by David A. Rodriguez
It is rare that I attend a film that gives me an urge to get up and leave the theater. In fact, I have never walked out of a theatre in my life, but here are a few of the diarrhea-inducing slopfests that almost prompted me to do so: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), Little Man (2006), Vantage Point (2008), Star Trek (2009), and Brothers (2009). It seems that 2010 is also not devoid of the usual stinkers and backwash that Hollywood seems even more prone to putting out these days.
All of the aforementioned films had thin cliché-ridden stories, poor to bad acting, poor to bad writing, and an overall result that reeked of fail. These films should have been used to interrogate criminals, not entertain us innocent unknowing taxpayers. Now can you guess which of the qualities mentioned before fits The Last Airbender? If your answer is anything other than ‘All of the above’ please discharge yourself from existence immediately, though you’re probably too busy watching The Marine (2005) to pay attention to this review, so I’ll continue.
The Last Airbender is based on a popular American-created anime that aired for three seasons on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008 under the similarly named, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The plot revolved around a world in which people were divided into tribes represented by four elements: fire, water, earth, and wind. After the disappearance of ‘the avatar’ – a force that keeps all four elements in balance – the fire nation began a conquest of the other three, employing the art of ‘bending’ (a spiritual force of energy conducted by benders, using the elements as a weapon) as well as using machines to subdue people in their way. Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rothbone) stumble upon Aang (Noah Ringer) who turns out to be the Avatar that had disappeared long ago. With their help, Aang begins a quest to push back the fire nation and bring peace back to the world.
Airbender’s failures lie in three areas: “Written, Directed, and Produced by M. Night Shyamalan.” While I am not surprised at the end result, I am also very, very depressed that I have borne through witnessing a filmmaker’s fall from such great films as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable to The Village, The Happening, and now this film. Shyamalan seems to have just stopped trying, regardless of the fact that this is his first foray into the big-budget epic style of films, it is apparent that there was almost no effort placed into the writing of the script or the movie’s direction. Many aspects of the story are rushed or are just incoherent; many people in the audience at my screening were laughing at serious scenes, and scratching their heads during the rest. Worst of all, overall the movie seemed rushed and largely incomplete, especially in the area of character development.
Ringer is a trained martial artist and a black belt; he got the role after attending an open audition. Ringer’s prowess and skill in martial arts simply did not equate to a performance even barely adequate for a film this size. Many of his lines were delivered like he was reading off a teleprompter, but to be fair; this is what happens when you cast someone with absolutely no acting experience. Rothbone and Peltz also seemed to have the same problem with their characters. Patel seemed like he was trying very hard to liven up an already thin, dry script.
The bending effects were done quite well, and I was very much drawn into the art where every element around the benders was a potential weapon. Many of the designs, especially those of the fire nation’s warships were done extremely well and were very detailed; along with many of the movies images and symbols, they conveyed more emotion and heart than the actors that were slogging through a marsh of bad writing and even worse direction. One issue that absolutely murders these effects however – and I don’t mean regular murder, I mean Kitty Genevese murder – was the conversion of the movie from standard 2D to 3D to satiate the masses. Most scenes do not have any three-dimensional effect, and even the bending scenes did not look entirely convincing, only the opening credits commanded some type of jaw-dropping 3D effect. Don’t waste your money on any 3D showings; you’ll just look stupid. I would suggest instead you take off your 3D glasses and throw yourself through a first floor window, sure you’ll lay there and look stupid with some cuts and bruises, maybe some glass embedded in your skin; but I guarantee you won’t look as stupid as I did when I was wearing 3D glasses watching a movie that had almost no 3D effects.
This was not an ordinary popcorn movie, it was an adaptation of a franchise that many people loved and it seemed as though the casting was not taken seriously in the slightest. I have even heard rumors that the movie does not respect canon enough. Personally I have only seen a few episodes of the series, but from what I could see there was a balance between fun, humor, and action, this was completely absent from the movie.
It depressed me to trash this movie because I felt he had a lot of potential as a director, but at the moment he seems to be foundering as a big-budget film director. Slowly but surely I feel like Mr. Shyamalan is robbing me each time I see one of his films – a habit that could be defined as a sadomasochistic process in which I see his films each time even though they are becoming exponentially worse. Maybe he should go back and start small again, I don’t know. Here’s to his next film, but if it’s as bad as or worse than this one, I might be saying, “Here’s to crime.”