The good news: Marvel’s new Avengers cartoon is okay. The bad news: It’s inferior in almost every way to Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The ugly news: It’s probably going to be a lot more popular.
That’s definitely the most infuriating part about Avengers Assemble; watching it fail to measure up to its cartoon predecessor and knowing, deep down, that kids are probably going to like this better. That they don’t want the highlights of the Marvel history masterfully retold for new audiences, or to see Marvel’s vast universe of characters, many of whom are got on TV for the first time ever. Nope, they want to see the guys from the movies fighting things, and in those terms, Avengers Assemble delivers.
The cartoon picks up soon after the events of the Avengers movie, although it posits that the team broke up because they couldn’t work together (even though they clearly did, and saved the planet because of it). When a peeping Tony Stark sees Red Skull and a needlessly redesigned MODOK appear to kill Captain America, Iron Man reassembles the Avengers who argue and bitch, except for the one new arrival of the Falcon, who is simply thrilled to be included.
Once they arrive at the Red Skull’s HQ, things don’t get any better, although a bunch of AIM goons and lasers pop out so at least they can fight things while they argue. Iron Man immediately ditches his comrades to track down the Red Skull who he discovers 1) has Captain America alive and 2) swapped minds with him, as the Skull’s body was deteriorating for some reason. Without a plan and without a leader, the Avengers manage to break a lot of shit and punch a lot of bad guys, and even manage to defeat Skull and swap Cap’s brain back in there, but MODOK also manages to take off Tony’s Iron Man armor and put it on Red Skull before they teleport away (the armor somehow saves Red Skull too, which seems like it would have been a much easier plan than the mind swap).
The Avengers race back to New York and Tony’s mansion, and everybody gets settled when MODOK and Skull release the nanomachines they’ve hidden in the Avengers' ship, which fly into everybody’s mouths and then make them fight each other. It’s just an excuse to see all of the Avengers wailing on each other, instead of just Thor, Iron Man and Hulk, as per the movie; it’s also an excuse for the Skull and MODOK to sneak into Tony’s mansion and blow up a large arc reactor he has down there. Tony eventually shoots all the other Avengers in the face with a “targeted EMP” laser, they get better, the bomb goes off but somehow the arc reactor takes yet more time to blow up — enough time for Tony to have a plan, lead the team, and the Avengers to somehow make the arc reactor shoot all of its energy into space instead of blowing up New York City.
With the mansion destroyed, Stark tells/orders everyone to stay in one giant large apartment in the Stark building, which also turns into a giant jet, because of course it does. The Red Skull, noting the way those darned heroes joined forces, decides to join some forces of his own — he calls Attuma, Dr. Doom, and Dracula, which is cool because 1) it seems like Assemble is going to go some places that EMH didn’t (or, more specifically, didn’t have time for) and 2) it could mean Namor, whose appearance would go a long way in making the show seem like it’s going to actually explore the Marvel universe, rather than just rehash the movie over and over again.
The possibility of Namor isn’t the only advantage Assemble has over Earth’s Mightiest Heroes; the character designs are legitimately great, and the animation has also improved because of it (with the exception of a few static shots that move around the screen to simulate animation; it’s rare, but always jarring).
But everything else? It all suffers in comparison to EMH. The voice acting, the dialogue, the plot… it’s all just not as good. The characters are mostly shallower versions of their EMH versions; some of the voice actors remain the same, making the new ones sound incredibly off. The plotting is especially inferior, because everything simply happens in service to the large action scenes, not the story. Why does the Red Skull wait to use the nanomachines until the Avengers get home, rather than when he’s fighting them earlier? Why doesn’t the bomb actually blow up the arc reactor, but cause it to blow up in a few minutes? If Tony can trace the Red Skull’s teleportation thing the first time, which can’t he do it the second or third time?
I’m not going to pass judgment too hard on the storytelling just yet, as I sincerely hope that this spectacle was merely to draw in the kids, and future episodes will settle down a bit. But again, I’m worried that this is actually what the kids want, and Marvel is committed to giving it to them. It’s a smart decision, and, from a fiscal viewpoint, the right decision. That, of course, doesn’t console me in the slightest.
But Namor would help.
• Apparently Tony built the Falcon's suit. Tony tells the SHIELD recruit Sam Wilson to get in War Machine, but Sam picks the Falcon suit instead. I'm less concerned about this change to the Falcon canon than the fact that Tony has apparently a specific armor for African-Americans.
• Do you know how many times they use the Hulk-punching-a-teammate-from-the-side-without-looking gag from the Avengers movie? I counted, and it’s somewhere around 87 million.
• The way Assemble presents it, it appears the Avengers are all living in the apartment together in a Real World kind of way, not an Avengers mansion come-and-go-as-they-please kind of way. If this is true, I will be so, so sad.
• The thing I miss most about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? Ms. Marvel. And Wasp. But mostly Ms. Marvel.
• If you think this recap boils down to an old dude yelling “WAAAAAHHH GODDAMN KIDS ARE RUINING MY CARTOONS” then… actually, that’s pretty accurate. Go with that.