‘The Legend of Korra’ Book 3 Review: “Rebirth”
If you went away for college and visited home time to time, you'll know what I'm talking about. If that's on your horizon, get pumped.
Since their big breakup at the end of 'The Legend of Korra' Book 2, Mako and Korra have become the two friends who dated in high school and still can hang out at the local bar whenever they're both around. At least, Korra thinks they are. She's closer to her casual friend Asami than she's ever been before — that happens in post-college years, too — but when it comes to Mako, she's under the impression that their relationship can settle back into “just friends” like the days before things took a romantic turn. But can it? Korra hasn't been around and she hasn't made efforts to keep in touch. They're friends on Facebook, but they're like Mercury and Pluto emotionally. What makes Korra giggle makes Mako want to keel over and die. He's part of Team Avatar, but maybe he shouldn't be.
Mako tries to sever those remaining ties in the beginning of Book 3's “Rebirth.” Korra invites him to join the team for their quest to recruit Airbenders, but he declines. He's just trying to play things professionally, platonically. It takes Bolin egging him on to stay. It's a tough position for Mako, who's been pulled back and forth between Korra, Asami, and introversion, thanks to a swirling chaos of hormones and heroics. Knowing this season is all about “Change,” he's struggling with his own. Maybe he should be a career man. Maybe he's not meant to be with his high school girlfriend. Maybe he needs to stop going to beach weekends with his best buddies from 12th grade because he's sending signals on which he can't deliver. (Too personal? You catch the drift.)
It's a tough emotional crossroads to confront and 'The Legend of Korra' handles it with care. Book 2 would have blown past these carefully plotted beats into the next big wrench-in-wheel. Here, writer Joshua Hamilton sets the tone for true change to occur with the safehaven of Team Avatar.
Okay, but how about the action? Mixing Indiana Jones map hopping with a montage similar to the swinging recruitment segment of 'X-Men: First Class,' 'The Legend of Korra' finally hightails it out of its box — which opened up a wee bit last season when it drifted to the Southern Water tribe — to bounce around other areas of the 'Avatar'-verse. Tenzin's Airbender salesman: “Tattoos! Veggie diets! Ancient Airbender robes! A sky bison BFF!” All that and more at the Southern Air Temple, a place no one wants to go!
Professor X had an easy time lifting mutant teenagers out of their lives because they were oppressed by a prejudiced society. No such luck for new Airbenders. They have peachy existences, families, and friends. When Tenzin walks up to the door, he's like an evangelical Jehovah's Witness. No one likes a pushy theologian.
The show wants us to know that lack of support for Tenzin's meditative plan is on us, the unmotivated people of Earth, too. Jon Heder of 'Napoleon Dynamite' fame provides the voice for a sloth-like 22-year-old living in his mom's basement wasting away his life. He can airbend now, but it doesn't invigorate him any purpose. He'll get to life when he gets to life. Korra thinks beating him into submission might do the trick. Not quite. Humor has always been an essential part of the Avatar fabric, though 'Legend of Korra''s sense of humor wound up muddled in the throes of Book 2. In “Rebirth,” it's woven into plot momentum with plenty of room to breathe. There's a jab at fandom tucked away in this fun, poignant scene, for those willing to find it.
Eventually, Team Avatar stumbles upon one willing candidate: Kai, a riff raff, street rat, I-don't-buy-that Aladdin-type who dons puppy dog eyes in an attempt to board the airship. He can airbend ... but so far, according to the authorities who show up in the nick of time, he's been using his powers as a thief. Korra sees potential in the kid. Scrappy orphan with pathological liar tendencies or not, he's the only one willing to train with her and Tenzin. In a moment of student-becomes-teacher, Korra saves the kid from imprisonment and takes him as her Padawan. It's weird to feel a sense of pride for an animated character, but this is Korra organically growing up. She's saving a life, but whether it's a life worth saving has yet to be determined, as kid characters with reckless behavior can often be the worst. Though, as written and performed, this small development is more momentous than any kaiju battle.
Scattered across Team Avatar's trip towards the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Se are the further exploits of Zaheer, who holds cards close to his chest as he proves himself a formidable opponent. Oddly, the hulking Henry Rollins doesn't quite match the intimidation level of Zaheer's martial arts abilities — it's a little disjointed. But when it comes to kicking butt and taking names, the villain's up there with Book 1's Amon. He's swift and aggressive, a feat more astounding because we've never seen airbending utilized with such force. One by one, Zaheer breaks out members of his gang, each with a different bending power, each incarcerated in an opposing elemental cage. Ghazan firebends with molten lava blades; Ming-Hua can turn water into fluid claws; a third member is still a question mark, but assumed dangerous.
The money shot to the elongated 'Blues Brothers' getting-the-band-back-together action sequence is the man who hopes to stop them in their tracks: Fire Lord Zuko. The return of Avatar Aang's nemesis-turned-friend has always been a matter of when, not if. What he's been up to since the 'Last Airbender' days remain a mystery, and his plan to stop Zaheer is equally murky. Only one thing is certain: He rides a dragon and it is wonderful. Your move, Khaleesi.