Let’s Watch Legend of Korra: Season 2 Predictions

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[This post will contain spoilers for the ‘Avatar’ series up until the first episode of Season 2. This goes without saying, but even so. You have been forewarned.]

One of my favorite shows of 2012 was ‘Legend of Korra’, the successor to the Nickelodeon smash-hit series Avatar: The Last Airbender which aired from Spring 2005 to Fall 2008. The series follows the adventures of the eponymous Korra, a seventeen-year old “water bender” and the reincarnation of the previous series’ protagonist Aang.

The Avatar is a human being endowed with the ability to manipulate the forces of nature (Air, Water, Earth, Fire) and acts as a mediating force of balance between not only the separate nations of mankind, but also as the human emissary to the Spirit world. Last season, Korra came into here own by mastering all four of the elements (a trial that each Avatar must complete) and defeated Amon, the reclusive masked orchestrator  of  technologically advanced secessionist movement hell-bent on usurping the Bender-dominated government of Republic City (Avatar’s equivalent to New York/Shanghai) and installing a regime of fascism under the guise of “equality”.

One of the reasons why ‘Korra’ appealed to me so much, more even than its predecessor series,  is because it was able to astutely depict the stark philosophical dichotomy between two opposing yet complimentary forms of Fascism (Oligarchy of Natural Talents vs. Faux-Egalitarianism) all under the guise of a teen-drama animated series.

That’s damn impressive, and serves as another palpable example in the argument that animation, no matter what the intended audience, is capable of inciting significant and insightful debate and reflection in many audiences regardless of age group (if they would only give it a chance!)

But I’m digressing from the intention of this article. I’m not here to convince you to watch Legend of Korra (though a polite nudge of suggestion doesn’t hurt), but rather to offer my own predictions, hopes, and expectations for the second season, which just last Friday aired its one hour season premiere and will continue to air throughout the rest of 2013. The hour-long premiere offered the promise of multiple new faces, the return of older and more significant players, and the incitement of a Civil War waged within a larger natural disaster that Korra must face. So without further prologue, let’s get started…

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1. Koh the Face Stealer will be a major player in the struggle between the Human and Spirit world.

The title of this year’s season is “Spirits’. Every season of Avatar including the first season of Korra has been named after one of the four elements of the planet. With the conclusion of last year’s season, The Avatar must move forward to become a major player in not only the human world but also the spirit world. But there are other threats that vie to eliminate or manipulate the Avatar to further their own aims. One of the most deadly spiritual adversaries the Avatar has encountered is Koh the Face Stealer, a gigantic anthropomorphic centipede with the androgynous face of a human. Koh can adopt the face and form of whoever he consumes, and will murder and consume any person who exhibits fear or emotion within his domain.

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With the albeit totally confirmed reappearance of the giant Owl Wan Shi Tong and his ethereal library of forbidden knowledge, I think it’s safe to assume that Koh will be a major force in the conflict between the Human and Spirit world. Why?  Because he’s one of the most powerful, malevolent, and enigmatic characters in the world of Avatar, and a perfect spirit world counterpart to Korra’s uncle Unalaq in filling the void left by Amon’s departure (We’ll get to him in a sec…). He already has a known history of encounters with two previous incarnations of the Avatar, neither of which were ended on particularly pleasant terms. He’s killed the wife of one of the past incarnations of the Avatar, Korra’s water-bender predecessor Kuruk. I think it’s only a matter of time before we see this guy pop up again, and when we do it will most likely be no good.

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2. We have not seen the last of Amon and Tarrlock.

Speaking of Amon, I don’t think he’s gone yet. Or his brother Tarrlock for that matter either.  Although both of these important tragic figures died in the last episode of the previous season, in perhaps one of the darkest and unsettling moments in the entire series, I don’t believe that they’re gone for good. Why you might ask? Simple. Amon and Tarrlock live on in the spirit world, and perhaps in one way or another will come to help Korra achieve balance between the two worlds. Amon was one of the fiercest, morally-opaque and compelling villains that the show has ever produced. The initial question of his identity and his subsequent popularity among the show’s fan-base catapulted ‘Korra’ to a level of popularity not even seen by ‘Avatar’. Seeing a repentant “post-megalomaniacal” Amon living out in the spirit world is too tantalizing an opportunity to pass on. And Tarrlock…well, one can’t exist without the other, can they?

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3. Varrick will either prove to be a duplicitous snake-in-the-grass, or a surprisingly noble ally to the cause of peace.

Look at this guy’s face. His weaselly, self-serving demeanor. His utter disregard for anything other than himself. If ever I saw the face of an unapologetic snake-oil salesman, it’s Varrick. But ‘Korra’ has done nothing if not defy expectations of character morality. Asami, the tragic but stalwart advocate of peace and coexistence is a championed example of this. I could be reading Varrick all wrong, I’ll openly admit to that. The determining factor of a static or dynamic character is in evidenced in how they do or do not change throughout the course of a story. I’ve only seen about one episode of this guy; an over-enthusiastic buffoon with way too glowing an opinion of himself. I’ll suspend my skepticism until I’m proven right.

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4. Anyone’s Guess.

Anything other than that is an open-ended guess on my part. One of the major emphasis of this season will be relationships, especially those familial. Korra will have to act as a unifying force between the culturally warring factions of her people, evolve through her conflicted respect and resentment for her Air-bending mentor Tenzin, her relationship to the spirit world and her Avatar predessecors (especially that of Aang and Wang, the first Avatar), her budding yet troubled relationship with Mako,  and her relationship with herself. Getting older, wiser, assuming responsibilities. Growing up.

I’m really looking forward to the new places this season is going to bring fans of the show, both literally and thematically. And even if you’re not a ‘Korra’ fan or have never seen an episode of the original series, I highly suggest you give it a shot. Take it from a late-comer, it’s not as hard as you think to catch up on the important stuff 😉

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Summer Movie Retrospect: Marvel’s The Avengers, Prometheus, and The Dark Knight Rises.

Hi there! I’ve neglected this blog for a large part of the summer, but I thought that it would be good to come back and reflect on a couple of the major films that I’ve seen these past three months and just put my thoughts out there for what it’s worth. I’m not going to pretend that I’m the only one on the Internet to have written a blog post about these films (ha, imagine the thought), but this is more of a way of getting my opinions down for future refinement, discussion, and reflection. And so, without further preamble….

Marvel’s The Avengers

I’ll be honest when I say that I didn’t expect this movie to be good. This is not out of abject insult to the capacities of Joss Whedon or the Marvel Movie Universe as a whole, as I’ve more or less enjoyed the creative products of both over the years.  My withdrawn skepticism was rather more of a defense mechanism than a  knee jerk response of cynical criticism. It’s just that the build up and ambition of this film reeked just too much of being “too big to fail” that I prematurely sought out to curb my own enthusiasm to save myself from the potential of disappointment.

I mean c’mon, look at the premise of The Avengers:

“A superhero film with 6 protagonists, portrayed by an ensemble cast of leading actors, each major character (with the exception of two) introduced in their own independent film, with this film acting as the coordinated culmination point of the five films that preceded it.”

That’s a monster of a task to undertake, for any studio or filmmaker for that matter. There are accomplished directors who can’t satisfyingly pull off ONE superhero film with ONE protagonist, let alone SIX iconic superheroes cooperating (and conflicting) with one another over the course of a single film! The scope and method of this film’s adaptation of an intellectual property is unprecedented, and the past has shown significant disappointments by many other talented directors put forward with much lesser tasks.

How good could The Avengers be, realistically?  Can it even be done?

Fortunately for many movie and comic fans, the answer is yes. Joss Whedon fully comes into his own element at the helm of The Avengers, adeptly steering what could have otherwise been in lesser hands a landlocked super-freighter of a film into the narratively smooth (and commercially lucrative) waters of success. The Avengers ultimately benefits from Whedon’s involvement and serves as  proof positive of how a single director can take the same characters and actors of another and somehow manage to pull so much more out of them. Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans resonate with believable contempt and reluctant respect for one another as Iron Man and Captain America on screen, and Mike Ruffalo’s portrayal as the Hulk serves as the quiet center of pathos and relatability in the film before erupting into triumphant action and amazement.

The biggest take away I had from the film when I first walked out of the theater (and which still resonates with me to this day) is how funny The Avengers really is. That’s weird right, walking into a superhero film and coming out with the same level of bemusement one would expect from a comedy? But somehow it just…works.

The Avengers is a character study of clashing egos and noble intentions. The humor exists not only to break up the pace of the film but to give the audience a chance to “pause in motion” so to speak, to take a step back and recognize the ridiculousness of the situations that the movie proposes without descending into self effacing parody or derision.Whether it’s a throw away anecdote about Galaga or a simple deadpan retort of  “he’s adopted”, there’s a wealth of humor to experience in this film. But the jokes remain just far apart from one another to punctuate meaningfully with the action onscreen, the quips never feel too abrasively quippish or too terribly forced.

Joss Whedon writes better humor than most screenwriters and directors who make their entire working profession from writing comedy.

The film does subscribe to some of the more predictable tropes and nuances of the Superhero Action Genre (Giant space army spills out of the sky, cue coordinated pyrotechnical explosions down busy streets, suddenly everyone’s working together?), but The Avengers was never a film that set out to reinvent the wheel or break from convention. It was meant to show if the formula, if handled capably, could work on this scale. And it does, more or less.

Ultimately, I walked out a little taller for having seen the film in theaters. Head held high, decidedly satisfied with what I had come to see.

Prometheus

My favorite screen shot from the entire film

I’ve already said quite a lot  about Prometheus in the past and there’s even more that I can say about it now two months after its initial release (and little of it is glowing). The film is a curious mix of overblown grandiosity, convolution disguised as depth, and perplexing stupidity that  coalesces into just the perfect storm of polarizing interpretation and divisive debate for nerds like me.

I remember telling a friend after watching the film that  it was like starring into a vacuum of ideas, and that interpretation’s not far off from being true. Many different opinions have spawned out Prometheus, some vitriolic and other poignant and contemplative. Prometheus is a “vacuum of ideas” in the way that it appears to be a film that different viewers and audiences pour their own inferences and aesthetic temperaments into it and get back totally different interpretations, sometimes between viewers who are otherwise in agreement with one another.

If you walk into the film looking for a story, that is a plot-line with paces of rewarding revelation and emotional payoff, your experience will instead be reminiscent of peeling back the assorted layers of an “onion of disappointment” or a “matryoshka doll of frustration”,  finding little internal plausibility or enjoyment even in derision.

What Prometheus really is is a thought experiment hampered by an otherwise hackneyed plot with forgettable characters, a meditation on the contentious inherent relationship between the creator and the created. (Or at least that’s the conclusion that I’ve come to on my own to otherwise assuage my burning contempt for the film otherwise.)

It’s easily one of my most talked about film of this summer and despite as vehemently of a reaction I had to it upon first watch I would still go to see a sequel, if only to see the tantalizing concept of a Gigerian “Paradise” realized on screen. But not without a substantial amount of improvements to the plot structure and character portrayals of the original.

The Dark Knight Rises

Right, so we’re on that film now.

First things first, No, The Dark Knight Rises is not better than The Dark Knight. What it is is a good movie, not without its assorted plot holes and narrative inconsistencies, but still an otherwise satisfying conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy.

I think what I particular like the most about The Dark Knight Rises is that it’s up front about what the “intent” behind the film is  right from the beginning. What I mean to say is, this Batman film is one about endings moreso than anything else and it shows throughout everything in the film. For the first time in the Dark Knight Trilogy, I actually care about Bruce Wayne more than the costumed vigilante persona that he dons. He actually has an arc in this film, he’s actually forced to confront some of the demons of his past and stare face to face at the life that he has built for himself. The question of “Can Bruce Wayne keep going on like this?” dominates the narrative completely. How long will it take before he’s ready move on from the pain of loss and the vindication of his rage? Does he intend to die like this?

I was going to come back to this article and make a lengthy character analysis between The Joker from The Dark Knight and Bane in this movie and how their motivations and the way that they are portrayed set them apart and drive home in a larger sense the major difference between the two films, but I’m not sure If I feel like doing that anymore. Maybe that’s a topic for another article (hmm…)

Overall, I enjoyed the film and how it tied up the entire Nolan trilogy as a whole. I think it deftly treaded the line between “not as good as the second film” and “it’s better than most third film” while being a good movie just as itself.

Why Kevin Flynn is the True Villain behind Tron: Legacy

It’s been close to over two years since Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy came out in theaters, and while most movie-goers have long since forgotten about this spectacle of blue and orange flashing lights and it’s ridiculously over-hyped soundtrack, as a fan of the series and of science-fiction in general I can’t just let this film slink away into box office obscurity without saying my piece. It’s taken me awhile to condense my thoughts on this film, what I like and what puts me off about it, And I think I’ve drawn it back to the essential linchpin of what irks me the most.

Disney films, for better or worse, are not known for morally ambiguous motivations or conflicted characters. There are good guys and bad guys, with predictable motivations in every scene of a Disney film constructed to foster sympathy or  build contempt for these clearly defined and never confused characters lying on either one side or another of the two color spectrum of morality.

What throws me the most about Tron: Legacy is that one of the main protagonists of the film and in fact the essential line of continuity between Legacy and it’s 1982 predecessor surprisingly isn’t all that good of a person at all. In fact, he’s kind of a bastard.

In Tron: Legacy, there are heroes and there are villains. And then there’s Kevin Flynn.

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