Book One: Water. That’s how director M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the Nickelodeon animated series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ opens. Note that the movie version drops off ‘Avatar’ because Lord knows it doesn’t to raise expectations any higher than they already are by associating itself with the Cameron epic. Anyway we must assume that there are three more books to deal with, which will theoretically yield three more films centering around Earth, Water and Fire. Now of course this is just one man’s lowly opinion but after watching Book One of ‘The Last Airbender’, books two, three and four are going to have some serious difficulty seeing the light of day if this is the best we can do.
Real quick, if you see this movie before you read this please don’t donate extra money Paramount for the completely worthless 3D version. Please? This seriously need to stop because the only thing 3D like in this movie that had no original plans to be projected in 3D were the opening credits. I had to wear an extra pair glasses to see 3D opening credits.
Our story begins in a small water village were young Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her older brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) are hunting for some desperately needed food when they stumble upon a boy and his flying pet monster frozen in the ice. The boys name is Aang (Noah Ringer), a member of the Air Nation, and he believes he’s been away from home for a couple of days but the truth of the matter is he’s been away for over a hundred years.
A lot has changed since Aang went away. Now the lands are ruled by the completely oppressive Fire Nation and their wicked king Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis). Worst still Ozai went all Pharaoh on the Air Nation and killed every single last one of them because prophecy states the next Avatar, the savior of all the elemental people, will be born of the Air Nation and Ozai doesn’t want any Avatar’s floating around ruining his world domination plans, thus making poor little Aang the last living member of his tribe and thus The Last Airbender. Just so you know each tribe has certain individuals who are born to manipulate, or bend as it were, whatever element their tribe represents.
After little Aang gets over the fact that he is all alone in this world it’s time to fulfill his destiny as The Avatar, the one who controls all the elements, but unfortunately he ran off before he learned to control Water, Earth and Fire. So with his new friends Katara and Sokka in tow, they jump on Aang’s flying pet monster to start a revolution and seek out the elemental masters so he can be trained to assume his proper place as the savior.
Ah but the Fire Nation is in hot pursuit. Particularly King Ozai’s defrocked and shamed son Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) who only through the capture of the Avatar can he regain his lost honor. The semi-final showdown will be explosive. At least in theory.
I’m thinking if you have a checklist next to you about cool things you would like to see in a movie then your ‘Last Airbender’ sheet would be pretty full of checks. There’s kung-fu action, fancy special effects, it’s in 3D, its epic in its presentation, there’s explosions and the director has an Academy Award pedigree. Sadly we are stuck looking at our piece of paper full of positive checkmarks and are forced to ponder why this movie is so gawdawful. So very gawdawful.
For starters, despite all the kung fu and explosions and fancy special effects… it’s dull. It’s boring. I moaned to a friend of mine after we left the movie about how long it was, but it wasn’t long. Not at all… it just felt like it was three hours long. The majority of the film is dialog driven which would be fine if this dialog was well written and crisply delivered. That didn’t happen. Follow this up with the unfortunate case of a film that feels completely lifeless. Flat. Inert. There’s no sense of awe or wonder with ‘The Last Airbender’ despite all of the elements in this film that would almost indicate that this should take care of itself. This could very well be the worst usage of 3D of any movie I’ve ever seen. The third dimension does nothing for this movie outside of making my nose hurt due to wearing an extra set of glasses. But even in 2D I imagine the lifeless, flat feel of the film becomes even more amplified.
Then there’s the controversy. White people again cast in the role of Asian characters. We’ve already discussed this abhorrent practice in previous movies and wrote about it in the blog so we’re not going spend too much time on it. Even Shyamalan had to personally defend his movie and the casting, falling on the sword so to speak stating something along the lines that if you want to call somebody racist, blame him. I doubt very seriously that the Asian-American M. Night Shyamalan is racist and I admire him for placing himself directly in the line of fire of this subject matter. I also doubt, very seriously, that he had any real say so in the racial makeup of his main characters. He may have had casting input but his input probably consisted of which white people choose.
But guess what? They could’ve made every single character in this movie Swedish for all I care if it would’ve made this movie worth watching. Stilted dialog, suspect action, slow and erratic pacing and forced manufactured melodrama all make for a very, very poor and disappointing film. Suddenly ‘The Happening’ doesn’t seem all that bad anymore.