INFINITE IMPROBABILITY: ‘Avengers Assemble’ Is Earth’s Mightiest ‘Meh’

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First Posted: 5/28/2013

Now on a roll of making billion-dollar-grossing films, Marvel Studios is absolutely dominating the big screen. Its small screen efforts, however, leave much to be desired.

While DC Comics has only Batman to thank in recent years for box office gold (though that may change with “Man of Steel”), it has done a fine job with its animated series and direct-to-video cartoon movies, giving casual fans like myself something to look forward to. I’ve always “Made Mine Marvel,” but few of Marvel Animation’s projects lately have reached the level of anything its biggest competitor has produced, except “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

So, of course, it was cancelled.

Its biggest blunder since “Wolverine and the X-Men” was canned in 2010, Marvel ceased production of the series to start working on a new series called “Avengers Assemble.” Yes, you read that right – they cancelled an Avengers cartoon to create another Avengers cartoon. It’s as pointless as it sounds.

“Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” was critically acclaimed and lauded by fans, perfectly blending the movie and comic book universes into an easily accessible show for viewers of all ages and levels of interest – comic readers were given interconnected storylines peppered with a wide variety of villains straight from the source material, movie watchers would never get lost with all the carryovers from the film adaptations, and kids were awed by bright colors and big action.

Despite its few flaws, such as turning The Wasp into a bubble-headed shopaholic, this was primed to be “X-Men: The Animated Series” for a new generation, but the House of Fewer and Fewer Ideas wanted something even closer to the films that could also serve as a crossover with its strange and awful “Ultimate Spider-Man” series, inexplicably renewed for a third season, so “Avengers Assemble” just premiered on May 26 on Disney XD with two back-to-back episodes called “The Avengers Protocol.”

Apparently, the protocol of this show is to do exactly what its predecessor did, but not as well. After stating his very vague reasoning for disassembling the Avengers some time ago, Tony Stark, conveniently wearing his Iron Man armor, just so happens to be spying on his former teammates when Captain America is zapped by the Red Skull and incinerated, even though it’s obvious to everyone watching that he was simply teleported away except to the guy who is supposed to be a technological genius.

Tony gathers the Avengers and asks them, in the most generic voice ever casted, to, ahem, avenge Steve Rogers and stop the Red Skull and M.O.D.O.K., whose existence is never explained to this supposedly fresh audience. In a series of rushed action scenes that gloss over potential plot points, character development, and a proper introduction for new teammate The Falcon, the team saves Cap’s mind from being switched with the Skull’s, but the crimson villain escapes with Stark’s armor, allowing him to live in his currently failing body with some tweaks. M.O.D.O.K. and Iron Skull (ugh) attempt a second attack involving cheap mind control, but are swiftly thwarted, completely lacking suspense or consequence, as Iron Man takes over the team simply because his movies make more money.

And if this is supposed to tie into those films better, “Iron Man 3” and its ending (I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it) just threw that out the Quinjet window, and if The Falcon isn’t a newbie S.H.I.E.L.D. operative using Stark technology to fly in the upcoming “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” movie, then why bother introducing him here at all? More importantly, if this is supposed to fit in with “Ultimate Spider-Man,” why isn’t “Avengers Assemble” a goofy, fourth wall-breaking mess clumsily incorporating over-the-top anime-style moments because it’s the flavor of the moment in animation?

Despite utilizing some of the writers from “EMH,” the dialogue seems flat and predictable, and the “witty” one-liners are just OK. The Hulk’s smashing voice actor, Fred Tatasciore, is the only carryover from the last series, and he seems to be one of the only actors capable of breathing life into the bland scripting, possibly because they largely left his character untouched, right down to his monster appetite. The direction is quite peculiar, too, as they awkwardly force letterboxing and comic-style framing throughout the two episodes that only draws further attention to the forced CG elements that automatically date the animation.

If this was introduced before “EMH,” I might have given it a pass, but there was little about this premiere that makes me want to tune in for more, whereas the old show started with a bang (all the major supervillains mysteriously break out of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s maximum security prisons at once and run amok) and consistently ended on cliffhangers. I’ll watch a few more episodes to see if it grows on me, but judging by its recent anime offerings and the trailer for the direct-to-video “Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United,” Marvel Animation needs to assemble a team as talented as (“The Avengers” director) Joss Whedon’s if they hope to reach the level of quality its Hollywood counterparts already have.

-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at [email protected]