Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: Avengers Assemble "Downgraded"

You know, I think that may have been the most video game references I've ever made in a single Recap. And this episode had nothing to do with video games.

Chalk it up to the fact that I got my dad Skyrim for Christmas, I guess.

Right off the bat, this episode gets bonus points for featuring a very interesting idea at its heart.

Yes, it's yet another Asgard Episode... and yet, it's not. At all. Except it totally is. Apart from the things that really count.

I feel as though that perfectly sums it up, but I guess I could go into detail.

First of all, the realm in question is Vanaheim, not Asgard. So while the settings are similar, Vanaheim is the Rohan to Asgard's Rivendell. With a little Helm's Deep thrown in, to extend the metaphor. This helps keep things familiar enough to avoid feeling overwhelmed by a new setting, but new enough to keep things distinct from the usual Asgardian fare, such as the very last episode.

Second of all, Thor does not travel between realms with Hawkeye and Falcon. Such a simple little change that makes all the difference compared to the other Asgard episodes. For the better, I might add.

When Asgardian stuff comes along to menace the Avengers, Thor is oftentimes already familiar with it. Naturally. So by keeping Thor on Earth, Falcon and Hawkeye are cast as strangers in a strange land, allowing a Thor-less perspective on another realm.

I mean, go back and look at all the times Thor has traveled between the realms. Whenever Thor arrives in another realm, the first thing he does is give the others (and the audience) a quick low-down. "We're in [REALM], home of [THINGS THAT LIVE HERE]."

And Thor can just zip through the realms like nobody's business, meaning that unless they specifically whip up a reason why Thor can't just hop between dimensions, he's really never stuck anywhere. Compare the non-event that was the trip to Surtur's fire pit with Loki's portal hijacking to Valhalla.

For what is really the first time, two Avengers are stuck in another realm without the only Avenger who can whip up a wormhole. And the two Avengers that just so happened to take this trip just so happened to be the ones thematically appropriate.

But I'll get to that in the character section.

Character justification. And don't get me wrong, I don't mean that in a negative way.

I'm not saying "Oh, finally these characters have a reason to be Avengers!"

But nevertheless, this episode does demonstrate why they're qualified to be on the team.

Hawkeye is arguably the weakest Avenger.

Hulk and Thor are obviously at the top of the power levels, with Iron Man and Falcon using their gear to rank near or above Captain America, a fairly super-strong human.

Second-to-weakest is Black Widow, who has enough training to incapacitate most enemies with only her martial arts skills, followed by Hawkeye, who (although he's no slouch at hand-to-hand combat) primarily relies on using weapons or converting his surroundings into weapons.

But this episode demonstrates Hawkeye's usefulness by comparing him not to armored Avengers or gamma mutates, but to defenders of another realm. When you look at Hawkeye with a rating system catered to humanoid archers, you'll find that Hawkeye's right there at the top.

But this episode demonstrates that Hawkeye's strength comes not only from his phenomenal archery skills, but also his resourcefulness, as shown with his improvised traps and power moves with the other warriors.

And that same resourcefulness is mirrored in Falcon, demonstrating that while Hawkeye might think at first that Falcon depends too much on technology (and therefore truly Tony Stark's protege), but his opinion changes in the end when Falcon demonstrates resourcefulness that puts Hawkeye himself to shame.


Hawkeye, who is an unparalleled master of the bow and arrow, suddenly finds himself on the TOP tier of fighters, rather than the bottom. Hawkeye is now in the position of Captain America, for all intents and purposes. Which is a nice reversal of the usual joke that Hawkeye is fighting aliens, robots, and gods by launching pointy sticks.

"I have found my people."
While it might seem hypocritical for Hawkeye to be critical of Falcon, since neither of them have powers, Hawkeye's criticism probably has roots in the fact that neither he nor Falcon have powers.

Hawkeye overcomes this with hard work and years of training. Falcon creates gadgets in an afternoon and apparently gets better results.

But what Hawkeye doesn't understand is that for once, he's on the opposite side. Hawkeye makes archery looks easy, but he realizes how much work goes into it. Falcon makes gadgetry look easy, since he has the unlimited resources of Tony Stark at his disposal. Creating a medieval arsenal in Vanaheim demonstrates that even without the tools, he still has the creativity, trained skills, and raw talent. The same three traits Hawkeye uses on a regular basis.

Falcon is a technical genius with advanced gadgets. If he had been transported to the Middle Ages, he probably would have been feared and worshiped as some sort of wizard, angel, demon, what-have-you. But it just so happens that Vanaheim contains monsters that feed off electricity and render his tech inert, forcing him to use the skills and cleverness that allowed him to build that technology in the first place in order to create weaponry to save the day.

And before anyone mentions it, yes, I do realize that this episode is a thematic rehash of "Savages" with Falcon in place of Tony Stark.

But there are a few important distinctions between this episode and that one.

1. Falcon is learning the "don't rely exclusively on technology" lesson for the first time, rather than the 47th.
2. "Don't rely on technology" isn't even really the main lesson. Rather, it's a minor aspect of the overall themes of the story.
3. The plot isn't kicked into gear by a hypocritical and loosely-defined bet.
4: Falcon does not create technology while claiming it isn't really technology because it's made out of rocks.

Basically, this episode is what "Savages" should have been.

There's really no point in discussing them individually, since the only named characters are only there to act as archetypes. Not that this is a bad thing. Instead of bogging down the plot in backstory and stuff that will only matter for a single episode, the Vanaheim/Shadow Nix plot is simple and straightforward: Monsters are sieging the town, and they ran out of the potion that defeats them. Simple. Straightforward.

And since that conflict is merely a background for the debate between Hawkeye and Falcon, "simple and straightforward" is the best way to go.

Some good action, some nice Vanaheim landscapes, and no major animation errors that I could spot without going frame-by-frame. So let's call this "above-average."

Although once again, the Many Expressions of Falcon pay us another visit.

Seriously, Falcon, what happened to your face?
Final Thoughts
As I said, this is what "Savages" should have been, which is why I'm forgiving it for rehashing that old plot.

While I often criticize the Marvel Animation Universe (and Avengers Assemble in particular) for using long, drawn out fights as filler, rather than using the time to flesh out character interaction/development, this episode actually manages to weave long, epic fights with character interaction/development.

All in all, one of the better episodes this season.

Next time, the ongoing plot returns as the universe embarks on an Infinity Quest. And I'm sure the resolution will be as satisfying as it is story-driven. See you then!

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