The Last Airbender Review

July 2, 2010 at 11:00 pm (Movies)

After seeing The Last Airbender, I can say in a completely non-biased, non-fanboy way that M. Night Shyamalan is a complete hack. That’s not because it’s popular or fun to hate Shyamalan, not because his choice of projects, but due to his own style (if you can call it that) of film making. And by style of film making, I’m referring to his blatant disregard for character development, the mess he calls action choreography, and dialogue so laughable it must have been supervised by George Lucas. All of these things are glaringly present in his new film, The Last Airbender, the biggest “I Told You So” of this summer movie season. The story (or from what I made out) takes place in a world full of different nations that have different “bending” abilities-fire, water, earth, air. Years ago there was an avatar, someone who had control of all four elements, and could bring peace to the world. 100 years had passed, and after there was no sign of the avatar, two children-Sokka and Katara-discover the avatar, only to find he’s a kid with no mastery of any of the elements aside from air. The fire nation (and more specifically it’s Prince, Zuko) are out to get the avatar so they can continue their domination, meanwhile the avatar and his friends are out to help him master the art of waterbending (in the other two books that will never be made to film he learns earth bending and fire bending).

Let me for starters say that going into this film, I’ve only seen roughly 3 episodes of the series. I enjoyed what I saw of it, but I never appreciated it on the level many other people do. So I’m not grading this film based on being an adaptation mainly, but as what it is, a film. Shyamalan has never been known for effective storytelling, and that tradition carries on into The Last Airbender. The film’s been compared to a cliffnotes version of the series, and nothing could come closer to the truth. The scenes in the film feel incredibly rushed, moving rapidly from exposition to quick-cut fight scenes, often times costing characters’ some serious moments that were required for the audience to connect. In the first 10 minutes of the film we’re moved quickly from blatant narration of the two supporting characters’ backstory to the main protagonist Aang, and before long we’re into the main adventure. Logic is seemingly absent, major decisions are made in seconds without second thought, relationships are more shallow than a pool with a giant plastic turtle, and we’re clumsily moved from set piece to set piece without any sort of narrative structure or support. By the end of the film we’re still being given reasons to care for the characters, and there’s a romance there that’s insulting by how little sense it makes to the audience. Thanks to a truly crappy string of story elements, all the “good” elements of the film falter on a weak foundation. Everything feels as fake as the effects that are so poorly created for the film. You could feel where they shot these scenes as individual episodes of the series, cutting it up into pieces, and then stitching it all together. In theory that’s fine, but there’s no cohesive structure there, and the end product is disorienting and simply messy. By the ending climax that we should all really be excited for, it comes across as dull, just like another scene, and there’s a real problem with that. There are some serious lapses in logic in this film, there were tons that had me in stitches of laughter. “Why doesn’t he just stab the other fish?”-“Sure, leave the guy that’s the main figure of this war that this entire film hinges on, unprotected!” By the time we reached the final 20 minutes, I was begging to leave the theater, mainly because I wasn’t witnessing the culmination of a story, but the last clumsy piece that was following a bunch of other clumsy pieces.

One of the best parts of the show (and one of the aspects of the film I was relying on) was the action scenes of the film. To his credit, he doesn’t completely ruin them, but they still stand along the rest of the components of the film as a tragic missed opportunity. The action scenes are really great in concept, and there is a time or two when they manage to capture the imagination of the idea of bending elements in combat (there’s a shot of a water master taking on a couple of guys that lasts for a few seconds that really surprised me), but more times than not you get the sense they just don’t know what to do with the scene. The scenes of action are often too quick, really shot in a poor sense of location, or simply come down to really awkward coordination. Shyamalan treats the act of bending elements like it’s a display sport, and has a lot of the characters practicing it in montages and other scenes to just look pretty, and boy does he take his time with it. The dramatic music swells, the camera pans in, and it just comes off as goofy. During the battle scenes, the few times characters are using their bending skills and they’re not fighting hand to hand or sword to sword (why would you use a knife or sword when you can shoot fire out of your hand) the bending draws way too much attention to itself and is played off too dramatically to be interesting. The characters take turns in battle, the attacks take forever, and it’s too drawn out to be interesting in practice, and by the time we’ve gotten through 2/3 tricks that looked sorta cool, the fight’s over with. I’ve said this a billion times before, but a film hinges on the performance of it’s actors. Unfortunately for The Last Airbender, these hinges are extremely rusted. Noah Ringer is without a doubt a talented martial artist, but he comes off so uncomfortable in the role, and is insufferably bland in his role when he’s leading the events of the entire film. Nicola Peltz and jason Rathbone do absolutely nothing in their parts for the film, and are incredibly dull and horrificly bad actors throughout the 1 1/2 hour film. Shaun Toub does do some of the best work in the film by far as Iroh, and Dev Patel does the best he can with what the terrifyingly bad script (penned by the director himself) gives him. The most bizarre casting choice to me was the choice of casting a regular on the Comedy Central “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” regular Aasif Mandvi as one of the main villains. He executes his role with a slimy cheesiness that’s really not intended for the role, and throughout the entire film I couldn’t help but laugh at him for all the wrong reasons. The film’s dialogue thanks to Shyamalan’s script is just awful, creating dialogue so unnatural it makes me wish George Lucas was back in the business to write another prequel for Star Wars. As one of the bright spots of the film, the set and costume design stood out to me as I usually have a respective eye for that sort of thing. The sets and multiple real locations had a nice feel for me (although that last location for the climax was terrible) and the many costumes by the different tribes seemed authentic. Now back to being angry at how bad this film is. As a final note, the 3D in the film, in the running trend of post-conversion, is completely unnecessary and not even utilized throughout the film, which is just another nail in the coffin for seeing this film.

In conclusion, noone on the planet should see this film. If you are by some reason an M. Night Shyamalan fan, than you may derive some pleasure from this film. As an adaptation Shyamalan, being Shyamalan, does some incredibly ridiculous things to the characters and continuity that will ensure nerd rage, and to anyone fresh to the series a disjointed effort at storytelling will definitely turn you off from it. When it comes down to it, it’s just a mess of a film. The saddest part is, at the base, at this film’s core, there’s an incredible story just waiting to be told with heart. However, that film is buried in thick layers of terrible efforts at giving us a cohesive tale, a thin sheet of bad acting, a good coat of a bad script, and mounds of poorly executed action.

1 1/2 out of 5

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4 Comments

  1. The James said,

    I am still having nightmares about having to watch this movie.

    There were a lot of lines of dialogue that made no sense unless you had seen the series, and there was some dialogue that still did not even make sense to those who watched the series.

  2. earlman27 said,

    True, I know I’ve told you this before but my main knack with this film was just how poorly slapped together it was and how it’s just a shamble of a film.

  3. The James said,

    It does feel rather slapped togather…

  4. earlman27 said,

    It’s almost infuriating that he expects that was a film and oversaw this entire project and didn’t ever realize it, either that or he’s just too arrogant to correct himself.

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