While I admit that initial teaser trailers and the promise of a summer blockbuster from none other than M. Night Shyamalan (Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense) had me foaming at the mouth last summer, my perspective began to shift as the release of “The Last Airbender” began to draw nearer, and not for the better. My doubts (which arose from some rather sloppy acting in the latest trailers as well as the initial reviews) were confirmed when I witnessed it for myself a couple weeks ago. I will admit that I never had the honor of taking part in the three season Nickelodeon epic myself, but a few of my friends had nothing but great things to say regarding the show. When whispers reached my ears that Shyamalan was attempting to translate the entire first season into a single feature length film a few questions immediately popped into my head: Can the intricate plotlines and character relationships that span an entire season really be translated into a two hour film? Will the big plot reveals have any impact at all? And does this mean that there will be two more films for the two remaining seasons? Well I am here to tell you the answers: No. No. and Dear God, I Hope Not!
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The film takes place in a fictional world that is home to four different civilizations of people, each represented by a respective element. They are the Fire Nation, Water Tribe, Air Nomads and Earth Kingdom (OR Persians, Eskimos, Monks and Indians, pardon my political-incorrectness) and each of them has the power to master or “bend” their element. The Fire “benders” can shoot fireballs, Water benders can manipulate and freeze water, Air benders can create gusts and tornadoes and Earth benders throw rocks at you. In the center of these four elements is the “Avatar”, (Which presumably would have been the title if James Cameron hadn’t already raked in ridiculous amounts of cash using it ) an ultimate being who can master all four elements and bring peace to the world. The Avatar has been reincarnated throughout history and is mysteriously absent during the hundred years or so leading up to the events of the show/film. During this time the Fire Nation conquered most of the land and even exterminated the Monk..err Air Nomads. Cue start of movie when a brother and sister from the Northern Water Tribe stumble upon an uninspired sphere of ice which one of them decides to attack making it shatter revealing Aang (Noah Ringer) and his large flying bear pet thing. Aang is of course, the Avatar (as identified by one of the most creepy-voiced old woman actresses I have ever had the misfortune of watching) and is immediately tasked with saving the world from the evil Fire Nation all while retracing his roots as a member of the (now extinct) Air Nomads and mastering the other three elements along the way. The set up is somewhat promising and the element “bending” gives way to some nice special effects but it is not enough to save “Airbender” from falling flat on its face.
There are several contributing factors to the overall trainwreck that is “The Last Airbender” the most evident of which is the terrible acting, from nearly every cast member. There are two exceptions however, and they are Jackson Rathbone (as Sokka) and Shaun Toub (as Uncle Iroh). Unfortunately though, neither of these actors have enough screen time to save the film from complete and utter failure. The low points (lowest. its all low) of the film are those “Aang Centric” scenes in which Noah Ringer recites his lines like the first read through of a high school play. Other noteworthy acting failures include Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) as the Fire Nation’s Prince Zuko and Nicola Peltz as Katara. Cliff Curtis isn’t too bad as the leader of the Fire Nation and I found myself eagerly waiting for Aasif Mandvi to promptly end one of his lines with “Back to you, John” but that is of no fault of his. It is difficult to distinguish between the shoddy writing and terrible line delivery when casting blame, but it doesn’t really matter seeing as the entire package is so disappointing.
In the end, yes, the film has few well choreographed fighting sequences as well some eye catching special effects, but neither have any chance of redeeming it from shoddy writing and acting. The score of the film is actually very well done with huge orchestrated pieces in the vein of each element but it can often feel inappropriate given that the action on screen is never very encapsulating. Also, a big thumbs down to the tacked on 3-D element as it is rarely ever noticeable and during the scenes that do use heavy 3-D effects it is poorly executed. As I exited the theatre I found myself asking a different set of questions than when I entered, questions like: Who in the world keeps giving M. Night Shyamalan money?
○ Don’t see this movie, especially don’t waste your money on seeing it in 3-D.