Review: “The Last Airbender”

July 5, 2010 at 1:25 pm Leave a comment

M. Night Shyamalan has been in a bit of a slump lately.  His previous effort, 2008’s The Happening, was just plain bad, with bad performances and what felt like an idea for a movie, but not an actual fleshed-out script.  His movie before that, Lady in the Water, was decent, in my opinion, but lacks what he brought to The Sixth Sense, Signs, and the terribly overlooked Unbreakable.  Now, Shyamalan is stepping out of his supernatural thriller genre to give us the big-budget live-action version of the popular cartoon show Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Critics have been trashing the movie left and right, and with good cause.  The first hour of this movie is a bit of a mess.  Officially, this is Book 1, with what I assume are two more books to follow, and each Book making up a season of the show.  So, Shyamalan, who also wrote the screenplay, has crammed a season’s worth of story into roughly two hours.  What we get is rushed plot developments, almost no developed character arcs for the supporting cast, and really, really bad dialogue.

The beginning of the third act, however, has things turning around.  In brief, the ‘last airbender’ is a boy named Aang (Noah Ringer) who is the reincarnation of the ‘Avatar’: a Messiah-like individual who will bring peace to all the people of their world.  This world is populated by a select few who can ‘bend’ the elements, with some able to control either water, fire, or earth.  Aang is the last of his kind who can bend air (hence ‘the last airbender’).  His two companions, the waterbending Katara (Nicola Peltz) and regular guy Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) have come along for the ride.

The acting is subpar throughout, with Noah Ringer being particularly bad in spots.  However, it’s important to note that this is obviously his first major role, and judging by his IMdb credits, his first role in anything.  Ringer is a newcomer, chosen for the role because he’s a natural athlete and, from what I understand, a gifted martial artist.  In the physical aspect, he succeeds, able to perform the fight scenes and the choreography well.  The other cast fares only slightly better, but a terrible script is to blame for the stunted dialogue.

Since this is a big-budget summer movie, there are effects galore.  Some of claimed the effects were bad, I disagree, thinking they serve the story well and don’t overtake it.  Some of the waterbending effects looked a little ‘TV-like’ to me, but the grand vista shots and pillars of flame controlled by the firebenders looked great.  Also, cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (who lensed the Lord of the Rings films) certainly knows how to move a camera, bringing the audience into and out of the fight scenes with an expert hand.

By the end of the movie, I was won over.  The finale really caught my attention and was easily the best part of the entire flick.  Heck, I was impressed enough to add the series to my Netflix queue.

The Last Airbender is a great movie for kids.  I repeat: this is a great movie for kids, which is their target demographic.  Most of the theatre that I saw this in was comprised of mainly children, and they all seemed to have a good time.  Older viewers, and fans of the show who aren’t younger than 12, will most certainly roll their eyes at much of the movie.  Still, I think the critics were a little too harsh on the movie, and most user reviews were probably aimed more at M. Night Shyamalan than the movie itself (he’s probably the object of as much, if not more ridicule than Michael Bay).

Bottom line: I had fun.  It was definitely rough around the edges, but drew me into the world of The Last Airbender enough to want a sequel.

6.5/10

Oh, and for all those people saying this movie is racist, give me freaking break.  Yes, there are white people in this movie.  But Dev Patel, who is Indian, has a significant role, as do Aasif Mandvi (Indian), Cliff Curtis (Maori descent), and Seychelle Gabriel (a mix of different ethnicities).  And Aang, whom I assume is Asian in the cartoon, is played by someone who is not entirely Asian in this flick.  Honestly, I don’t know what ethnicity Noah Ringer is, but he sure as hell looks mixed to me.  Calm down, people.

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