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Movie Review: The Last Airbender

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.”

9 comments

  1. Yeah, me and the other B3 guys watched this movie, and I could already tell 30 seconds in that it was gonna be a shitstorm. I wound up answering my phone twice during it, and not giving a crap if I was missing anything. (How can adding my own soundtrack spoil a God awful movie? It doesn't.)

    And for the record it wasn't even kung-fu or any karate moves that the "warriors" were performing! They were like Michael Jackson dance routines :P!

  2. I added my own soundtrack as well, in the form of lude comments and a vuvuzela app on my phone. Thanks for reading!

  3. I wanted to see this movie. Was so incredibly excited and then when all the bad reviews started pouring in it obliterated my anticipation. They had a chance to do something really cool and they effed it up. As much as I like M. Night Shyamalan, I don't know if anyone will trust what he can do ever again. I respect him because he takes risks.

    What a shame.. >.<

  4. @Dianna: That's what people have said every time after his last three movies. He's going to continue to get money to make movies because he has money and because he knows people, not because of any form of talent or ability on his part. I guarantee the world will be forced to endure more from him.

  5. You think so? Honestly, the only M. Night Shyamalan movie I haven't seen was "The Happening" and "The Last Airbender". All his other movies I enjoyed. It seems like whenever he's given a big budget he seriously goes overboard or something. He should just stick to simple movies that tell a story and stop trying to make big movies.

  6. Go see it Dianna, dont let crap reviews put you off!. I read every bad review of Resident Evil but I actually enjoyed for what it was, it was dumb but I liked it. The 2 sequels not so much however. I decided to stop reading reviews of films till after I had seen them so I go in with no preconceptions whatsoever. Prime example at the moment is The A Team, I fear the worst but I think I will love it. Shyamalan does seem to get a general bashing from all corners over the last few years, the last film I saw of his was the one in the tower block cant remember its name ah Lady In The Water which was ok. Village, Signs and 6th Sense were great films.

  7. Honestly? People are simply hating. Haters have to hate though. Sure I lost faith in Mr. Shyamalan shortly after "The Village", but as a long time Avatar fan I had no problem shelling out some cash to see this in theaters. The film is exactly what it was suppose to be: a condensed 2.5 hour version of a 20 episode animation (covering Season 1).

    The effects were very well done, it was expected though. The demands of an animation as vivid and detailed as Avatar required it. People voicing concerns about the acting are simply asking far too much. Avatar has numerous moments ranging from comedic to downright serious that nothing short of an animation could pull off. Often these moments are even separated by a few seconds in the actual show. How much young talent (ranging from ages 12-18) do you know can pull this off? Sokka alone has numerous moments in the series that are downright hysterical but impossible to portray in live action without degrading a film.

    As for the writing? I don't think it was so much dry as it was just condensed. A lot of material just had to be left on the cutting room floor. This was probably the most difficult part in creating a film drawn from such a rich history. Things left out that I believe should have been in this film? Kyoshi warriors for one. Suki plays a HUGE role throughout the series and even more-so in the finale. Her exclusion is actually something Shyamalan wishes to remedy in the second film. There was also no mention of two very important things in the Northern Water tribe. No explanation of water's healing properties and absolutely no mention of the sexism at play in regards to what male and female waterbenders are allowed to do. Katara's development as a character is heavily reliant on this. Northern tribe customs would not permit her to bend offensively, only heal. Her defiance against such customs not only separates her from the herd but also builds the inner strength she requires to reach her master potential.

    Aside from these exclusions, I thought the film was an honest portrayal of the Avatar world. I honestly think that all this raging Shyamalan hatred is just bandwagon jumpery.

  8. The only reason I wanted to see this movie was because it was based on Avatar. Everything else about it was really discouraging. The trailer turned me off, in fact, rather than get me more excited. That M. Night was directing was a massive blow against it for me, as I have little to no love for the man or his "talent". I enjoyed The Sixth Sense for sure. Signs was good until the ending. The Village was predictable and boring. Lady in the Water had moments. The Happening blows. You see the trend here? Good to crap. As a result, I had no faith at all in Shyamalan to pull off this movie.

    I usually try not to read reviews. Hell, I even change the channel when trailers for movies I want to see come on. I ran out of the theater with my ears plugged when I was almost forced to watch a Dark Knight trailer. Dianna, however, saw some shocking reviews and felt obligated to tell me. EVERYthing she read me was bad. So I started looking up reviews. I had to dig and search to find a single positive one. I had 3 friends text me after leaving the theater at the midnight showing, warning me not to go see it because they knew I loved Avatar and the movie was tripe. That's enough convincing for me. I'll indulge my curiosity when its available on Netflix. Otherwise, I can only hope he is dropped from the trilogy project or they aren't made.

  9. I haven't even seen any trailers for this or anything! weird… althought i liked star trek (the movie, not the series) and vantage point was ok.

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