Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: Avengers Assemble "Back to the Learning Hall"

They say the devil is in the details, and I wholeheartedly agree. As my old band director likes to say, a booger on the Mona Lisa completely ruins it. Now, depending on the details, sometimes the piece itself is enough to overcome its own flaws. Perhaps the flaws can even add to the charm in some cases.

But with this episode, the opposite is sort of true.

First and foremost, I like this show. Sure, it can be frustrating, and I’ll admit I prefer Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but every once in a while this show proves that it’s capable of providing exciting action scenes, funny one-liners, and even a clever plot or two.

What usually bogs the show down are the details.

Character development that gets ignored in the next episode (over and over), padding (usually in the form of fight scenes), and plots that depend on somebody involved suddenly becoming an idiot.
Such lackluster details in an episode are like poking tiny holes in a ship. The more there are, the more they drag it down.

But this episode delivers what could be considered another generic Thor vs. Loki’s minions plot that is actually buoyed up by the details.

Allow me to elaborate.

The story alone is surprisingly well-crafted. I’m not talking about dialogue; I’m talking about how the basic layout fits together like a puzzle.

This episode delivers yet another generic plot… but actually manages to put a twist on it. The plot in question is the old “high school reunion” plot. The nifty twist is that the school in question is in Asgard, and the reunion is Thor’s.

So the episode has successfully managed a clever setup with plenty of potential.

Thor is the obligatory character to bring along, but who else should go on this trip?

Hulk is a perfect choice because his love of smashing fits Asgard like a glove. He can hold his own against anything there and his eagerness to visit provides a counterpoint to Thor’s reluctance. From there, the obvious second choice would be Hawkeye, the token Muggle of the group. Easily the “weakest” of the Avengers (since Black Widow is a living weapon), he provides a contrast to Thor and Hulk while also being a comedic fish out of water, should the need arise.

So with our three buds on their way to Asgard, what do the others do? They take care of a threat on Earth that ends up tying into the main plot for the big finale, ensuring that no Avenger is left with nothing to do.
When the Avengers Three arrive on Asgard, the plot takes a left turn into three trials masterminded by Loki. The first two battles move swiftly, and focus on different-enough battle strategies that it doesn’t feel like padding.

The third trial, the trial of wisdom, allows for a one-on-one battle of the brains plot that Thor initially loses, giving Loki enough of an edge to enact his master plan of escaping Valhalla and wreaking havoc. Cue the return of the Avengers, Thor learns a lesson and graduates, and everything is wrapped up with a nice bow.

When you get down to finer details, however, a few cracks begin to show.

  • Where are the emergency services apart from the Avengers?
  • Why doesn’t Hela object to Loki leaving her realm and stealing her army when she was so mad about it the last time?
  • Why does failing a trial of wisdom get you sent straight to Valhalla before you even die? That’s cold, man.
  • Why did Thor walk into the three trials knowing that once he walked in, they’d have to fight their way through deadly traps?
  • Why did Loki all of a sudden fail to warp away Thor’s hammer during their final battle? Nothing changed, and he was doing great for a while.

And so on, and so forth.

But when you look at the finer details, the episode begins to shine again.

To rattle off just a few…

  • ·         Loki’s portal-manipulation abilities from “Valhalla Can Wait” are brought back and explained, furthering the Infinity Stones plot.
  • The wolves from the first challenge seem to be a callback to the Asgardian mounts from “Run Pig Run.”
  • The “failure” riddle is actually pretty clever. 
  •  Seeing the Avengers deal with helping people caught in the catastrophe was less absurd than the show’s usual insistence that nobody ever gets hurt when New York gets smashed to pieces.
  • Loki thinking with portals near the end turns him back into a physical threat for the team.

And so on.

While the aforementioned cracks are mostly issues that wouldn’t be apparent until you stop and think for a second, the fine details show some planning, care, and forethought. While I would have preferred some of that care put into closing a plot hole or two, I do appreciate the effort.


The question of what exactly makes Thor “worthy.”

After all, if Thor can’t graduate crazy-magic-school, then why should he hold that hammer? By failing to complete school, he’s proven himself to be inferior to others in some way. If Thor isn’t the paragon of Asgard, than why should he wield its greatest weapon? What makes him so special?

In the end, Thor is reminded that “worthiness” isn’t a question of test scores. It’s a matter deep in your heart, immeasurable by anything but your deeds. Thor is worthy to wield the hammer not because of what he CAN do, but what he is willing to do.


Now that I think about it, Thor’s sudden lack of worthiness does seem to have recent precedent.
During the Original Sin crossover, he was told a secret that made him instantly unworthy, necessitating someone else to take on the mantle of Thor.

We'll just have to wait and see how it happens in Season 4.
I do like how completely shattered Thor’s self-confidence is at the end, which ironically shows subtlety on the episode’s part.

Thor seems very uncomfortable with the idea of returning to the Learning Hall, since he didn’t graduate. But more than that, he’s uncomfortable with the idea of graduating. Period.

The question that has been weighing on his mind all this time is simple.

“Could I have succeeded?”

And probably the only thing putting his fears to rest was convincing himself that his worthiness to wield Mjolnir was proof enough.

His cockiness when presented with the final riddle could almost seem to come from a place of relief.

“Is that it? Whew!”

But when he answers incorrectly, the question he’d been hiding from is finally answered in his mind: No.

And with faith in himself lost, Thor can no longer wield the hammer. Simply because he can’t believe that he truly can be worthy.

Why else would Odin pull him from school? The answer is never truly revealed, but I think Odin was killing two bilgesnipe with one lance. Not only does he prevent Thor’s possible failure, but he gains a new protector for his kingdom. Win-win.

The reason Loki’s words cut so deep is because Thor believes them. And in the end, Loki might actually be right about why Odin pulled Thor from school. The important thing, which is also usually the lesson in normal “high school reunion” plots, is that it doesn’t matter how you let other define you from years in the past. What matters most is what kind of person you are on the inside and what you’ve achieved as an individual. Not simply in terms of impressive feats, but in terms of how you’ve help improve the richness of the world.
So what if you’re not a big-shot CEO? If you’re a dependable guy who’s willing to help a friend, that’s what truly matters in the end.

Loki, on the other hand, is that guy who peaked in high school, bitter over the fact that all of his endeavors since then have failed on account of him simply being a piece of crap.

Sure, Loki got first place in everything. But not once did he ever work to help Asgard for its own sake, rather than in his search for recognition and glory.

It’s a paradox, really. Loki can’t earn respect until he does something worthy of respect… without doing it merely to earn respect.

Barring at least one minor error with a statue’s disappearing arm, and one major one with Hawkeye’s arm replacing Tony Stark’s, I’d say this is above average in terms of animation. What it might lack in polish, it makes up for with some interesting fight scenes, all of which have different feels to them. A brawl, a boss-battle-type fight, and a last stand against an army.

Final Thoughts
While it’s merely an okay episode at its core, I find the attention to detail charming enough. For currying my favor, it’s earned an “above average” rating in my heart.

It’s no “Nighthawk,” but it’s far from being another “Thanos Rising.”

Next time, Hawkeye wanders into a different realm yet again. But this time, he takes Falcon with him.

See you then!

1 comment:

  1. To quote a certain internet gamer...