In the second part of “Asgard War,” Thanos arrives. He kicks a lot of butt. Then he gets his butt kicked. Then it’s over.

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Say what you will about most of the first season of Guardians of the Galaxy, but at least a lot of the dumb choices they made had a point. A juvenile, obnoxious point–mostly centered around cheap comedy or lazy characterization–but it was there. “Rescue Me” lacks the intrigue and narrative reach of “Lightnin’ Strikes,” particularly the odious charm and manipulations of J’Son. “Rescue Me” opts instead for epic battle between Thanos and everyone else (The Guardians, Asgard, and Spartax), which would be fine if the animation was up to the task. Instead, the visual sharpness that the first part possessed is notably missing here. Take for instance the weird moment where Thor and Angela manage a brief conversation while bullets blandly whiz by. Or the really poor way they handle Rocket’s eyes when he does the “Peter is cookoo” gesture (which is surprising because the animators usually bring it to give life to Rocket’s more exaggerated expressions). The action scenes are purely perfunctory, but “perfunctory” in an action-based episode already leaves you at a disadvantage.

The narrative itself isn’t too strong either, what little there is of it. Thanos basically arrives with an army ready to destroy everything. The Spartax army and the Asgardians easily wipe the floor with them, all up until the point that Thanos gets involved. Thanos turns the table quickly, and while I’m not exactly sure of the extent of Thanos’ powers, it seems as if his ability to withstand powerful hits and shoot laser beams is suitably stronger than everyone else’s powers combined. There’s a potential argument to be made about how the Asgard/Spartax conflict among everyone is preventing them from combining their powers to take down Thanos, but it never really becomes text or subtext. It’s mostly regulated to a runner in which Drax and Gamora compete over who should get final revenge on Thanos. It’s a conflict that comes off flat because… well, Drax’s and Gamora’s argument is frankly ridiculous. Drax’s sense of vengeance has always been stronger than Gamora’s (she mostly just wanted to get away from Thanos). For the latter to suddenly desire it, to the point that she’s getting catty with the former, comes from nowhere, making their “Together!” moment come off unearned. Also, they still get taken down.

The strongest moment by far is when Thanos sends Peter into a fantasy scene in which he sees his mother awaken from her hospital bed (in order to manipulate him into opening the boombox). It’s a uniquely stylized sequence–well, it’s just desaturated and filmed through a hazy filter, but for this show, it’s uniquely stylized. The show has been giving a few more layers to Peter by making him more defensive and wistful of his late mother, so watching him be confused and endearing towards his maternal vision comes of rather genuine. It also seems like a good opportunity to up the weirdness, what with the Guardian crew appearing as humans inside his head and J’Son narrating the video on the nearby TV. The sequence never really makes much of its dream-logic though, which makes it somewhat disappointing (a whole trippy, mind-verse episode would have been awesome). I do like that Peter’s resistance to the subtle tricks was building up, right until his mother “died” again, showcasing that her death is still a deep sore spot in an otherwise arrogant, goofy character.

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Outside of that, though, I wish I knew more to say. Steven Melching’s script just does its job, and Jeff Wamster’s direction is just functional. Thanos gains control of the Cosmic Seed energy inside the Spartax device and becomes twice as powerful, but is still beaten by the combined might of the Spartax Army, the Asgardians, and the Guardians themselves (also Loki?). The action is particularly serviceable but certainly not the mind-blowing climax you’d expect a finale to have. Thanos never really registers as the massive cosmic threat you’d think he should be, especially since beating him was less about clever planning and manipulation (although there’s a smidgen of that) and more about overwhelming force. And there’s J’Son, who was a sharp, sadistic, poor-paternal mastermind in “Lightnin’ Strikes,” but is regulated to underused, moustache-twirling lackey in “Rescue Me.” Lacking that personal touch, any clever plot moments, or any real visual flourishes, “Asgard War”–indeed, all of Guardians of the Galaxy–ends as it began: rich with potential but failing to capitalize on any of it in any meaningful way.

Stray observations

  • The end reveals that the Cosmic Seed was on Earth all along. It’s kind of a silly twist (although I’m not sure I follow Loki’s reasoning for him to send it somewhere even he doesn’t know), but it has potential to raise the stakes with Earth now in the thick of things. That also means more Cosmic Seed searching, which… ugh.
  • But I seriously doubt I’ll be back to covering season two, unless there’s some massive desire for it. Beyond that, thanks to the few of y’all that stuck with me and the show, even through the worst parts.

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