In his next "reincarnation," may he enjoy a better writer and director

The Last Airbender

on June 30, 2010 by Pam Grady
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lastairbenderreview.pngThe popular Nickelodeon anime series Avatar: The Last Airbender gets the big screen treatment in an Action/Fantasy that closely follows the events of the show's first season in which a child avatar is the only hope for a world at war. After the twin disappointments of Lady in the Water and The Happening, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan needs a hit--and so does a summer box office that has seen precious few successes. The Last Airbender will no doubt enjoy a robust opening weekend as the show's fans turn out at theaters, but its long-term prospects rest on its ability to attract moviegoers beyond its base. That is a big "if" with a movie that proves emphatically Shyamalan is neither an action director nor skilled at adapting the work of others.

In a world where certain people have power over the elements earth, fire, water and air, bending them to their will, only the avatar can control all four and thus has the power to keep the planet in balance and at peace. When the last Avatar disappeared 100 years ago, the Fire Nation declared war against all the others, bent on world domination. One day, when young water bender Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her older brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) are out and about, they come across Aang (Jackson Ringer) and quickly realize that the little boy with the air bending skills is the missing avatar. The discovery is not lost on the Fire Nation with exiled Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) in a race with Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi)-top general to Zuko's father, Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis)-to capture the child before he can interfere with the Fire Nation's plans.

The Last Airbender has been awash in controversy since the trades reported Shyamalan was casting white actors in key roles instead of Asians, but the real scandal is that a property with the potential to become a franchise arrives nearly stillborn. The problems begin with Shyamalan's script, which is an orgy of exposition. The characters explain and explain and explain some more, points driven home with the subtlety of a jackhammer. There is almost zero character development and perhaps most egregious of all, most of the humor that peppered the TV series has been stripped from the big screen translation. Added to that is Shyamalan's wretched direction of his actors. Based on Dev Patel's overacting here, one would never guess this Slumdog Millionaire star was a critically praised performer with awards and nominations. The younger members of the cast fare even worse with the filmmaker apparently unable to coax more than flat performances from any of them. Only Shaun Toub emerges from the wreckage unscathed, delivering an effective performance as Zuko's wise, sympathetic Uncle Iroh.

Story issues and bad acting aside, The Last Airbender might have succeeded if it had delivered on the special effects and action. The CGI is terrible and the mediocre 3D only calls attention to just how bad it is. Rather than immersing the viewer into this strange elemental world, it inadvertently underlines its own fakeness. Neither the Fire Nation's war ships nor Appa, Aang's flying bison, are remotely convincing. Only the "bending" sequences, in which characters control the elements, are effective. The fight and battle sequences involving martial arts and wire work have a curious, enervating quality. Scenes that ought to be tense and exciting simply aren't. The tight fight choreography is much too obvious. Not a moment appears spontaneous.

The Last Airbender ends where season one of the series did, on a cliffhanger. Whether that next chapter will ever come or the would-be franchise goes the way of The Golden Compass is a cliffhanger in itself. Shyamalan did the property no favors with his clumsy effort, but between the fan base and a huge international release, there may be life in the boy avatar yet.

Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Cast: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis and Seychelle Gabriel
Director/Screenwriter: M. Night Shyamalan
Producer: Scott Aversano, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, Kathleen Kennedy and M. Night Shyamalan
Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Rating: PG for fantasy action violence
Running time: 103 min
Release Date: July 1, 2010

Tags: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis, Seychelle Gabriel, M. Night Shyamalan, Scott Aversano, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, Kathleen Kennedy
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11 Comments

  • criticscritic on 02 July 2010

    I actually saw the midnight release of The Last Airbender and entirely disagree with this review. Everyone knows that anything that is made from a novel, series or even remakes is not necessarily the same as the original. I totally agree that M Night has had several terrible movies beginning with unbreakable and ending with the happening, which is the worse movie of all time. But I must say that I enjoyed this movie, especially going in with the impression that it was going to be another hot mess. So please go see it for yourself and pay no attention to the above criticisms. How the heck do you "over act". This movie did not have oscars written on it. It's fun, fantasy and CGI. I did not see the movie on 3D so I can't really comment on how it may have affected the special effects, but if you want to have a fun weekend, set aside an extra 10 bucks after you return from seeing Eclipse, and go see this..it was a good movie.

  • Starsfan6878 on 02 July 2010

    ---------VERY MILD SPOILER ALERT------------

    Oh my God this is a terrible movie:

    - Horrible acting
    - Terrible casting
    - Ham-handed directing
    - Exposition from here to eternity even when it isn't needed
    - Sub-par special effects
    - A war scene that lasts 15 minutes and only one person seems to die
    - "Martial" arts which take 43 moves and a minute and a half to strike out at someone
    - Utterly inconceivable actions by major players in the film (hmmm, we know our country is going to be attacked *very soon* by the bad guys; I know, let's not have ANY early warning sentries or prepare in any way until they BGs actually start shooting at us!)

    This is the worst piece of trash I have ever seen . . . and I was a big Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan.

    Makes me really happy that I had never seen the series so that now I can go and watch it and be pleasantly surprised by it (by all the accounts I have seen of it) rather than those who liked the series and are now in for terrible disappointment with the movie.

    Ugh.

    • arhat74 on 04 July 2010

      you've obviously not seen very many movies

  • miked123 on 03 July 2010

    - Horrible acting
    - Terrible casting
    - Atrocious directing

    This director should find another line of work. He is obviously a very poor director !!!!

  • arhat74 on 04 July 2010

    I entirely disagree with the review... and those who say this was the worst film they had ever seen. You've obviously not watched a lot of movies. Normally when I'm in the theatre, people move around, they talk, they get up to get more snacks or what have you, but during this film, there was NONE of that... Everyone enjoyed this film...There is so much detail in this film....so much so that i want to watch it again to get more out of the story that was being told. I've not read the comics or seen the other shows on it but I thought Shyamalan did a great job of it.... and those who would choose to have an issue with the race of the people used...again...obviously didn't pay attention to who was in the movie nor what the movie was about. Thankyou Shyamalan for entertaining us this evening. i think you're brilliant and far more interesting a story teller than most of the *usual* stuff out there which I am getting tired of.

  • pirate3 on 04 July 2010

    I am a giant fan of the series, and I completely loved the movie; and I have friends who never saw the series before and went to the movie- and they loved and can't wait for a second one. I think the actors were great and they fit as much story as they could in an hour and a half movie. Something to remember is that they had to fit about 40 hours worth of material from the series into a 103 minute movie- I think they succeeded in capturing all the important aspects of the story as possible, and it still ended up a great storyline. Everyone should see the movie! It was great!

  • montgojj on 04 July 2010

    reviewers are idiots, nothing but old rich gags who nothing.and they not what people and customers want.

    it was explosive anime-action movie

    this was a better movie then the twilight saga.

  • QUEEN on 08 July 2010

    I LOVED THIS MOVIE...EVERY BODY IS ALWAYS JUMPING ON BANDWAGONS INSTEAD OF THINKING FOR THEMSELVES...NOTHING WAS WRONG WITH THIS MOVIE.
    CAN'T KEEP PUTTING PEOPLE DOWN BECAUSE OF MOVIES HE MADE IN THE PAST THAT WAS WEAK. HE DID A GREAT JOB WITH THIS AND I KNOW THE SECOND ONE WILL BE EVEN BETTER. EVERY ONE DESERVES A CHANCE AND I COMMEND HIM FOR NOT GIVING UP AFTER "THE HAPPENING." I CAN'T WAIT TIL THE NEXT ONE! 4RM THA QUEEN

  • Toph on 24 July 2010

    This movie was utterly horrible. This isn't a case of out-of-touch reviewers hating this, this was a bad movie through and through. Watch a few clips on youtube and you'll see how stilted and painful the various scenes are. Shyamalan took a wonderfully rich story and vibrant world and destroyed it, making it over to his own "dark" vision. (His words... and he says #2 will be darker. wtf?!?) Please let someone else screenwrite and direct any sequels, or better yet, reboot and redo. TLA got a big boost from die hard fans who came the first week out of love for the original content, but I guarantee we won't be back if Shyamalan's still at the helm.

  • darwinsmomma on 25 July 2010

    Ugh. My son loved it so I can't talk about this movie in front of him without hurting his feelings - - so I need to vent here. I hated this movie. As a BIG fan of the animated series, I do not have the words to describe how mad at the Shy-i-suck-lan I am. He butchered the heart and soul of the Avatar series and served it up to us on a platter. There was so much potential here for a truly awesome movie and he completely, utterly failed. Appa! Need I say more!!!!!!!! How could he *@#! mess up Appa????? Shy-i-suck-lan had better not ever show his face in Missouri or I will seriously kick his @#! If I hadn't just heard that a new series by the same guys based on the Avatar world was coming out, I would seriously be depressed. And the worst part is that my son may actually want to watch this movie again. Ugh.

  • SJlizm13 on 24 August 2010

    I went to see this film 3 times already because I liked this film a lot. Although I never watched cartoons on this matter it. I will support further film. I want to finish the sequel to the story. I want the team director and former actor team. Because this film is the ultimate team and the director, actors and staff of other. I cheer for the entire team involved with this film. To produce superior work next.

What do you think?