'The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance' Is Stunning but Exhausting

'The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance' Is Stunning but Exhausting
Photo: Kevin Baker
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The Dark Crystal was supposed to take Jim Henson's work to a whole new level. The Muppets creator's 1982 film combined the puppet wizardry of Henson's Muppets with an immersive, high fantasy world and a darker tone, but mixed critical reception — followed by even worse reception for its 1986 spiritual successor, the David Bowie-starring Labyrinth — turned it into a cult classic, little more than a dramatic blip in Henson's child-friendly oeuvre.
 
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance makes a case for The Dark Crystal as being ahead of its time. Gorgeously rendered in HD, the cavernous set-pieces and detailed puppets, augmented by 35 years of technological developments (with tastefully spare CGI), add plenty of layers to The Dark Crystal's beloved mythology, extending its messages of hope and rebellion into resonant themes that contend with today's divisive sociopolitical climate. But with a ten-episode season that sprawls out to explore what feels like every single corner of the world of Thra, Age of Resistance occasionally dulls the impact of its messages with too much world-building.
 
Taking place several years before the events of the original film, Age of Resistance opens on a world where the elfin Gelfling live under the benevolent rule of the reptilian Skeksis. The Gelfling eventually discover the many ways in which the Skeksis are abusing their power, which leads to the rebellion promised in the title. Beneath all the fantasy, Age of Resistance explores — with startlingly realistic nuance — the ways a ruling class sows dissent among their constituents to stifle an uprising, along with issues of race, belief systems and the environment. For those grappling with our own end times, Age of Resistance spells it out in ways that even children could understand, distilling it to the necessary beats without oversimplifying.
 
As the show continues onward, with more and more subplots and side quests and new characters introduced every episode, the season struggles to not succumb under its own weight. The level of detail gone into exploring the world of Thra is impressive, and it's admirable how the writers buck today's binge-watching traditions in favour of slowing down the pacing to explore every nook and cranny. But, especially as the action ramps up toward a climax, the show's habit of going out of its way to pack in as much detail as it can occasionally distracts from the action. Scores of characters can tend to blur together, and the many subplots are often clumsily woven together. For a show ostensibly for children, Age of Resistance can be remarkably difficult to keep track of.
 
Age of Resistance boasts an impressive cast including Helena Bonham Carter, Lena Headey, Simon Pegg, Awkwafina, Benedict Wong, Andy Samberg and Bill Hader, all of whom do both fantastic jobs at embodying their characters while being nearly unrecognizable, a sheer testament to all their talents and them taking this project seriously. But while they all round out the show's massive ensemble cast, the leads, played by young stars Taran Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nathalie Emmanuel, all occupy similar territory as the flighty yet plucky heroes of the resistance, which takes away from their divergent stories.
 
Fans of The Dark Crystal will find plenty to love in Age of Resistance — the show's expansive plot and meticulous attention to detail certainly honours the devoted fandom inspired by the original, and the rich, nuanced themes resonate with many of today's pressing issues and with Jim Henson's lingering campaigns of environmentalism and kindness in the face of adversity. Though it takes a lot of digging into before getting fully invested, those who break through will find much to love about this exquisitely rendered, immersive viewing experience.
 
(Netflix)