Shows

Show Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 2 (Spoiler-Free)

Avatar-TheCompleteBook2Collection.jpg

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Intro

Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the few shows I have watched that actually gets better in the second season. The whole dynamic of the team, which was already phenomenal, improves when Aang gets an earthbending teacher.

Background

Avatar: The Last Airbender was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The head writer was Aaron Ehasz. The genres it straddles include Fantasy, Action, Adventure, and Comedy.

The show won five Annie Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, a Genesis Award, a Peabody Award and a Kid’s Choice Award.

One episode of this season also won a Humane Society Award.

It is a unique blend of anime style with the style of American cartoons. It draws from Inuit, Japanese, Chinese, and Tibetan culture.

Summary

The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender is made up of four nations which each are focused around a different element: water, earth, fire, and air. Each of these nations is made up of those who can “bend” (control) one of the elements.

Map from the series
The Four Nations from Avatar: The Last Airbender

The current Avatar, Aang, must master all four elements in order to stop a war that has been going on for a hundred years. The war was launched by the Fire Nation, which is bent on world domination.

Real-World Influences of Avatar Part 2: The Water Tribes - The More You  Know post - Imgur
Katara and Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender

With the help of his friends Katara and Sokka, in Season 1 Aang seeks to master waterbending by traveling to the North Pole to find a waterbending teacher. Along the way, Katara is able to teach him basic waterbending and the team goes on various adventures.

In Season 2, an earthbender joins Team Avatar, the Fire Nation grows in power and influence, the heroes reach Ba Sing Se, and Zuko tries to establish his own identity.

Pros

  • Powerful character depth and development
  • Creative system of elements
  • Developed fictional cultures based on authentic cultures
  • Diversity
  • Animals are creative mixes of various creatures
  • Balance of humor and tension, comedy and tragedy
  • Smart musical choices to create humor and tension
  • Range of expressions of characters
  • Entertaining for child and adult audience
  • Explores themes rarely touched upon by children’s shows
  • Intro orients the viewer to the story and is accessible to new viewers
  • Wonderful animation
  • Pacing is better

Cons

  • Well, I thought about it for a few days, but I got nothin’.

Review

New Characters

ATLA
Toph Beifong

Toph Beifong is a phenomenal character. She can put on the manners of an aristocrat and take them back off again like a mask. Her true personality, however, is one filled with fun, a complete lack of regard for germs, and a sense of humor that almost matches Sokka’s.

Toph is a skilled earthbender. She is blind and unable to read and write, but is able to sense her surroundings with her earthbending. She does this by feeling every vibration in the Earth with her feet. Because of her blindness, her parents treat her like she is helpless, overprotective to a ridiculous degree.

Azula

In my opinion, Azula is the most terrifying character in the show. She is cold, manipulative, and usually completely calm. A firebending prodigy, she is able to bend lightning and wield blue fire, which is hotter than the red-and-orange variety.

Azula is the daughter of the Fire Lord and sister to Zuko. She is introduced briefly at the end of Season 1, but is further developed in Season 2.

Mai

Mai is from the Fire Nation, a childhood friend of Azula who had a major crush on Zuko as a child and still has feelings for him now. Her personality is apathetic and easily bored.

She is not a bender, but she uses stilletos to attack her enemies, and is capable of defeating multiple benders with her skill.

Ty Lee

Ty Lee is another Fire Nation girl, and is not a bender. However, she has a skill called Chi blocking that allows her to temporarily take away another’s bending and incapacitate them.

When we meet her, she is a highly skilled performer at a circus. She is usually cheerful and optimistic – basically the opposite of Mai, even though they are close friends.

System of Elements

Map from the series

The elements of water, earth, fire, and air are controlled by movements mimicking Chinese martial arts. Because they are modeled off of different forms of martial arts, the bending looks authentic. Waterbending is graceful, earthbending is formidable, firebending is fierce, and airbending is elusive.

The variety of techniques that can be used within a single element mean that battles are never boring. Benders like Aang, Katara, and Toph continually find new and creative ways to use their bending.

Toph is unique as a bender, as her bending is based off the Southern praying Mantis Style.

Culture and Setting

The Swamp

A small waterbending tribe calls the swamp home, wearing clothes made of leaves and bark. They have a culture of their own and diverse personalities. They hunt for their daily food and are in communion with nature.

Ba Sing Se
Ba Sing Se

The name Ba Sing Se means “impenetrable city.” The city is called that because of its thick walls that have made it impregnable against the Fire Nation’s attacks.

Ba Sing Se is the largest city in the show, so large that it is almost like a small country. Within the walls, peace is maintained by strict laws and a strong police force, as well as by more immoral methods.

Ba Sing Se is beautiful but tainted by corruption and fear. The culture is a mix of many cultures because of the refugees that shelter in the city, and features of the city include, but are not limited to, a zoo, a spa, poetry houses, restaurants, and tea shops.

There are many aspects of Ba Sing Se, but I won’t spoil the show by going into any more detail.

Diversity

Avatar: The Last Airbender has cultures based on various real-life cultures. Unlike in some shows, it mimics these cultures while honoring them and without making caricatures of them.

Katara and Sokka have light brown skin, so there is some diversity in skin color as well.

In Season 2, the show introduces Toph, who is blind. Shows rarely include blind characters, leading to underrepresentation, so the directors of Avatar: The Last Airbender made a good choice.

Animal Life

Turtle Ducks

Turtle ducks are my absolute favorite animals of Avatar: The Last Airbender. True, they don’t play a major role like Appa or Momo, but they are just so cute!

Foo Foo Cuddlypoops

The Saber-tooth moose lion is adorable when young, but dangerous when full-grown.

The purple pentapus does not have much of a personality, being a simple invertebrate that lives in sewers. It is similar to an octopus but smaller.

In this season, viewers are reminded that Appa is not just a vehicle, but a character with his own story.

There are many more interesting animals, but I recommend you watch Season 2 to see for yourself!

Balance

Humor and tragedy are well-balanced in this show. Sokka, Toph and Iroh are major sources of humor. The remembered loss of Iroh’s son, the turmoil inside Zuko, and an unexpected death balance out the humor with a more serious tone.

Music adds to the humor at some times, and adds to the tension at others. It isn’t like the show has phenomenal musical scores – it doesn’t, not even in the intro. But it uses music that supports the story and does it well.

The range of expressions on the characters’ faces also adds to the comedy. Sometimes they are realistic, but occasionally they are way over the top.

The balance of humor with mature themes (war, genocide, imperialism, colonialism, corruption) makes this show appropriate for children yet entertaining for adults – the perfect balance.

Intro

The intro neatly explains the system of elements, explains about the war, and introduces the Avatar all in about thirty seconds. It is followed by a “Previously on Avatar” montage that concisely gives more background.

This is good for two reasons. Viewers who watch episodes with large spaces of time between get a reminder of what is going on and the stakes. And new viewers who may have missed the first few episodes get a sense for where the show has been and where it is going.

It’s a smart choice on the part of the directors.

Animation

The animation is beautiful and attractive. I can definitely see both the influence of anime and of American cartoons in the art style.

Pacing

The pacing, which I mentioned as a potential shortcoming in the first season, is not really a problem in the second season. Sure, there are filler episodes, but not as many.

Conclusion

If you watched and enjoyed Season 1, you can expect Season 2 to blow you away even more. There are new characters to fall in love with and the old ones are still acting in character.

The pacing is better, the plot is engaging – really, if you haven’t watched it, you’re missing out.

If you haven’t watched Season 1, you obviously should watch that first. It’s phenomenal and shouldn’t be skipped.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is currently available on Netflix.

Rating System

If you want to know how I rate things, check out my rating system.

Links

  • For my review of Season 1, click here.

Movies

Movie Review: Murder Mystery (Spoiler-Free)

Murder Mystery (film).png

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Intro

My roommate convinced me to watch this one by showing me this trailer. As far as movie trailers go, it’s a pretty good one – providing a glimpse of the character of the movie without giving away any major plot points. Check it out!

Anyway, I am so glad she convinced me. It was totally worth it. Read on to find out why.

Background

Murder Mystery was released on Netflix in June 2019 and fits neatly into three genres: action, comedy, and crime.

The movie stars Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Luke Evans, and Terence Stamp, among others.

According to Variety.com, 30.9 million households watched at least 70% of the movie within 3 days–a new record for a Netflix film.

Murder Mystery also won a People’s Choice Award for “Favorite Comedic Movie.”

Summary

Will Netflix Make Murder Mystery 2? The Case For A Sequel - CINEMABLEND
Nick and Audrey Spitz

Nick Spitz, a police officer in New York, has been married to a hairdresser named Audrey for 15 years. However, they have not yet gone on their honeymoon. They had plans to go to Europe, but the plans kept getting put off.

Nick Spitz has failed his detective exam multiple times, but he lies to his wife by telling her he is a detective and has had a recent raise. To keep up this façade, he acts like an actual detective.

When they are on the plane on the way to Europe, the couple meets Charles Cavendish, a billionaire who invites them to join his family on a yacht. After some hesitation, Nick and Audrey agree.

Everything is going well until Malcolm Quince, the uncle of Cavendish, is murdered before he could sign his will, which stated that his fiancé Suzi would receive his entire fortune.

The primary suspects? The Americans–Nick and Audrey Spitz. In order to avoid some serious jailtime, the couple must solve the mystery and prove their innocence.

Pros

  • Humorous script
  • Drama
  • Hilariously complicated mystery with many layers
  • Surprises throughout
  • Unexpected ending
  • Chemistry of the couple
  • Amusing character types

Cons

  • Many sex jokes
  • Uncreative title

Review

Humorous Script

Why Grace Ballard from Murder Mystery looks so familiar
Grace Ballard

This movie is filled with lines that are creative or just plain funny. The banter between the couple is especially convincing. My favorite quote is this:

All women are actresses, dear. I’m just clever enough to get paid for it.”

Grace Ballard to Nick Spitz

Drama

Murder Mystery: 11 unbelievable reasons why Jennifer Aniston and Adam  Sandler's Netflix comedy is the worst film of the year
Colonel Ulenga

There is so much drama in this movie that it is completely ridiculous. Luckily, that’s the point.

Colonel Ulenga, for instance, tampers with the body by removing the knife, only to be told he shouldn’t have touched it. As a result, he promptly puts it back, oblivious to the cries of horror by everyone else present.

(This is no spoiler – it was included in the trailer.)

Mystery

The mystery is hilariously overcomplicated. Every time you feel like it’s solved, the movie throws more surprises in your face. It’s the sort of crime no one could predict the solution to. You just have to prepare yourself to be surprised and hang on for the ride.

Characters

The Cast & Characters In Netflix Murder Mystery Movie
Suzi Nakamura

When the couple joins the family on the yacht, they do not realize the sheer amount of ill will directed at Malcom Quince. This no doubt worsens when Quince asserts:

You are all leeches.”

Malcom Quince

Each character has a complicated history with Malcolm Quince. Furthermore, the characters have intense personalities and veiled motives that make this mystery fun to follow.

Nick and Audrey have great chemistry–they truly act like a couple who have been married for fifteen years. Watching them interact is entertaining, comedic, and refreshing.

Sex Jokes

I don’t mind the occasional joke or two of this kind if it is consistent with the character who says it, but I did feel that these were a little excessive.

Uncreative Title

Far more important to me is the lack of a compelling title. I told my dad that he should watch Murder Mystery. It took him longer than expected to find the trailer because “murder mystery” is too common a term.

It isn’t clever. It’s pretty much stating what the movie is about, like those bland essay titles I used to do before I knew it was better to have an impactful title.

Conclusion

I rated this movie a 7 out of 10 because I enjoyed it and would be willing to watch it again in a few years. I recommend it for an audience of teens and adults, which is consistent with its official rating.

Rating System

If you’re interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Shows

Show Review: Sherlock Season 2 (Spoiler-Free)

Sherlock and Moriarty are 'absolutely obsessed with each other', confirms  Andrew Scott | The Independent | The Independent

Rating: 9.8 out of 10

Intro

After watching the first season of Sherlock, I was super excited to dive in to Season 2. Below I share my impression of the season as a whole. As it is a spoiler-free review, I will limit how much I reveal of the plot.

Background

Sherlock Season 2 aired in 2012 and was produced by BBC and Hartswood films. It is based off of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books, but instead of being placed in Victorian England, the show is set in modern-day London.

The show stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Rupert Graves, Una Stubbs, Mark Gatiss, Louise Brealey, Andrew Scott, and Lara Pulver.

In addition to being nominated for various awards, Sherlock won in three categories in the Primetime Emmy Awards.

Summary

By this time, Watson and Sherlock have been living together in a flat for some time, solving mysteries and generally getting better acquainted. We last saw them in Season 1 when Moriarty was threatening their lives.

In this season, Sherlock and Watson face off against Moriarty and also have to contend with the dominatrix Irene Adler.

Pros

  • Phenomenal acting
  • Immersive setting highly relevant to a modern-day audience
  • Strong character development
  • Benefit of a familiar character with a new spin
  • Intriguing new character this season
  • Intelligent, occasionally comical, script
  • Engaging plot
  • Carefully chosen camera angles
  • Introduction of the mind palace
  • Catchy theme song

Cons

  • Nudity
  • Over-the-top drama when Sherlock is thinking deeply (in his “mind palace”)

Review

Acting

The acting, especially by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, was incredible. They both played their parts well.

All of the fantastic and obnoxious qualities of Sherlock were brought out and emphasized. This season, for the first time, we see Sherlock take a vague interest in a woman, and we see him exhibit actual fear. Cumberbatch was highly skilled at demonstrating both.

Setting

Sherlock Holmes - Wikiwand
Sherlock and Watson’s flat in Sherlock

The setting in Season 2 is the same as Season 1, unsurprisingly. The presence of modern conveniences such as security cameras and phones remains a way for this new Sherlock to test his intellect. This transition from the Victorian London of the books to modern-day London is seamless.

Characters

Sherlock is a highly intelligent man who lacks empathy. He is nevertheless shown on several occasions to have at least some degree of care depending on who the person is. He is always blunt, but occasionally shows remorse for his words when they have caused damage.

This quote reveals just how blunt he can be.

You repel me.”

Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock

It is demonstrated in this season that he cannot always reign in his emotions, even though he considers them “a grit on the lens.”

He shows emotions he has not shown before as he meets new challenges. These emotions expand on his character rather than contradicting it.

It was more than that, John. It was doubt. I felt doubt. I’ve always been able to trust my senses, the evidence of my own eyes, until last night.”

Watson is of higher-than-average intelligence, but he cannot compete with Sherlock. Watson, however, has a deep sense of empathy and values human life while wanting to negate human suffering. He has a high tolerance for Sherlock, but even he loses his temper sometimes at Sherlock’s careless comments and ill-timed deductions.

The relationship between Sherlock and Watson gets closer in this season (although there is a fair share of tension and squabbles). Sherlock even attempts humor to “break the ice.” Watson responds with:

Funny doesn’t suit you. I’d stick to ice.”

Watson to Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
Irene Adler (BBC series) | Villains Wiki | Fandom

Irene Adler is the new character added to the mix, a dominatrix. She is intelligent enough to banter well with Sherlock, and provoking enough to make Watson uncomfortable.

The thing that is the most fun about Irene Adler is the way Sherlock reacts to her. Between her and Moriarty, Sherlock has some well-matched antagonists.

My favorite line of hers is this:

You know what the problem with a disguise is, Mr. Holmes? No matter how hard you try, it’s always a self-portrait.”

Irene Adler in Sherlock
Sherlock's Andrew Scott: fans asked me every day whether Moriarty would  return

Moriarty is undeniably intelligent and his schemes are both elaborate and effective. He’s a good villain – creepy, bizarre, and insane.

Script

The script is clever, deepening the relationship between the characters and creating many funny moments. Just one of the many examples of humor in the text is when Sherlock asked Watson to punch him. When Watson seemed confused, Sherlock asked if he heard correctly. Then, Watson said this:

I always hear ‘punch me in the face’ when you’re speaking, but it’s usually sub-text.”

John Watson in Sherlock

Plot

Without spoiling anything, all I can say is that if you liked the plot of Season 1, you will like Season 2 as well. The episode I found most interesting in terms of plot was The Hounds of Baskerville.

Camera Angles

The camera angles chosen at various times during the episodes added to the drama. For instance, the camera was jostled to simulate running in one of the episodes.

Mind Palace

Season 2 introduces the concept of a mind palace, a memory technique that mentally connects information to an imagined physical location. It is a testament to Sherlock’s ego that he calls his imagined location a palace rather than a house or street or even a mansion.

While on the topic of his mind palace, I should mention that Sherlock does some really dramatic motions while he’s thinking of it. Fly-swatting, phone-swiping, head-jolting sorts of motions. It’s all very dramatic and unlike him to be that expressive.

Nudity

There was a scene with nudity in it. I do not think that it was a wise choice on the part of the directors. Having that scene reduces the size of the potential audience while catering to the whims of a small percentage of their audience. Before and after that episode it really doesn’t seem like that kind of show.

That being said, there were some conveniently placed items of furniture and people that limited how much one could really see of the nude person, so I do not feel like it was a major con.

Conclusion

This show really deserves it’s rating of 9.8 out of 10. Although I admit I liked Season 1 best, this season was so good that I would certainly recommend it, and would gladly watch it again.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate things, check out my rating system.

Links

For my review of Season 1, click here.

Shows

My Rating System for Shows

Stars,metal,hotel,nature
Stars,metal,hotel,nature

I figured it was about time to share the reasoning behind my ratings – after all, just a number of stars seems pretty arbitrary. So if you are interested in how I come to my decisions, this is the article for you.

Without further ado…

1 star – A rating reserved for one of the worst shows on the planet. I wouldn’t watch it again if you paid me. I could barely get through it. There are no pros and I would not recommend it for any audience.

2 stars– The show was really bad, but has an insignificant pro or two. I would not watch it again unless I was paid a hefty sum as compensation. It may be appealing to an extremely limited audience, but nevertheless is terrible in quality.

3 stars The show was bad, but it could conceivably be worse. It may have a handful of minor pros. I would not watch it again unless you paid me a decent amount as compensation. It may be appealing to a limited audience, but it is low quality.

4 stars– The show was not good, but it has a few pros. It may be worth watching again just to laugh at how bad it is. At the very least it’s not super cringey or unbearable. Some people probably would find it at least interesting, even if it could not really be called good. The quality is not very good.

5 stars– The show was average. It has enough pros to make it look appealing, at least from the outset, but it doesn’t satisfy. Nothing makes it stand out in a bad or good way. You could maybe convince me to watch it again, but it would take a lot of persuading and I would at least need popcorn as compensation. Some people probably would like this movie, but I at least found it lackluster.

6 stars The show was slightly better than average. It has its cons, but also comes equipped with several redeeming features. I’d rather not watch it again, but if you insist… There is probably a decent-sized audience for this movie, including a handful of people who will fight you to the death if you say anything bad about it.

7 stars This was a good show. It had several cons, but it makes up for it with pros. I would watch it again, but probably not for a few years. There is either a large possible audience or it is very appealing to a smallish audience.

8 stars This was a great show. It probably had a couple of cons, but more than made up for it in pros. I would watch it again in a year or so. There is either a large possible audience or it fits into its particular niche extremely well.

9 stars This is an awesome show. It maybe had one con, but who cares?! It was so worth it. I would watch it again in a few months if you asked. The movie is accessible to a wide audience or it fits into its particular niche almost perfectly.

10 stars This is one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. There were no cons that I could think of. I would watch it again next week if you asked me. Or possibly even if you didn’t. The movie is accessible to a wide audience or it fits into its particular niche perfectly.

Movies

Movie Review: Enola Holmes (Spoiler-Free)

Enola Holmes (2020) - IMDb

Movie: Enola Holmes (2020)

Rating: 6.8 out of 10 stars

Intro

When I found out that there was a movie about the teenage sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, I was skeptical about it. How would it compare to other renderings of the Holmes family?

The answer: it doesn’t. While entertaining enough to be fun watching once, it failed to measure up. Read on to find out why.

Background

Enola Holmes was released in 2020 as a Netflix original. It is based on The Enola Holmes Mysteries: The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer.

The film stars Millie Bobbie Brown, Sam Claflin, Henry Cavill, Helena Bonham Carter, and Louis Partridge.

Summary

Enola Holmes' Trailer: Millie Bobby Brown Is Sherlock Holmes' Sister |  IndieWire
Enola Holmes from Enola Holmes

The plot revolves around 16-year-old Enola Holmes, whose mother goes missing. When she becomes the ward of her brother Mycroft and he tries to force her into an oppressive finishing school, she escapes and concocts a plan to find her lost mother.

She stumbles across the missing Viscount Tewkesbury and becomes immersed in two mysteries: Who is it that is trying to have Tewkesbury killed? And where is her mother?

The movie Enola Holmes is both a mystery movie and a story of self-discovery.

Pros

  • Unique take on the Holmes family
  • Creative pop-up book illustrations
  • Costumes interesting, had a lot of thought behind them
  • Enola had a fascinating childhood
  • Enola is good at cracking codes, self-defense, hiding/disguises, memory
  • Will likely be appealing to an audience of preteen and young teenage girls

Cons

  • Constant breaking of the fourth wall
  • Henry Cavill is a terrible Sherlock
  • Mycroft is reduced to a disgruntled babysitter
  • This is definitely not going to satisfy Sherlock Holmes fans
  • Enola is not much of a mystery solver

Review

Concept

It is safe to say that movies and shows about Sherlock Holmes are overdone. But ones that focus on his family? Not so much.

This is not Sherlock’s story; it is 100% Enola’s story. The name Holmes is important in the title because of the legacy it carries of mystery, ingenuity, and creativity – not because Sherlock is a significant character.

This is a new take on the Holmes’ family – one that has not been overdone, and one that could create a worthwhile series of its own.

Pop-up Art

The choice to include pop-up animations to introduce the family was creative. These were also used throughout the film, along with journalistic illustrations that made the movie feel like Enola’s personal diary.

Costumes

Netflix's 'Enola Holmes' Quotes to Use as Instagram Captions
Enola Holmes from Enola Holmes

The costumes were designed by Oscar-nominated Consolata Boyle. According to Boyle, Enola’s red dress was chosen to represent courage. She also utilized ivory, as it is a color associated with the suffragette movement. Each costume was carefully chosen. To learn more, check out this article

Characters

Enola Holmes is a likeable character with many skills. She is good at cracking codes, self-defense, and disguises. Her memory for details is impeccable. Her courage and generosity is also notable.

Enola is not much of a mystery solver, however. She did not solve either mystery mentally, but instead by courageous action and being where the action was happening.

Sherlock from Enola Holmes

Sherlock is an ineffective character primarily because it seems like the actor is trying to be two things at once: the friendly, compassionate big brother and the emotionally detached detective. For instance, Sherlock says:

You’re being emotional. That’s understandable, but unnecessary.”

Sherlock from Enola Holmes

Yet he is so emotional that, according to Screenrant, Netflix was sued by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who claimed that this emotional Sherlock was based off Sherlock stories still under copyright.

Sam Claflin interview - Millie Bobby Brown is a "powerhouse"
Mycroft from Enola Holmes

Mycroft is reduced to a disgruntled babysitter who continuously fails in his attempts to control Enola. He has no redeeming qualities.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

I know this is a legitimate storytelling technique, but it was excessive in this movie. It strained one’s suspension of belief to the breaking point. Enola looks at the camera all the time, reminding viewers over and over that this is just a movie and that it’s all fake.

If you are looking for the escapist qualities of a good film, you won’t find them here. The constant reminder of the camera’s presence ruins any chance of the sort of realism that allows one to be absorbed in a story.

Conclusion

I gave this movie a 6.8 because it was better than the average movie. However, I would not be interested in watching it again.

While this movie is not for everyone, it is likely to appeal to an audience of preteen and young teenage girls.

Sherlock fans are likely to be disappointed. If you go into the movie without comparing it to other media that depict the Holmes family, you’ll be better off.

My Rating System

If you want to know how I rate movies, check out my rating system for movies.

Movies

My Rating System for Movies

Stars,metal,hotel,nature
Stars,metal,hotel,nature

I figured it was about time to share the reasoning behind my ratings – after all, just a number of stars seems pretty arbitrary. So if you are interested in how I come to my decisions, this is the article for you.

Without further ado…

1 star – A rating reserved for one of the worst movies on the planet. I wouldn’t watch it again if you paid me. I could barely get through it. There are no pros and I would not recommend it for any audience.

2 stars – The movie was really bad, but has an insignificant pro or two. I would not watch it again unless I was paid a hefty sum as compensation. It may be appealing to an extremely limited audience, but nevertheless is terrible in quality.

3 stars The movie was bad, but it could conceivably be worse. It may have a handful of minor pros. I would not watch it again unless you paid me a decent amount as compensation. It may be appealing to a limited audience, but it is low quality.

4 stars – The movie was not good, but it has a few pros. It may be worth watching again just to laugh at how bad it is. At the very least it’s not super cringey or unbearable. Some people probably would find it at least interesting, even if it could not really be called good. The quality is not very good.

5 stars – The movie was average. It has enough pros to make it look appealing, at least from the outset, but it doesn’t satisfy. Nothing makes it stand out in a bad or good way. You could maybe convince me to watch it again, but it would take a lot of persuading and I would at least need popcorn as compensation. Some people probably would like this movie, but I at least found it lackluster.

6 stars The movie was slightly better than average. It has its cons, but also comes equipped with several redeeming features. I’d rather not watch it again, but if you insist… There is probably a decent-sized audience for this movie, including a handful of people who will fight you to the death if you say anything bad about it.

7 stars This was a good movie. It had several cons, but it makes up for it with pros. I would watch it again, but probably not for a few years. There is either a large possible audience or it is very appealing to a smallish audience.

8 stars This was a great movie. It probably had a couple of cons, but more than made up for it in pros. I would watch it again in a year or so. There is either a large possible audience or it fits into its particular niche extremely well.

9 stars This is an awesome movie. It maybe had one con, but who cares?! It was so worth it. I would watch it again in a few months if you asked. The movie is accessible to a wide audience or it fits into its particular niche almost perfectly.

10 stars This is one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. There were no cons that I could think of. I would watch it again next week if you asked me. Or possibly even if you didn’t. The movie is accessible to a wide audience or it fits into its particular niche perfectly.

Shows

Show Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1 (Spoiler-Free)

Avatar- The Last Airbender Book 1 DVD.jpg

Show: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season 1 (2005)

Rating: 9.9 out of 10 stars

Intro

This show is basically my childhood. I have watched it at least five times by now. Since it was added to Netflix, that just gives me another excuse to re-re-re-re-re-watch it.

Recently, I introduced it to my roommate, and we are moving through it at around four or five episodes per week.

Every time a new character would show up on the show, I would say something like, “That’s one of my favorite characters, by the way.”

I ended up saying that for pretty much all of the characters.

Like with my other show reviews, I will start by giving some background and then listing the pros and cons. As this is a spoiler-free review, I will limit how much I reveal of the plot.

Background

Avatar: The Last Airbender was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The head writer was Aaron Ehasz. The genres it straddles include Fantasy, Action, Adventure, and Comedy.

The show won five Annie Awards, a Primetime Emmy Award, a Genesis Award, a Peabody Award and a Kid’s Choice Award.

It is a unique blend of anime style with the style of American cartoons. It draws from Inuit, Japanese, Chinese, and Tibetan culture.

Summary

The world of Avatar: The Last Airbender is made up of four nations which each are focused around a different element: water, earth, fire, and air. Each of these nations is made up of those who can “bend” (control) one of the elements.

Map from the series
The Four Nations from Avatar: The Last Airbender

The current Avatar, Aang, must master all four elements in order to stop a war that has been going on for a hundred years. The war was launched by the Fire Nation, which is bent on world domination.

Real-World Influences of Avatar Part 2: The Water Tribes - The More You  Know post - Imgur
Katara and Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender

With the help of his friends Katara and Sokka, in Season 1 Aang seeks to master waterbending by traveling to the North Pole to find a waterbending teacher. Along the way, Katara is able to teach him basic waterbending and the team goes on various adventures.

Pros

  • Powerful character depth and development
  • Creative system of elements
  • Developed fictional cultures based on authentic cultures
  • Diversity
  • Animals are creative mixes of various creatures
  • Balance of humor and tension, comedy and tragedy
  • Smart musical choices to create humor and tension
  • Range of expressions of characters
  • Entertaining for child and adult audience
  • Explores themes rarely touched upon by children’s shows
  • Intro orients the viewer to the story and is accessible to new viewers

Cons

  • Pacing is a bit slow

Review

Well-developed Characters

Avatar: The Last Airbender's first season is a rocky because it was  groundbreaking
Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender

The characters are the best part of the whole show. I have so many favorites it is ridiculous. Usually for a show I have an obvious favorite. This one, not so much.

The main characters Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Zuko are well-developed. So is Iroh, even though I would not call him a main character.

Aang is the last of the airbenders. He is a childish monk who nonetheless has his moments of insight and an adult-like sense of responsibility. Being raised by monks, there is an expectation that he will be simple, good, and somewhat detached from his emotions (since this is based off of Tibetan monks).

Sometimes he is. But there are definitely times he defies being categorized in this way. His typical humility is occasionally overtaken by pride. His ability to maintain calm is defeated by conflicting emotions such as love, anger, sorrow, and guilt. He is a character who loves to have fun but knows how to be serious.

Avatar: The Last Airbender" Unpopular Opinions
Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Katara is a waterbender from the South Pole. She is less childish than Aang. After the loss of her mother to the Fire Nation and after her father left to fight in the war, she was forced to assume more responsibility. This leads her to adopt an almost motherly role toward the other members of their small band.

She is generally calm, but bristles at all things sexist. She is determined, brave, and sincere.

How Old Are "Avatar: The Last Airbender Characters" Katara, Zuko and Sokka  - Avatar The Last Airbender Character Ages
Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Sokka is Katara’s older brother. After losing his mother to the Fire Nation and after his father went off to war, he was left as the only “man” in the village. He had to assume at least as much responsibility as Katara.

Other than that, he’s basically the boomerang, meat, and sarcasm guy…he said so himself.

Well, that isn’t completely true. He’s a lot more complex than that. He is hard and cynical compared to the others, but he certainly has a soft side.

He’s intelligent, and is constantly thinking of ideas to help the team one-up their adversaries. He has the qualities of a leader.

Sokka is not a bender, but that never made me think he was any less valuable to the team than the others. His ingenuity and smart-alecky comments make him irreplacable.

Avatar: The Last Airbender": I'm Still Not Over Zuko's Redemption Arc
Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Zuko may be the most complex character.

He values his honor, which he lost when he was banished from the Fire Nation by his father, Firelord Ozai. The only way to restore himself to his rightful place as prince of the Fire Nation is to capture the Avatar.

He has a massive temper that flares up (literally) every time they hit an obstacle. Nevertheless, he is a clever and dastardly villain. Despite his status as the major antagonist of Season 1 and as a teenager in exile, he shows that he is honorable through his actions.

He is a sympathetic bad guy with a whole lot of backstory. This is no one-dimensional villain. There are scenes that will have you rooting for him as much as you would for the good guys.

Iroh | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Iroh is the uncle of Zuko, and he is filled with wisdom and love for his nephew. He is a major source of humor for Season 1.

Iroh is somewhat disgraced himself due to a military loss at Ba Sing Se. However, he is not in exile like Zuko – he travels with him by choice and not necessity.

He offers Zuko both practical advice and proverbial wisdom, and is pretty much a father figure.

Bending system

The elements of water, earth, fire, and air are controlled by movements mimicking Chinese martial arts. Because they are modeled off of different forms of martial arts, the bending looks authentic.

If the martial arts did not look natural and go along well with the bending itself, it would have been laughable – for example, as in the horribly made film for Avatar: The Last Airbender, where a group of earth benders did an elaborate series of movements to lift a single small boulder.

But here, it is done well. The martial arts and the element the characters are bending become one and the movements look natural. Waterbending is graceful, earthbending is formidable, firebending is fierce, and airbending is elusive.

The variety of techniques that can be used within a single element mean that battles are never boring. Benders like Aang and Katara continually find new and creative ways to use their bending.

Because the bending system is limited to four elements it makes it easy for an audience to know what to expect and yet to be continually surprised. Nothing feels overly convenient. There are no major plot-saving changes to the system to make it feel fake or incomplete.

Cultures of Avatar: The Last Airbender

Southern Water Tribe | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
The Southern Water Tribe from Avatar: The Last Airbender

The first glimpse we get of a community in the show is the Southern Water Tribe, which is a vestige of what it was before the war. It is basically a close-knit little village of women, children, and Sokka.

Their culture is based on Inuit culture and they live in buildings made of cloth or snow. The clothing that they wear is unique to the Water Tribes, and Katara wears a carved betrothal necklace passed down from her mother.

Since they only have one waterbender remaining in the village, the culture is no longer based around waterbending.

The Southern Air Temple | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
The Southern Air Temple from Avatar: The Last Airbender

The Southern Air Temple is not what it used to be. The Fire Nation has invaded and no airbenders remain. That is no spoiler. It’s literally in the title of the show: Aang is the last airbender.

It’s clear from flashbacks in Season 1 that the Southern Air Temple once was a vibrant place filled with Air Nomads who lived their lives in peace. They lived among six-legged flying bisons and flying lemurs.

They also had their own games, evidenced by the court set up where Aang and Sokka play an airbending game.

The Northern Air Temple | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
The Northern Air Temple from Avatar: The Last Airbender

To avoid spoiling anything, I won’t tell you about the Northern Air Temple. It is enough to say that it is nothing like Aang expected, and that it provides more glimpses into the culture of the Air Nomads.

Fire Nation colonial village | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
Fire Nation Colony from Avatar: The Last Airbender

The one instance that we get a real sense for Fire Nation culture is in a colony in the Earth Kingdom, where the Fire Days Festival is taking place. We get an idea for the forms of entertainment that are a part of their special celebrations, such as an entertainer who plays like a stage magician/performer using firebending.

Furthermore, food such as flaming fire cakes are part of the festivities, as well as fireworks.

We also see a puppet show of the Firelord against his enemies, telling the children the story of their nation. This is subtle indoctrination – but every nation has its heroes and the stories a nation tells usually cast it in a positive light.

More and more, we see that the Fire Nation citizens are fiercely patriotic.

Omashu | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
Omashu from Avatar: The Last Airbender

The biggest Earth Kingdom city we see in Season 1 is Omashu. It has a culture built around earthbending. To get inside the walls, one is interrogated by Earth Kingdom soldiers, who must then physically open the walls with earthbending.

Aang says that a hundred years ago, the people of Omashu were the friendliest in the world, but now the kids see that the war has changed the people to be more suspicious of outsiders.

The most distinctive feature of Omashu is the elaborate postal system run by earthbending. It is only surpassed in entertainment value by the eccentric Earth King who lives there.

Northern Water Tribe | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
The Northern Water Tribe from Avatar: The Last Airbender

I won’t say too much about the Northern Water Tribe to avoid spoilers. It is different from the Southern Water Tribe in terms of sheer size, form of government, its focus around waterbending, and the roles of men and women.

Diversity

Avatar: The Last Airbender has cultures based on various real-life cultures. Unlike in some shows, it mimics these cultures while honoring them and without making caricatures of them.

Katara and Sokka have light brown skin, so there is some diversity in skin color as well.

Animal Life

Appa | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
Appa from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Appa is a six-legged flying bison. Yeah, you don’t get more creative than that.

The Animals Of The World Of Avatar Part 1 | Avatar tattoo, Avatar  airbender, The last avatar
Momo from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Momo is a flying lemur that the kids adopt. Not as creative, but kind of cute.

Otter penguin | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
Otter Penguins from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Otter Penguins are cute, and apparently you can use them as sleds!

Elephant koi | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
Elephant Koi from Avatar: The Last Airbender
Unagi | Avatar Wiki | Fandom
The Unagi from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Stay tuned for more interesting animals when I review Seasons 2 and 3!

Balance

Humor and tragedy are well-balanced in this show. Sokka and Iroh are major sources of humor. Zuko’s story, the loss of Katara and Sokka’s mother, and the genocide of the Air Nomads balance out the humor with a more serious tone.

Music adds to the humor at some times, and adds to the tension at others. It isn’t like the show has phenomenal musical scores – it doesn’t, not even in the intro. But it uses music that supports the story and does it well.

The range of expressions on the characters’ faces also adds to the comedy. Sometimes they are realistic, but occasionally they are way over the top.

The balance of humor with mature themes (war, genocide, imperialism, colonialism) makes this show appropriate for children yet entertaining for adults – the perfect balance.

Intro

The intro neatly explains the system of elements, explains about the war, and introduces the Avatar all in about thirty seconds. It is followed by a “Previously on Avatar” montage that concisely gives more background.

This is good for two reasons. Viewers who watch episodes with large spaces of time between get a reminder of what is going on and the stakes. And new viewers who may have missed the first few episodes get a sense for where the show has been and where it is going.

It’s a smart choice on the part of the directors.

Pacing

My only con for the show is that some viewers may be put off by the pacing. The characters go on a ton of side adventures before they reach their destination. While that’s fun to watch, I am sure it will make some viewers impatient. Hang in there…it’s worth it.

This is only a minor con because these excursions provide further opportunity for character development.

Conclusion

Anyway…this review was mostly me saying everything that is awesome about this show and why you should watch it. Because you should.

If you’re a writer, you should watch it because it is an example of good storytelling and great character development.

If you love comedy, watch it because it is funny.

If you are into anime, watch it because it is either the best example of American anime or an amazing anime-inspired cartoon, depending on your point of view. (Whether it is an anime or not is controversial.)

If you just love a good story, watch it.