'The Legend of Korra' Book 4 has me hooked with story, but it's wowing me with the return of the original Metalbender, now 86 years old, and actress Philece Sampler's faithful rendition of her layered persona. It's Toph again, and not just on paper. The way she speaks, the way she jabs, the way concern slips out of her hard shell, the way she forcefully reels in that trace of compassion after noticing it snuck out — Toph is the most successful “classic” character to transition to the new show. She needed to be. Only someone as no-nonsense as Toph could whip the Avatar pack into hero mode, the human Zoloft to Korra's spell of depression.
There are enemies and there are hurdles. The former haven't proved too difficult for Korra, who mustered up the power, grace, control, and ingenuity to defeat even a towering, spirit-man Kaiju. It's looking inward to find those heroic attributes that proves difficult — for Korra or anyone with a brain in their head. With “Korra Alone,” Bryan Konietzko and Michael DiMartino pit their heroine against her greatest adversary: herself. Not someone you want to immediately torch with firebending.
One reason I'll survive the conclusion of 'Legend of Korra' — and there were doubts as the final season set in this past week — is the show's immortal design work. Like other genre property pillars, the world of Avatar has a visual panache lending itself to reinterpretation. As artists, creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino are open to their creation's flexibility; Between fan art and commissioned works, there are hundreds of 'Korras' out there. And now, courtesy of Nickelodeon, we have one of the most stunning variations yet.
As 'Legend of Korra' unexpectedly returns just a month after the Book 3: Change finale, the show joins the ranks of 'Battlestar Galactica,' 'Alias,' and 'One Tree Hill' in taking a giant leap forward in time, with Korra's showdown against Zaheer a distant memory for Team Avatar. At first, everything looks peachy: Republic City thrives with new tourist attractions — anyone immediately book their next vacation to the Spirit Wilds? — the Earth Kingdom is on the brink of resurgence, and everyone has new jobs, new threads, and a little more age on their faces (the growth spurt on Mako and Asami was even a bit shocking, as if they were my children growing up before my eyes...). Life is grand. Everything's going smoothly. For about two seconds.
There was a post-”princess movie” moment where Disney chased the “boy demographic.” It didnt' work out so well; Films like 'Atlantis' and 'Treasure Planet' came and went. Under the current Disney brand, 'Big Hero 6' isn't as aggressively alternative — not with Marvel as an in-house entity — but but the competition raises questions of what the Mouse House can bring to the table. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was basically a cartoon. Guardians of the Galaxy's five-character team had two fully CG characters. The Transformers moves are basically the pixel equivalent of a Stan Brakhage film. And now there's 'Big Hero 6,' a fully animated feature competing with live-action bombast. How will it stand out from the crowd? The Walt Disney legacy, and the idiosyncratic creative process that comes with it.
The best way to stop an anarchist is to allow his or her plan to backfire.
If the hero can't shut him or her down with brute force, if the villain's motivating world views veer a little too close to sound logic, then it's all about going along with the plan until it blows up in someone's face. Emotion overtook Zaheer's methodical planning; Sure, he jetted off like Neo in the Matrix in the final moments of “Enter the Void,' but when his one true love P'li kicked the bucket in an epic duel with Lin and Su, the Red Lotus leader lost his cool. It was only a matter of time. Zaheer didn't believe in the power of collective empowerment, where individuals choose to become one of many. What a thrill it was to see powers combine to tornado him in the butt.
As post-Earth Queen Ba Sing Se erupted into a burning hellscape of violence and looting, you could hear the cautious lyrics of The Beatles' “Revolution” ringing in the background.
With “Long Live the Queen,” 'Korra' takes a step over the line into darker territory. Or that's how Zaheer puts it, when he suffocates the Earth Queen by airbending the oxygen out of the body. If the Parents Television Council knew how to navigate Nick.com, its members would be flipping out.
Though “Stakeout” begins as a cheeky detective story — somewhere between Richard Dreyfuss' 1983 screwball action comedy of the same name and Paul Auster's merciless short story, “Ghosts” — it's conclusion is like flipping through Snyder's Buddhist playbook.
A great villain can usurp the fortitude of a great hero. Look at 'The Dark Knight' — is Batman even in that movie? Heath Ledger's Joker was an instantly iconic performance that overshadowed the small effort put into complicating the Bruce Wayne character. Worth the sacrifice, but Christopher Nolan's Bat-sequel is forever flawed.