"The Last Airbender" Movie Review (2010)

7/02/2010 Posted by Admin

"The Last Airbender" Movie Review

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, Written by Shyamalan, 108 Minutes, Rated PG

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti


Watching "The Last Airbender," one might think, "Gee, I really wish someone on the crew for this film would have had the courage to turn to their director and say, 'Mr. Shyamalan, enough is enough.'"

If only.

How much longer are audiences going to be forced to suffer through M. Night Shyamalan's self-indulgences? He gave us one of the best thrillers of recent years with "The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable," and even "Signs" and "The Village" are solid in their own right. But why, oh why, do we have to sit there and watch the former suspense maistro shove childish melodrama in our faces with "Lady in the Water," or laughably inept pseudo-Hitchcockian horror with "The Happening"?

And now, to top off the dry spell of his career (and what an understatement--"dry spell" really is where he is at this point), Shyamalan brings us his live-action adaptation of Nickelodeon's immensely popular animated series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" (one can probably see the reason for dropping the "Avatar" from the title for this film). This film is so shockingly inept, so hysterically by-the-book and one-note, that one has to wonder, if Shyamalan had so much respect for this material, how could it possibly have come out so lacking in heart and soul?

The film (as well as its source material) takes place in an unknown time and the world is split into four nations, separated by their respective talents with the elements of Air, Water, Earth and Fire. One person, deemed an "Avatar," is the only person capable of mastering the bending (or physical manipulation) of all four elements. The last known reincarnation of the Avatar has been missing and thought dead for 100 years, and in his absence, turmoil has erupted between the Fire Nation and the other three elemental tribes. The Firebenders seek to dominate the land, and the return of the Avatar is the world's only hope of bringing peace back to the four nations.

Two members of the Water tribe, Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), stumble upon the frozen body of the Avatar and last remaining Airbender, Aang (Noah Ringer), who is just a 12-year-old boy. They bring him out of his slumber, and when the boy realizes what has taken place in his absence, he and the two Waterbenders jump into action to prevent the victory of the Fire Nation. Their efforts are hindered at every turn, however, by two men--Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), the shamed and banished former heir to the Fire kingdom seeking the Avatar to bring honor back to his name, and the Fire Nation's commander, Zhao (Aasif Mandvi), who wants to capture the young Avatar for himself in order to earn himself the crown.

It's an interesting plot. Or, at least, it was, before Shyamalan took the story arc of 20 half-hour episodes (the film is just an adaptation of the first season) and condensed it to little over 100 minutes.

Even if you completely disregard the mess Shyamalan has made of the show--the characters are nothing like their animated counterparts and practically all of the main plot points are missing outside of the beginning, middle and end--yes, even disregarding those, the film is an absolute mess. The characters are horribly drawn, with pretty much no motivation or personality to speak of; the plot is told in all-too-brief flashbacks and bad narration, making it just about incomprehensible for those unfamiliar with the plot of the series; and there is no overarching point to speak of. It's just a muddled series of events that make little sense and are made generally inconsequential in the long run, because we're given no context with the big picture. And even the characters can't help with any of this, because the performances, aside from the admirable but wasted trio of Dev Patel, Shaun Toub and Aasif Mandvi, are just awful. This is probably no fault of the child actors, though--who can blame them when the material they're forced to work with is so shoddy?

Honestly, the film comes off as little more than Shyamalan's desperate attempt to put his name to an "epic," a "Star Wars" or "Lord of the Rings" kind of trilogy. All the makings of Joseph Campbell's would-be "the hero's journey" are here, but instead of joining the ranks of Lucas and Jackson, Shyamalan performs more along the lines of David Lynch's work in "Dune." But at least Lynch was in the formative stages of his career when he made that mess. Shyamalan has been working in cinema for more than a decade now, with more than a half-dozen films to his name, none nearly as disastrous as this. It's his final plea to get his name back in Hollywood, and I don't think anyone will hear it. Or if they do, they'll shake their heads, cover their ears and walk away, because his plea is little more than standing on a street corner, screaming and waving a handful of sparklers in someone's face.

Grade: F

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12 comments:

  1. Edward29 said...

    Wow being a big fan of the anime I'm saddened to hear the films a flop.
    I still kind of want to see it because I'm a fan, but I will wait two weeks for it to no longer be restricted and can use my free movie voucher at Regal Cinemas.

  2. Tom Graczkowski said...

    That is a real shame as I was really looking forward to seeing this in 3D but after reading your review I think I'll just save my monies for something better. Especially, since I'm not familiar with the series.

  3. Sarah Auerswald said...

    Agreed -- it was a boring movie that even my kids didn't enjoy.

  4. Angad619 said...

    Even I was a big fan of the cartoon series! I never see a movie before reading your review, Chris. Now I think I'll give The last Airbender a skip.... :(

  5. Jeanie said...

    I think I'll wait for The Last Airbender to come out on DVD rather than watch it in the movie theater.

  6. @graywolfpack said...

    Geez a harsh review of a kids film. Come on, thats what it is. Its a cartoon put to life action. I took my 10 year old, who has seen all of the episodes of the cartoon at least 3 times, to see this in 3d. Granted I wasn't over whelmed by the 3d effects, I have to judge this film by the reaction of my son, the hugh fan of the series. He couldn't shut up the entire movie! He knew ever character and the story. He absolutely loved the movie, therefore, I loved the movie. I actually did enjoy it. I din't go there thinking of great acting or acadamey award winning screen plays. I went to see a cartoon brought to life, and thats what I got. Once again I was entertained, had fun with my boy, and thats what I went for. Got my monies worth, I think you all should judge for yourself. Again it is a kids movie. But this big kid loved it. Oh well.

  7. Barkles said...

    But that's just it. This wasn't supposed to be a kids' movie. Avatar was such a wonderful show for people of any age. And then Shymalan took it and utterly destroyed it.

  8. Anonymous said...

    @graywolfpack: avatar transcends age, like all good stories. your kid probably likes shiny objects too, but that doesn't mean you let him play with the car keys. shyamalan butchered the story and any child who's matured past playing with blocks hates this movie too.

  9. Anonymous said...

    I thought it was a lot of fun... I liked the mystical, asian undercurrent and that he didn't overplay the bending. It felt more like 'realistic' bending because it wasn't overdone. I've seen bits of the cartoon and like how a child can feel empowered watching a movie that brings his favorite characters to life. I'm sure Shyamalan (sp) was thinking of his children in that the dialogue IS simple and takes on the same cartoonish quality, so it doesn't feel too distant from the series.

  10. Anonymous said...

    Good review, except the shot at Dune - uncalled for! Dune still holds up today as an epic.

    I must say I said, "oh no" when I head Night was directing the film. A clear 'mis-casting' of a director if there ever was one. His style just doesn't fit the light hearted core of Avatar.

  11. Jared Bond said...

    But why, oh why, do we have to sit there and watch the former suspense maistro shove childish melodrama in our faces with "Lady in the Water," or laughably inept pseudo-Hitchcockian horror with "The Happening"?

    Best line. Thanks for giving props to Signs and The Village.

  12. Anonymous said...

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