Bionicle turns 20 in 2021. I turned 31 a few weeks ago. A few months ago, I decided to pull out all my old Bionicle sets. I rebuilt a few old favorites and played around with my own creations while watching movies. It was a nice time, with the caveat that raising a toddler meant long searches around my family room afterwards to make sure I didn’t leave any swallow-sized pieces under a coffee table. Somehow one or two always escaped my notice to be found by Aly the next morning. It is what it is.
During my rebuilding, I realized I owned all but one red-colored canister set. Red is, in toy lines, traditionally the “leader” color. So it was with Bionicle for the first half of its 10-year run. My favorite were always the white figures, but I collected the red ones out of obligation, so realizing that I was missing one was somewhat frustrating. The set in question was Vohtarak, the Red Visorak Spider. I never liked the Visorak and only owned one of them, Keelerak, because I liked his blade mandibles for my own custom sets (usually utilizing them as Wolverine-like claws). Thankfully nobody else likes the Visorak either, so I was able to scoop one up for $10 shipped on eBay. I had a nice time building him. He now sits in a giant crate of other figures I won’t look at for another year or two.
“Nobody likes the Visorak” is a key principle to remember when viewing Bionicle 3: Web of Shadows, the third and initially final film in the direct-to-DVD Bionicle series of CGI movies released between 2003 and 2005. It concludes the second of four story sagas in the Bionicle lore, the Metru Nui prequel story, and it’s entirely superflous to that saga.
Can I explain for a second? Generation 1 Bionicle lasted from 2001 to 2010. It breaks down as such:
2001–2003: The Mata Nui saga. The Toa Mata arrive on the tropical Island of Mata Nui and integrate themselves with the islanders, the Matroan. Eventually the six heroes and their new ally, Toa of Light Takanuva, defeat the evil Makuta, unlocking a door beneath the island to the Matoran’s original home, Metru Nui. The conclusion of this year is depicted in Bionicle: Mask of Light.
2004–2005: The Metru Nui saga. The Turaga, leaders of the Matoran on Mata Nui, reveal they were once Matoran who became Toa to save their friends and families on the city island of Metru Nui, which exists beneath Mata Nui but was taken over by Makuta, forcing them to bring their friends to Mata Nui in refuge. That entire story is told in Bionicle 2: Legends of Metru Nui.
2006–2008: The Ignition Saga: The high point of the Bionicle series, featuring a diverse array of weird settings, cool characters and fun sets, which took Matroan characters from the Mata Nui saga, made them Toa, and sent them in search of the Mask of Life. There are no movies from this time period, but there some great novels and comics. Coincidentally the comics were drawn by Indiana native Stuart Sayger, who bought the house I was living in a few years ago and now draws comics in the office where I once binged the movies and comics in a fit of nostalgia. Small world.
2009–2010: The Bara Manga Saga: Probably the low point of the series. The story is chronicled in part by Bionicle 4, a movie that is simply awful. Maybe I’ll watch it next year.
Originally 2004 was going to be a standalone year, as seen in Bionicle 2, where the ending connects it to the beginning of the Mata Nui saga it preludes. For various internal reasons at LEGO, 2005 became a filler year of sorts, telling a story between the scenes of the prior year. If you go onto any Bionicle fansite, Bionicle 3, its story year and the sets it contained are generally ranked dead last.
However, I think Web of Shadows is the best of the movies. Vakama, leader of the Toa Metru, is tempted by his animalistic side after becoming a Toa Hordika, a mutant Toa. The villains are cooler than Makuta repeating over and over again. Roodaka (whose set is sexualized in a very excessive way) is actually interesting to watch, and her hapless partner, Sidorak, is at least interesting to look at. The Visorak are pretty boring but more interesting than the Vahki enforcers in Bionicle 2. The animation is as subpar as before. Thanks to the man-versus-himself elements of the story there is actually some drama, albeit metered by the fact that this is an interquel to the previous movie’s final two scenes so you know that nothing big is really going to happen.
2005’s books set up a bunch of smaller world-building side stories that came to fruition during the Ignition Saga, but of course that’s meaningless to this standalone movie.
I didn’t actually watch Web of Shadows until a few years ago, having disliked the initial movies in the saga. Let me be clear: None of these are particularly good movies. I don’t think I’ll ever watch them again. I’m writing this out of obligation to myself to publish something about Bionicle every January 1. There isn’t much else to say about this movie. I don’t know why I’m doing this. Happy New Year.