Legend of Korra: Book 4 – The Day of the Colossus Review

In what really should be considered the middle episode of the a three episode series finale, the Day of the Colossus has the duty of taking us from the introduction of Kuvira’s platinum giant mech to it’s conclusion.  It does so with a roller coaster ride of emotions, joy and sorrow, as fans are left celebrating the engagement of one couple while having to reflect about the personal sacrifice of a father for his daughter.   It may be the middle of the journey, but as a standalone it’s an incredible episode unto itself. 

When we last left our heroes at the end of Kuvira’s Gamble, the spirit cannon had obliterated the warehouse where the humming bird mech suits were being constructed and Baatar, Jr., was held hostage.  The final glimpse was an explosion overwhelming a frame of everyone fleeing frantically for an escape from an untimely end.  We resume with Kuvira’s mechanical suit divisions marching in formation across Republic City’s main bridge and Kuvira driving her platinum giant through the bay itself.  She orders the capture of everyone remaining in the city, her troops to sweep the city, removing all lingering resistance.  A quick cut later and mound of debris with snowflake like detritus hanging in the air fills the screen.  The silent aftermath is disrupted by a concrete slab rising upward as if a gateway opening from the underworld courtesy of Bolin.  Quickly the heroes escape back into the world of the living and are forced to contemplate what’s next.

Bolin offers retreat, Mako worries about the remaining refugees and Prince Wu, who makes them an inviting target for the Earth Empire dictator, and Korra refuses to add Republic City to the list of fallen cities that Zaofu currently populates.  The appearance of Lin Beifong results in a decision being made, to continue the fight against Kuvira to the end.  Asami announces what we have all expected, despite the humming bird mech suits lying in ruins about them, there are two prototypes in her office at Future Industries’ tower, which her and Varrick can get up and running.  The fight must go on.

Across the city, Pema and the remaining evacuees are depressingly informed that their one avenue of escape, the train tracks, has been destroyed by Kuvira’s troops.  Those same troops are on the move toward the train depot and Wu appears, then disappears, but not without announcing a plan and dragging one of Mako and Bolin’s cousins off with him.  Pema is left to oversee the unruly crowd and claims that if she could raise Meelo, then she can handle anyone.  As if invoked, our next scene is Meelo, running with everyone else down the street and it’s this episode that marks a change in Meelo from just a comic device, primarily for gross out humor, to a character who resembles someone that many fans of the Avatar series know very well, Aang.  A young air bender comes up with a plan to stop a massive threat? Sounds familiar!  His plan, adopted by everyone else, to blind the colossus with paint, is also followed up later in the episode in a scene that matured his character.  He saves his father, knocked unconscious in mid-air by a blast of the spirit cannon, and in a situation where a flatulent wind technique would have quite sufficed, he performed an air bending move with his legs.   

As mentioned above, the heroes carry out the plan, with the air benders delivering purple paint filled balloons across the windows of Kuvira’s giant, while the Beifong twins wrap metal cable around its legs.  Korra and the air benders cast hurricane force winds at the struggling giant in a hope to send it crashing backward, but the effort is in vain.  An awe inspiring blast by the spirit cannon sweeps across the screen, left to right, just above Korra’s head, and ignites a horizon of the city’s buildings in flames and explosions.  The plan fails, but the hope of the flying mech suits is alive back in Asami’s office where Asami, Zhu Li and Varrick labor to get the two remaining prototypes into operational shape.  A quick test sends one machine, piloted by Asami and Zhu Li, crashing into cabinets and we get our first real clue that Varrick does not want to live a life without his assistant.  The camera cuts to Varrick’s face, filled with concern, before he runs over to the mech.

While the three labor over the prototypes, Suyin is attempting to fix the bond between her and her son.  Baatar, Jr., the worse of the group for the cannon blast by Kuvira, is laid out on a cot and in a state of shock and sorrow.  In a true sign of Suyin’s skill as a mother, when Baatar questions why his fiancé would fire at him, instead of simply dismissing the Great Uniter as evil, wicked, crazy or any negative description, she simply states, “She’s a complicated person.”  It’s an answer that soothes a son and makes one wonder if it were entirely for that purpose or if Suyin see’s it as a truth.  We do known that she is a great believer in the redemptive qualities of others, after all, she was right about her pirate chef and she definitely was right about Varrick.  None the less, it was a touching moment of family in a show that thrives on the theme of family.  Baatar, Jr., strayed from his family, was nearly killed, but he was not irredeemable and so was able to return to those who loved him most.  His forgiveness at the hands of the rest of the family went unanswered, but one can assume, that even the twins learned to forgive their brother.

One of the few adherents to the Air Bender philosophy of the shaved head alerts everyone that mech suits are nearing in on their location.  Varrick has taken mech suits down before with an electromagnetic pulse in Reunions and here he proposes the same solution on an even bigger scale.  As Varrick and Zhu Li setup the transmission tower on top of the Future Industries, we get our second moment of Varrick displaying his affections to Zhu Li.  It’s a moment we have been waiting for every time we have seen Zhu Li tirelessly “do the thing,” it’s Varrick appreciating Zhu Li.  It’s a promising moment that takes a slight detour in Varrick’s choice of storytelling, which in short term, we learn he grew up in a farm before the circus people took him away, and has a favorite ostrich horse named Mrs. Beaky (as an aside, a tumblr user made the marvelous connection that the film that Varrick used to demonstrate mover technology was an ostrich horse – itself a play on the famous Eadweard Muybridge photographs of a horse and jockey in gallop taken to win a bet).  Before Varrick could straight up tell Zhu Li that he appreciated her (it was implied at least), Kuvira’s troops appear and the EMP weapon is turned on.  Row after row of mech suits collapse, except for the one that mattered, Kuvira’s titan.  While we digested the shock of Zhu Li admitting there was no thing left to do, we cut to the heroes standing around Baatar Jr, now seated, and informing them that the colossus is powered by spirit vines, not regular electricity. 

It’s a moment of uncertainty as the engineer behind the colossus confesses that it is undefeatable.  At that point, our lowest moment in the episode, that Lin appears.  In the earlier fight against Kuvira, when everyone retreated to Asami’s office, she disappeared claiming that she was going to go look for more help.  Help, it turns out, arrived in the person of Hiroshi Sato.  The Chekov Gun of his appearance in The Enemy at the Gates has now been fired, as Lin pragmatically explains that Republic City needs every genius that it has.  Our reformed Hiroshi, the inventor of the Satomobile and mad inventor of Amon’s Equalist movement, is given the chance to save the city he helped tear apart years earlier.  His suggestion is straight forward, bring the giant mech down from within, treating it like a living body and to cut a way into the machine using plasma saws attached to the flying mech prototypes like giant mosquitos.  And so, the plan goes forward, even if Varrick foreshadows a gloom future, relating what he does to mosquitos with his hand.

Elsewhere in Republic City, the evacuees await Wu’s return while Pema sings the old Air Bender song, “The Hungry Lemur,” which is a wonderfully unexpected touch for the mother of air bending children and a former air acolyte (a group of non-benders dedicated to the preservation of Air Bender culture), when it was completely unnecessary to move the plot forward.  Our hope of hearing about the button game was quashed by the spectacular return of Wu with two giant badger moles.  We already knew Wu had a fascination with badgermoles from the time of his coronation to his suggestions involving ways to stop Kuvira at the world leaders meeting that shocked Korra by her lack of inclusion.  Wu finally got his badgermoles, but there’s a bit more to these original earth benders than simple earth movers.  Badgermoles are tied to the monarchy of the Earth Kingdom as symbols of the kingdom.  A giant badger mole is incorporated in the Earth Kingdom Throne and statues of the creatures decorate the exterior grounds.  Wu’s arrival atop the beasts can be seen to symbolize that he has become worthy of the throne that Kuvira denied him.  He may not be able to sing, but he is now a true leader, one willing to sacrifice himself to the Kuvira’s men who show up to stop the escape.  Incidentally, music and badger moles are entwined if one goes back to the Last Air Bender episode, The Cave of Two Lovers, where musicians successfully encouraged the large burrowers to also aid in an escape.  As an aside, the crowd of evacuees have consisted of both Mako and Bolin’s extended family, but also Baatar, Sr., and Huan of the Beifongs.

Back in Asami’s workshop, daughter and father work together to finalize the attachment of the plasma saws and share a moment of familial intimacy as Hiroshi tells Asami how much it means to be working with her again.  It conjures visions of a much younger Sato in a workshop with a little Asami eagerly assisting her father in his inventions.  The divide between them was cut away, like the metal plate being cut apart which opened the scene.  Asami tells her father she loves him and at this point, have to admit, Sato is going to die.  It’s too tender a moment for a character who is still trying to redeem himself for his past, and if there’s one member of the current party of heroes who is more expendable than the rest, it’s Mr. Sato.  Touching moments in the workshop aren’t over and Varrick, teamed up as expected with Zhu Li, tells his once assistant that he needs her help in attaching one last thing – an engagement ring.  Yes, the Last Airbender purists all leapt up in outrage complaining that the water tribes exchange necklaces, not rings for engagement!  Varrick lives on the edge of modernity, so it’s not a surprise he didn’t go with tradition, and in a nice touch, the ring is from his own company, noted by his business logo on the inside of the case.  It’s the emotional high of the episode and smiles are impossible at the joy Zhu Li expresses as she embraces her new fiancé.  An engagement ended in the last episode and one begins in this.

Kuvira moves closer and Korra with Mako, Bolin, the Beifong sisters and the air benders move out to slow her down, to allow the prototype work to be completed.  It’s our second time watching the traditional benders fight the futuristic giant mech and we’re treated to even more impressive bending assaults, from Korra jetting about with flames from her feet and flinging massive boulders ripped from the street to Bolin, Suyin and Lin teaming together to literally rend a building in half and send its top portion sliding into Kuvira and her weapon.  It’s the first time we see Kuvira express anything but confidence and the mechanical terror is buried in a cloud of rubble and dust.  It does not last, nor does Kuvira’s face expressing anything other than determination. 

However, the assaults allow for Varrick and Zhu Li, Asami and Hiroshi, to finish their work and commence their assault on the platinum hide of the wielder of the spirit cannon.  The animators’ attention to detail continues the moment the first flying mech lands on the colossus with the added touch of showing magnetic plates flipping down onto the metal surface to secure the mechanical hummingbird’s grip.  The giant robot is too flexible, however, and successfully keeps either of the prototypes from landing long enough to successfully cut a hole.  It’s then that Korra realizes their proximity to a river and channels an Avatar worthy amount of water about the colossus, capturing it ice.  Not before, however, the spirit cannon disables Varrick and Zhu Li’s craft, causing both to eject out of the mech suit – and, sadly, again foreshadow what will happen next as a result of the presence of the ejection seats.  While Kuvira struggles to move her weapon in its icy trap, Asami and Hiroshi land and begin cutting a hole to make the inside accessible. 

The tension is ratcheted higher and higher by quick cuts of Kuvira demanding more power to free her weapon’s arms, from Asami’s increasing pleas to her father that they need to go, that they are running out of time, of the mechanical hand fighting its way free of the ice, and of Hiroshi’s continual assertions that the cutting is almost done.  Despite the fact that Sato’s death could have been guessed much earlier in the episode, what happens next was still an emotional uppercut to the jaw.  Hiroshi hits an ejection seat button and jettisons a confused and surprised Asami away from the craft, as he finishes the cutting, and literally only a second or two before the titan’s enormous hand crushes the flying mech suit.  His death, much like P’li’s in Book 3, is not graphically shown, but just as startling and sudden.  Asami’s pain mirrors our own as she floats away on a parachute and watches the smashed remains of the suit slide away to the ground and reveal that her father’s sacrifice was not in vain.  A hole has been cut in the leg of the platinum terror, an entryway to lead to the defeat of Kuvira’s weapon.  The episode then ends with Korra, Mako, Bolin and the Beifongs slipping through it at the last second to avoid the same fate that befell Hiroshi Sato.

As it aired, we continued straight into The Last Stand.  For the sake of this recap, we end it here, exhilarated and almost exhausted by the incredible turns that the episode took simply to get us from A to B in the triple episode conclusion. 

Other thoughts:

This was another opportunity to see air benders fight en masse.  One particularly nifty trick was the team tornadic vortex of air that was used to slam the gun downward as it fired.  It might have been fun to have seen them take on some regular sized mechs.  The battle did include Kai and our favorite Hipster air bender, as well Bumi, who was simply in the background.  All the action sequences were incredibly animated, something that the show has excelled at from the very beginning.  It wasn’t until the third viewing on a full size screen that it was visibly obvious to this reviewer that the pedestals that surrounded Kuvira had metal balls which she was metal bending to move the colossus, neat!  The loving ability by the animators and writers to provide even random characters, such as the train conductor or evacuees in the crowd personality again shined through all the scenes with Pema and Wu.  No character is too minor to be given attention.

All photos via cap-that.com.

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