The Last Airbender (2010)

new-pic-last-airbender-moviAs big a fan as I am, and continue to be of M. Night Shyamalan, the one tragic fact of “The Last Airbender” is that there just isn’t a need for it. The original television series is about two or three years after its series finale, the series lasted about four or five seasons, it still plays in syndication, and there is a new story waiting in the wings. Fans of “Avatar” are in no short supply of their Airbender fix, so Shyamalan’s adaptation of the show isn’t all too necessary, nor was it wanted. So instantly the cards are stacked against him. Yours truly being a hardcore fan of the animated series (frankly, it’s one of the finest and most entertaining shows of the last decade), I was anxious to see what Shyamalan would do to “The Last Airbender,” and I wasn’t all too disappointed with what turned up on the screen.

While I continuously defend Shyamalan’s previous outings, he has to work with pre-established material here and works with it well enough to satisfy the respective Avatar fan while also appealing to the general audiences. The concept of controlling elements spiritually is a fantastic concept and he brings it to live with some incredible moments on-screen that demonstrate the process and sharp beauty of the idea behind the original series. Paying tribute to the series, Shyamalan stages some familiar moments from the series, and relies on the child performers to handle the weight of the story that involves Avatar Aang’s confrontation with the evil Firebenders, and his attempts to restore innocence back to the land. He must also face that time has passed, thus leaving him a pariah, and engages in some rather interesting reflections on his past, that make him a rather complex protagonist.

Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone are great as Katara and Sokka, providing charming and often humorous depictions of the characters while presenting a great chemistry on-screen. When Shyamalan finally delivers in the action realm, it’s striking to watch and he really does understand the art form behind the ability that the animated series tried to convey. You have to give Shyamalan credit for enlisting action scenes that aren’t filled with quick edits and are filmed on one continuous shot. “The Last Airbender” is a thrilling invoking of the series with some wonderful set pieces, and compelling moments of character drama, I think with a sequel, Shyamalan can improve and offer up something even better now that he’s set all the pieces in place and is on the verge of introducing the series most despicable villain.

Shyamalan commits one of the worst errors any film director can commit these days. He ends the film on an open ended scene that indicates this film is not just one installment, but merely a buffer for the introduction of the next film. These franchises (or attempted franchises) have a truly nasty habit of leaving the door open for a sequel when there is not a guarantee we’ll ever see one (“The Losers” I’m looking at you), and it’s flat out insulting for the director to give us a film and then insists that it’s still incomplete and we’ll have to venture out to theaters to see how it continues. Was there really a need for the final scene of “The Last Airbender” when it could have been placed before Aang’s donning of the Avatar title before the people of the village? And will anyone even know who the character that’s introduced in the final scene is? Will they even care? Why should they care?

When Shyamalan isn’t flat out leaving his viewing audience hanging on for a sequel that may or may not be coming any time soon, he introduces us to endless expository sequences and droning back stories, all the while offering up little movement and story progression in the process. Shyamalan has considerably little time to squeeze in many of the series interesting plot elements and twists and tries his hardest to factor in all of the plot twists as possible including Zuko’s unusual rescue of Aang, and Sokka’s romance with a princess that Shyamalan only hands two or three scenes of obligatory flirting to and then expects us to feel remorse when she dies later on in the film. The on the nose narration is also completely unnecessary and sloppy to boot considering not even the show had that much narration. It scored only an opening introduction and most of the episodes were told with fantastic writing, while Shyamalan just feels as if he has to do the work for us and have heroine Katara point out every single big event while handing us montages that do little to suck us in to the characterization.

Shyamalan should have spent much less time nodding to the series and just told the stories on his own speed including the most crucial developments and stowing the insignificant sub-plots to the wayside. With that change, “The Last Airbender” would have been a tighter and better written fantasy epic that isn’t so reliant on the memories of its collective fanbase. I do not see “The Last Airbender” becoming the next box office busting fantasy franchise any time soon, but for what it promises in the way of thrills and entertainment “The Last Airbender” is a respectable adaptation, with some surprises, a fine manifestation of the powers that the series initially revolved around, and a top notch cast. Is it flawed? Yes. Is it a masterpiece? Oh god no, but… I’m intrigued to see where the next film goes.

  • Erin

    did you watch the same movie I did? This is the worst adaptation of a TV series ever.

  • Kevin Hill

    It seems like you’re joking or have been bribed or something. I’ve heard better dialog on PBS. Why the Hell did they have to dance sol long to do so little? WHYYY can’t firebenders make thier own fire? I took my 11 year old nephew to see this steaming pile and he was furious. We had more fun after we walked out warning the people in line.

    • FlixtheCat

      Yeah, the studios bribed me! They gave me two Lamborghini, a spa day in California, and the chance to go golfing with M. Night Shyamalan! Muahaha!

  • Ontinashi

    This movie is so great right, the way they mispronounce the names, and how no one ever seems to have any emotion what so ever when they talk oh and lets not even get started at how screwed up the different nations nationalities are.

    Then there is all that awkward dancing to bend almost nothing even though in the show Katara has a water bending scroll which shows that they needed very minimal movement to do what they did.

    We could also just go back to the very. First. Episode. Where she breaks a piece of iceberg away just by throwing her fists downwards. I don’t think I saw any tap dancing, maybe a foot stomp.

  • Stephanie Nguyen

    I was done at 20 minutes, let alone waiting to see where the next movie goes. The quality of CGI was high, but the way it was done was terrible. This movie wasn’t just flawed, it was an utter flop. The only reason I watched the rest of the movie was because it was on Netflix, and I thought, “why not?”. I thought I was just too young to enjoy the movie 5 years ago, but no, it was seriously just a terrible movie. Sorry for the rant, I just needed to vent.

  • carlotta4th

    I disagree with so much of your review, but will focus on this particular statement:

    “Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone are great as Katara and Sokka,
    providing charming and often humorous depictions of the characters while
    presenting a great chemistry on-screen.”

    Again, one of many points I disagree with in your review but the only thing humorous about their character depictions was how terrible they were. Nicola Peltz had absolutely ZERO believability as the “sometimes overly motherly but fierce, protective, and loyal” Katara, and instead came across as “Oh yeesh–another terrible child actor.” Now to be fair, all of the actors in this film suffered so to a certain extent it may have been the directing choices sucking out any life or energy the film might have had, but Peltz was easily the most frustrating to watch and the least believable character. And not even just as Katara, but as ANY character at all since the acting was just so bad. Rathborne was joyless (when his character is supposed to be jokes and cleverness personified) and whoever played Aang would have benefitted tremendously from the director just letting him smile and be his normal self. See, the actor behind the scenes looks like Aang (a goofball who is uncomfortable taking the weight of the world on his shoulders) but movie “Ahng” is a freaking tormented, doubty, serious and somber fellow.

    In short there was no chemistry and little to no actual acting. But the movie did put in a lot of overly serious people talking plot and exposition the whole time. It sure would sure have been nice to get to know just one of them.

    • FlixtheCat

      Yeah, well that’s like your opinion man.

      • Blue Sky

        Yeah, well thats’s like quite obvious man.

        • FlixtheCat

          Right on, man! Right on!

  • Anthony Kevin

    Sure, go ahead and choose “fresh” on rotten tomatoes for a movie that won 5 Razzie awards with 4 more nominations.

    • FlixtheCat

      Thanks! I did just that.

  • Blue Sky

    This movie was so terrible I couldn’t watch more then 5 min and that’s saying something because I actually enjoy movies that are considered bad by critics and fans…not being able to watch a movie because it was so bad never happened to me.