The Last Airbender Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan Cast: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: PG Release Date: July 1, 2010
PLOT: Based on the popular Nickelodeon cartoons, in a world where humans control the four elements (fire, water, earth, wind), there is only one airbender (Ringer) left. And he just might be the fabled avatar, who can control all the elements.
WHO'S IT FOR? This is for the kids and the simple-minded who are more forgiving with plot development and acting. If you like to look at pretty things move, get in line. Also, don't spend the extra on the 3D. It was added after the film was done, just like Clash of the Titans.
EXPECTATIONS: Remember my TOP 7 Most Anticipated Movies of the Summer? Well, this was sitting at number three.
Noah Ringer as Aang: It's not that he's emotionless and that's supposed to be Aang's hook. It's that Ringer has no range as an actor. There is no depth in this performance, no excitement in his eyes. Sure, he gets to do some Kung fu movements to control the air and water, but Jaden Smith could knock this kid on his butt in a second. One of Ringer's biggest acting moments comes when he makes a speech to the earthbenders. I feel like they should have laughed at this boy, instead of being inspired. That falls on Ringer and Shyamalan. Also, Shyamalan doesn't truly establish if we're watching Aang's journey, or watching his journey through Katara's eyes. Also, while the name Aang might be cool to read in a book, when listening to other characters say it, it sounds to close to "ugh." Yeah, that's how this kid made me feel. Ugh. Score: 2
Dev Patel as Prince Zuko: OK, I'm going to attempt to flesh out this character for you. He's a firebender. He's a disgraced prince, who has been kicked out of the kingdom by his father. Apparently he stood up for some people, and his dad challenged him to a fight (which presumably would have killed one of them). The only way he can impress daddy is by capturing the avatar and bringing him back to the kingdom. Yet, no one knows if the avatar still exists. Also, he has the most caring mentor in his uncle, who is trying to explain what life could be life, but Zuko just wants to show his dad he's awesome. Also, he can destroy many men without using his power, and is constantly kidnapping the kid. To top it out, when the kid is passed out, he tells him all about his inner feelings for no good reason. Can you tell I'm not happy with this Slumdog Millionaire's latest acting choice? Score: 3
Nicola Peltz as Katara: Why are kids the ones who must attempt to save the world? Are there no adult waterbenders? Well, Katara is full of ambition, can control water, and painfully narrates the film. It feels terribly awkward that she's the one who has decided to SAVE THE WORLD! Again, she has no range and no passion. Kids won't mind. Adults should. Score: 4
Jackson Rathbone as Sokka: First of all, he's better as Jasper in the Twilight films. Second, he isn't a bender, so he's the perfect person for us to follow. We can relate. He's the outsider, the powerless, just trying to keep up. Unfortunately, Sokka isn't our vessel for understanding and appreciating this world. There is a half-ass attempt at a romance. That's about it. There's some lame attempts at physical comedy as well with him. Score: 4
TALKING: There is some much over-explanation of this world it's ridiculous. Apparently there's dragons in dreams, the spirits embody regular old animals, and any time it looks like our characters have hit a deadend, they simply add some new logic to this world that gets them out of a jam. For example ... Oh no, the fish is dead. No worries, your body can take the place of the fish! Done and done. The actors aren't up to the task for delivering stale lines. And some lines are just head scratchers. Katara makes a big speech about saving the world, turns to Aang and ends with the line, "Should we try it?" Score: 3
SIGHTS: Yes, the concept of the elements battling, and the visuals are pretty dang cool. It does get a little repetitive to watch Aang, Katara and Zuko make a bunch of yoga/kung fu moves to get their power going. This is the place where I complain there aren't better training montages. In fact, they pretty much skip Aang learning how to control water with the line, "Aang, it's been a couple of weeks since we've sparred, why dont' you take a turn?" Wait a minute, you're telling me Aang, our potential avatar, our potential savior, has taken a couple of weeks off of mastering the water element? What the hell. But again, the powers, just like the force are pretty cool. Score: 7
SOUNDS: The musical score is overused, and sometimes the only indication of whether a scene is meant to be exciting, scary or emotionally compelling. There's nothing to hold on to. Better, more individualized sound effects for each of the elements would have been a great addition. Score: 3
BEST SCENE: When Aang makes his way to the ocean he finally realizes his goal is to protect and not hurt. It's a great-looking sequence. Unfortunately it's followed by watching the water level go up, and then go down. That's it. It doesn't even stop the huge ships from working. If I were the firebenders, I would have kept fighting.
ENDING: Oh. This is just the beginning. So there's going to be more. We only learned about water here. I should have seen this coming. I don't feel good about it. Unsatisfied.
QUESTIONS: For adults, it's impossible to take Aasif Mandvi from "The Daily Show" seriously, right? Why are the firebenders trying to take control? Why did people think the avatar was still alive? How conveinent are these scrolls that people keep finding? How convenient is it that every time some character (good or bad) says, "I think," or "I have a hunch" they turn out to be 100 percent correct? Why not simply make the avatar disappear, and then all the elements battle for supreme control? Then the avatar is the balance.
REWATCHABILITY: Right now I just need some space from this movie. I was excited. Shyamalan didn't write the original material and I thought that's all the help he needed to get back in my good graces.
Flat performances. Flat dialogue. A really cool idea. That's what we have. Shyamalan will probably attempt to defend it with the same logic George Lucas uses (it's for the kids). Kids are more forgiving. And they're typically not the ones shelling out the ten bucks. The Last Airbender feels almost exactly like The Golden Compass. It spends way too much time attempting to explain this new world. All we need is the four elements battling it out, and actors who can sell that. They should have spent much more time finding a kid who can act to carry this film. Or simply increase the age of the actor. I just don't think Shyamalan can pull a great performance out of an actor. Haley Joel Osment was an amazing kid actor. Lightning didn't strike twice for Shyamalan. Once you get past the very cool visuals, we're left with a kid who ran away from being an avatar because he couldn't one day have a family. Sounds a lot like the force. But here's the thing, if you're a kid, and you're told you can be the COOLEST person ever, do you run away because you won't be able to change diapers, or have a wife? You don't even know what love is!
The firebenders and their metal machines are supposed to be a pale comparison to our current society (I think). That, and the fact that they keep saying avatar (the "a" is pronounced like avant-garde, so only slightly different from James Cameron's Avatar) makes this film feel like it just borrowed from other films.
It's sad. Unbreakable was supposed to be Shyamalan's trilogy. I loved that film. It only made $100 million, so the studio pulled the plug on more. I imagine a world where he made the Unbreakable trilogy and didn't make all of these other films that failed (The Happening, The Lady in the Water). Now comes a new Shyamalan trilogy (or more) with The Last Airbender. But now, I'm in the other camp. I don't want this to continue. Make it the last.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10