement, Hulk takes a picture to put on the trophy wall. And then he takes a selfie. I can't confirm this, but I think the selfie was a relatively last-minute addition to acknowledge the then-recent meme that the Age of Ultron trailer sparked. 

Or maybe the Hulk has simply been taking an interest in social media.

1 comment:

  1. "A pep talk from Falcon gets Thor out of his funk, and he summons Mjolnir to his hand, which apparently means that Thor is only worthy as long as he believes he is.

    Makes sense to me. If Thor doesn't believe himself to be worthy, why should the hammer argue?"

    I wonder if the comics will have a similar explanation?