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The prospect of Rick and Morty teaming up with a team of superheroes is enough to excite any fan of the show. Considering the show’s ability to parody big sci-fi and horror films, superheroes should provide great material for Rick and Morty to deconstruct.
Rick and Morty have a literal call to adventure when a superhero team known as the Vindicators, who only unite when the universe is under threat, get in trouble. Morty forces Rick to go because he gets to pick one in every ten adventures (a reference to “Meeseeks and Destroy”). When up in their space station, Rick quickly clashes with the superheroes and it becomes clear that the scientist might end up being a bigger threat than the villain known as Worldender.
Fans of superheroes will recognize the Vindicators as a combination of The Avengers and the Justice League. The team’s logo is similar to the Avengers’ and the space station is like the Justice League’s meeting hall. The heroes themselves have parallels to characters from Marvel and DC: Vance Maximus Renegade Star Soldier is a combination of Tony Stark and Peter Quill, Ghost Train is the Green Lantern, Million Ants is a parody of Ant-man and has Martian Manhunter’s charming demeanor, Supernova looks like Starfire, and the Phoenix and has the God-like powers of the Phoenix and Doctor Manhattan.
There is a wealth of material to mine for this premise and the show does try to touch on this with the heroes seemingly having a black-and-white sense of morality, which clashes with Rick’s nihilism. As the episode progresses, it is revealed that the heroes are not as heroic as they seem, partly because of Rick’s hostile personality and also due to a reveal that the Vindicators did something more heinous than Rick ever did. But the show should have made these differences more pronounced; the heroes should have been truly been clean cut figures and the presence of Rick drives them over the edge. Or the episode could have played more on Rick’s view that good and evil are social constructs, yet fans of Rick and Morty know that even Rick has a certain level of morality.
The best element of the episode is showing what Rick gets up to when he is blackout drunk – or, as I like to call him, “Shitfaced Rick.” Shitfaced Rick shows what Rick is truly capable of. As Birdperson says “He has the power to save and destroy entire worlds” and Rick does have a good go at causing havoc for the Vindicators and, inadvertently, himself and Morty. It was entertaining to see Rick being more wasted than usual and as the Vindicators progress, Shitfaced Rick get more intoxicated in his recordings. Because of Morty’s experience with Shitfaced Rick, he is the only one able to figure out Rick’s traps. The best joke involves a strange place known as Is-rae-l and another trap works as a callback to the pre-credit sequence in the pilot.
The humor in this episode was more like what could have been found in South Park. The best examples of this is seeing an unconscious Rick surrounded by his diarrhea and the way the first Vindicator twitches after he gets killed. Rick and Morty is not above a bit of crass humor, but these moments show that the series is trying to go further than usual. The episode is still funny – Rick and Morty have some great lines at the beginning of the episode and when Morty has to figure out the answers to Shitfaced Rick’s traps, but it is pushing some of the humor to the edge.
Rick and Morty is also known for having an emotional core and the ending of the episode attempts to subvert it with a “reveal.” It does lead to a hilarious reaction from Morty. Rick and Morty also has garnered a lot of fan theories, and when they are announced Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon seem to go out their way to disprove them – this time it involves the relationship of grandfather and son and how much Rick cares for Morty.
The previous two episodes, “Rickmancing the Stone” and “Pickle Rick,” were written by women and there was be a backlash from a vocal minority – so their heads must have exploded when they saw that two women wrote “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender.” One of the dumbest criticisms of the episode is that the character Supernova is too overpowered and piece of “feminist propaganda.” It’s not like there aren’t strong female superheroes in comics like Wonder Woman, Jean Grey, Starfire, or Supergirl. A more legitimate criticism that could be leveled at the episode is that its ending is rushed and disappointing, and the shoehorning in Beth and Summer’s appearance.
Considering the potential of Rick and Morty teaming up with a team of superheroes, “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender” is a disappointing episode, and one of the weakest episodes in the series. Despite this, “Vindicators 3” is still a funny episode thanks to its main two characters and it is not the worst episode in the show’s history – that right goes to “Interdimensional Cable 2: Tempting Fate.”