[9 November 2005]
Okay, so while trying to rescue the sleeping Matoran, the Toa Metru are infected by the Visorak, which devolves them into Toa Hordika, all according to Roodaka’s plan.
If you’re a 10-year-old boy, the above sentence makes perfect sense. At least if you’re my 10-year-old boy, deeply immersed in the world of Bionicle, a line of toys, videos, books, games, and assorted paraphernalia manufactured by the LEGO Corporation. Dissatisfied with building blocks that can be turned into skyscrapers or vehicles (and that have taught a generation of dads not to walk around the house barefoot), LEGO has extended its franchise into the realm of preadolescent sturm und drang with an ongoing epic of good and evil, light and dark, and machinelike warriors locked in titanic conflict for the very soul of the world. With way cool disc launchers.
The toys really are rather nifty, build-it-yourself action figures with interchangeable parts, exotic weaponry, and distinctive masks for faces, said masks being the source of the characters’ individual powers. But the true driving force of the toy line is the elaborate mythology LEGO has constructed around the toys, their website and made-for-video movies serving as a guide for role-play and an insidious marketing tool for introducing ever more toys and rendering them instantly indispensable. If you have one Toa, you must have them all, because “unity, duty, and destiny… are the Way of the Bionicle.”
Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows is the third film in the series, but it’s actually the second part of the prequel to the first film, Bionicle: Mask of Light—a penchant for semi-mystical twaddle isn’t the only debt these folks owe George Lucas. Full, detailed exposition would exhaust PopMatters’ bandwidth, so, as briefly as possible, here’s the skinny:
The world of Bionicle is a set of islands populated by organic/robotic beings called Matoran (plural). Every generation of these simple, gear-jointed folk is protected by six heroic androids called the Toa, each possessing a brace of elemental powers with which to battle a being of darkness called Makuta and his minions. When Toa retire, they become Turaga (elders).
In this film, Turaga Vakama (Christopher Gaze) narrates the adventures of his younger self as a badass Toa of Fire (Alessandro Juliani) and leader of his cadre of heroes on their quest to rescue the Matoran population from a tyrant named Sidorak (Paul Dobson) who commands an army of evil robot spiders, the Visorak. Vakama makes an error in judgment and the team falls to the Visorak, in the process transforming into Hordika, their species’ pre-evolutionary forms (and a whole new set of action figures). Separated from his fellows and wracked with self-pity over his failure, Vakama falls under the sway of Roodaka (Kathleen Barr), Sidorak’s viceroy and object of his cyborg lust—and she is one hot ‘bot, all slinky and evil and H. R. Giger-y. Roodaka intends to betray Sidorak and manipulate Vakama into taking control of the Visorak, capturing the other Toa, and using their powers to free Makuta from the crystal prison in which the Toa had encased him in the second movie/first prequel.
Meanwhile, the other Toa have fallen in with a band of Rahaga, tamers of animals and keepers of lore, on a quest to seek out the reclusive oracle Keetongu (Scott McNeil) and persuade him to help defeat Sidorak, rescue the Matoran, restore their original forms, and scram off the island of Metru Nui for a piece of real estate without so many damn robot spiders. This will, of course, require an epic battle, trapped in unfamiliar bodies, against their erstwhile leader who has gone over to the, um, dark side.
Heavy stuff for bunch of hopped-up Erector sets. I can’t get my son to read Tom Sawyer, but he’s fully versed in Wagnerian apocalyptic melodrama. Go figure.
Web of Shadows, like the two films before it, isn’t actually that bad. It’s certainly watchable; the all-CGI animation is quite well done, if a bit dark (it is apparently never daytime in Metru Nui). And much like reading A Clockwork Orange, if one is patient, one will get all the unfamiliar references contextually, though all the films include a glossary feature among the extras. Frankly, having sat with my kids through Transformers, Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Bratz, and My Little Pony videos, the Bionicle series is a work of comparative genius. Certainly there are more painful ways to participate in the kiddies’ interests.
And at least now I’ll be able to decipher my son’s Christmas wish list. I’ll still feel like an ass asking the clerk for a Hordika Nuju, but I’ll know what one is.