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Even before it aired its two episode premiere, Avengers Assemble had been judged and damned by many. People were already watching an Avengers series, and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes had the potential to be Marvel’s own Justice League Unlimited. While the show did have several strong episodes, it also featured many poor episodes, so many that it never actually reached that level. Nevertheless, it was the Avengers series in which people had already invested. The news that Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes was being cancelled to make way for a more movie-friendly Avengers series was far from welcome. It didn’t help that Disney already had a poor track record of pulling this kind of stunt. So when it came time for Avengers Assemble to debut, there were already a large number of viewers geared up to hate it.
Yet, it turns out there really isn’t much to hate about Avengers Assemble.
The new series has the Avengers reassembling after having disbanded for some indefinite amount of time. It’s a smart way to begin. Viewers have already seen the Avengers first come together recently, either in the movie or Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. There’s no benefit to rehashing that origin again, and this is a good way of avoiding the origins trap. There’s also a lot of good story potential in exploring what went wrong with the team’s first go at it.
This is also how some have been able to claim Avengers Assemble works as a sequel series to Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. It doesn’t, and it isn’t trying to. Best get that idea out of your head rather than frustrating yourself by trying to fit this square peg in a round hole. It’s an all-new show.
The show sticks to mostly to the movie cast for obvious reasons. The only exception is Falcon, who pulls double duty as the new guy and the sole non-white person. I’m not sure Falcon is really the best choice for team rookie. But then again, the Avengers don’t exactly have a wealth of black characters to choose from and most don’t fit naturally into the role of wide-eyed rookie. So Falcon it is. His characterization as the aforementioned wide-eyed amateur comes off a bit generic. It feels like I’ve seen this character hundreds of times before. But there is potential if the show can allow him to grow beyond his newcomer role. His status as an Iron Man protege and a Captain America fan boy could put him in some interesting positions down the road.
Otherwise, there isn’t much to say about the cast. Iron Man’s portrayal certainly highlights his flaws, which is for the best. The push to make him step up as the Avengers leader is a little awkward, though. It’s hard to see the rationale for that when Captain America is standing right there, not threatening to tear down the team again with his character flaws. But I don’t disagree with Iron Man taking the role of leader; the execution of his rise to the top is just shaky.
The main problem with the cast is that the characters won’t stop quipping and bickering. It feels like that sort of banter makes up at least two-thirds of the dialogue. Everyone is trying to be funny and few are succeeding. The steady flow of forced hilarity gets annoying quickly.
The premiere sets up what I assume will be the overarching threat of the season: the Cabal. This is actually a clever bit of storytelling. It’s all about escalation. Red Skull teams up with MODOK to overwhelm Captain America. Iron Man reassembles the Avengers to go after Red Skull and MODOK. Red Skull forms the Cabal to combat the Avengers. That seems like a fairly natural progression of events to me.
The Cabal comes from a story titled "Dark Reign" in the comics, in which Norman Osborn weasels his way into a position of authority and forms a secret group of like-minded villains to make the most out of his position. Like Red Skull does in the show, Osborn also had his own stolen set of Iron Man armor. The membership of Red Skull’s Cabal looks to be almost entirely different, but that’s not a bad thing. The surprise inclusion of Dracula is interesting, though I do wonder how well this show will be able to handle vampires if it wants to be kid-friendly. I do think it would have been more interesting to use Namor rather than Attuma, though.
I have to say the animation style is a step up from Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. It’s less stylized and more detailed, which suits my preferences just fine. There’s a major need for refinement of the actual animation, though. That’s usually the case with new animated series. They’re obviously still feeling things out, so I expect it will improve over time as more shows do. That said, the computer-generated elements are particularly awful. They stick out like a sore thumb and resemble mediocre work from a decade ago.
There’s also room for improvement with the direction and storytelling. If Avengers Assemble really intends to stick to the half hour, self-contained episode format, the people behind the show need to rethink how to write and direct the episodes. There’s this constant feeling while watching the two-episode premiere that the show has someplace else it needs to be. It rushes through the story, reducing most character interactions to snippets of banter. Scene transitions are basically nonexistent as they cut quickly from battles to the characters standing around to the scene. This technique is jarring and clumsy. Hopefully, this series won’t end up like Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes did toward the end, biting off bigger stories than it could reasonably tackle in just half an hour.
All in all, I find myself feeling basically the same about Avengers Assemble as I did when Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes began. It’s a solid effort at an Avengers animated series with some improvements needed, but it also has a lot of potential. This show features a strong premise, with the Avengers re-forming after a long absence and the rise of the Cabal. Everything depends now on how the show develops over the course of its first season and whether it works out its kinks or strangles itself. Either way, the premiere of Avengers Assemble is pretty far from the disaster some feared or hoped it would be.