There’s some surprising news for Avatar fans released today by IGN.com: Paramount Animation is considering producing a Legend of Korra animated movie. For fans still smarting after M. Night Shyamalan’s attempt to bring Avatar: The Last Airbender to the big screen, this announcement is both a boon and a burden. Because while Korra has done surprisingly well according to the ratings, perhaps even gaining faster notoriety than its predecessor, The Last Airbender, popularity isn’t everything…
I preface this article by saying that I am an Avatar fan, and that I love the work, thought, and attention to detail that team Avatar’s producers, Mike and Brian (AKA. Bryke), put into creating an intricate world that draws on East Asian mythology, martial arts, and style. However, fan bias for the Avatar series does not excuse it for what happened on the set of Korra, which, as you might remember, I predicted would have been legendary for its main star, story, and its attention to animated excellence. Kind of like how Avatar: The Last Airbender was an animated jewel, I expected nothing less from Korra, in fact, maybe even a little more.
And, you know what? We did have a pretty legendary show, in some ways:
Korra herself is one of the best things to happen to the series, in my humble opinion. She’s confident, a bending prodigy, yet brash, quick to violence, and definitely naïve about the way the world really works (Hey, that happens when you’re isolated in a training camp all your life); she essentially is a layered character. And you know what, that’s good, that’s great it’s refreshing to see a (gasp) female main character that has this sort of confidence that, quite frankly, isn’t encouraged enough in young women.
On top of that, she is a strong woman of color, and we (Speaking as a Filipino here) don’t get much representation. I would love to have been a young girl growing up with shows like Korra, and The Last Airbender, for its emphasis on strong characters that includes a compelling and well-rounded female cast.
So there’s much to be said about Korra and the positive image that her spot as the main character has for the show, and for its fans who—regardless of gender—see a strong, rising hero finding her place in the world.
And it’s not an Avatar show without the audience immersing themselves in this fantastical, unquestionably Asian-inpsired world. Bryke are top-notch worldbuilders, and the effort and love they put into constructing the world of The Last Airbender and Korra is felt. From the widely popular Pro-Bending (Which is starting to give Quidditch a run for its money, with fans starting to make their own “real life” versions), to the art of bending the elements to a person’s will, they’re undeniably good at making an intriguing, compelling world to set the scene of their new series.
The technological advances and class struggle between Benders and Non-benders that the series’ conflict rests on is another unique aspect of the show. Unlike its predecessor, there is no “big bad” that our spunky hero needs to pummel into submission, and instead her brash attitude and aggression is pit against a charismatic villain, Amon, who fights with smooth words and the promise to forcibly remove the bending elite by rendering benders unable to manipulate the elements to their wills.
It’s a compact, and compelling plot that is only supported by stellar animation. The attention to detail in Korra and its emphasis on movement is a stark improvement from its predecessor. Fans and critics alike may argue on several points on Korra, but there is no doubt that the art and the animation is fantastic, with all those little details that make motions look natural.
Every fight scene is interesting, and the animation team didn’t cut corners not only for action sequences ranging from street brawls to Pro-Bending matches, but also in immersing us in a world that felt gritty when serious, light when faced with hope or when our heroine triumphed over injustice (Which is debatable but we’ll get to that in a bit).
So Korra had a lot of good things going for it.
But you cannot carry a good show without a good story, and unfortunately for The Legend of Korra, it failed to deliver on that part. And, as I like to say, they took a Ferrari of an idea, with a strong heroine, a compelling conflict, and a set world that could appeal to just about anyone…
… And then they treated it like a lawn mower.
For those of you who don’t know, Avatar creators Mike and Bryan were not actually in charge of the show scripts. They had their ownriting team, who were the brilliant minds behind many of the heartfelt and iconic episodes of The Last Airbender. So what did Mike and Bryan contribute in terms of episode writing?
They were the writers for the oh-so-memorable Beach episode. You know. The one where the villains (at the time) had a rip-roaring adventure at the beach complete with teenage angst, swimsuits, awkward romances, and everything settled itself with a bonfire feelings-exchange at the end.
So what did we expect when they were given full reign of an entire season? A poorly executed love-triangle subplot that started out as a very minor aspect of the show, which then suddenly became one of the main issues. Our three characters entangled in this love plot included our heroine, Korra, the jerk of the year, Mako, and the beautifully tragic due to little-to-no character development, Asami. On top of that, there are a few issues with that bender-versus-non-bender conflict that seemed promising, but was ultimately washed away into obscurity; or rather, poorly solved. And, to add even more fuel to the fire and inconsistency, was the infamous Avatar-ex-machina that, surprisingly, was a big fixture during the series. Whereas many of us remember Aang, Korra’s previous incarnation, struggling and finding his way to the Spirit World to subsequently communicate with his previous Avatar lives, we have Korra who kind of just maybe has it handed to her, through prophetic dreaming and, oh, again, the biggest upset in deus-ex-machina history.
So, yeah, it was enjoyable to watch, a treat for the eyes and for those of us Avatar fans who grew up on the first series, but as far as an animated legend? Not quite there yet, and as a friend so elegantly described: Bryke are two George Lucases, they have a great world, they’re unparalleled at worldbuilding, but writing is not their forte.
From the blundering romance, to the copped out ending, and the underwhelming villain reveal, Korra bumbled along, trying to find its own footing but overshadowed by the development afforded its predecessor. Now, even before SDCC and the confirmation that more seasons were to be added to Korra canon, this series was supposed to be a mini-series, it was supposed to end like this. It’s unsatisfactory, for me, considering the caliber of story-telling that The Last Airbender had – and especially its ability to both deliver interesting art and a plot that did keep control of everything that was going on.
So we have a great series, and a definitely terrible live-adaption movie, followed by a sister series that is perhaps still trying to get its footing (Since it doesn’t seem that Korra learned much in this first season, it could all be some grand set-up for conflict in the next few seasons). So where would the movie fit in? Hopefully, somewhere a little better in terms of story, something that, like The Last Airbender, is that fine combination between an intricate, lovingly designed world, and a compelling plot, somewhere that truly makes Korra a legend and not a warning that pretty pictures aren’t everything.