Nickelodeon’s animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was not only a success for the network, but even gave rise to a live-action M. Night Shyamalan movie that advanced its name recognition, if not the cinematic art form. So a follow-up was inevitable, and the cable network obliges with “The Legend of Korra,” another slick-looking, anime-informed concept, filled with lots of portentous “You have a destiny” gobbledygook, but at least easy on the eyes. Certainly, this represents a bit more ambitious storytelling for older kids, and perhaps a few adults with the geek gene.
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it’s hard to know where to begin. Suffice to say the concept possesses a rich mythology, in a fantasy world populated in part by “benders,” who possess the ability to control elements like water, air and fire.
Each generation must have its own world-saving Avatar who can conquer all the elements, and for reasons that have as much to do with marketing as anything else, this time the mantle falls to Korra (voiced by Janet Varney), a 17-year-old girl, who is the reincarnation of the earlier Avatar, 70 years later.
Or something like that. Mostly, the intrigue in the half-hour pilot proves a trifle head-scratching, but there’s a fair amount of action and an impressive look, as Korra moves from her sheltered upbringing to Republic City, where the mixture of grimy and exotic trappings resemble something out of “Star Wars.”
“Korra” has so many moving parts and characters that are the principal villains are barely represented in the premiere, providing a mere hint of what’s to come. Yet creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino (reprising their partnership on the earlier show) have already demonstrated it’s possible to paint on Nickelodeon using a serialized canvas, featuring a world where spectacular creatures and extraordinary powers are the norm.
Oh, and by the way, this whole reincarnate-the-hero every generation idea? What a great way to keep stars from getting out of line. In fact, forget water, fire and air: Mastery over those kinds of unstable elements is a skill even many of Hollywood’s power brokers would no doubt envy.