The Last Airbender is not as bad as people make it out to be. In fact, I quite enjoyed it.
That said, I did have lower than low expectations for the film (given it recorded an abysmal 6% at Rotten Tomatoes), and perhaps more importantly, I have never seen the popular cartoon series on which the film is based. Keeping that in mind, I think writer and director M Night Shyamalan did a pretty decent job (and let’s face it, he had an extremely difficult job) in creating a ‘kids film’ that is, for the most part, entertaining and enjoyable.
The Last Airbender dropped the word ‘Avatar’ from its title because of that highest grossing film of all time. It’s set in a fantasy land where people are born with the natural ability to ‘bend’ one of the four elements — earth, fire, wind and water. Kind of like Captain Planet (he’s a hero, gonna take pollution down to zero). However, there is only one person in the world that has the ability to bend all four elements, and that’s the Avatar.
Naturally, for a bunch of reasons, the tribes of the various elements are at war, largely thanks to the ambitious Fire Nation people. Conveniently, the Avatar reappears, seeking to restore balance to the world with the aid of his friends from the Water tribes and a big flying animal that reminds me of The Neverending Story.
So yes, the idea and the story is actually pretty cool. There’s an obvious Asian influence with all that martial arts and those taichi-like moves they do to ‘bend’ stuff. The battle scenes are grand and reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings (or perhaps, more accurately, Narnia). The special effects were genuinely excellent. In terms of aesthetics, The Last Airbender is solid.
But of course, the film fails in a few other key departments. It squeezes a ridiculous amount of stuff into 103 minutes, and as a result, the story jumps all over the place and is rarely coherent. You just have to go for the ride and accept all the things that suddenly pop out of nowhere for the sake of progressing the story.
And the acting…poor Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire does all that he can to bring out the character of Zuko, and he’s by far the best of the youngsters despite some awkward lines. Katara, played Nicola Peltz, received high praise from Shyamalan but didn’t feel like anything particularly special. Her brother Sokka, played by Twilight‘s Jackson Rathbone, was, well, a bit on the stiff side, though to be fair he wasn’t given a whole lot to work with. However, it is the strange kid with the constantly flaring nostrils, Noah Ringer, who plays the Avatar, that fails to deliver any semblance of real emotion whatsoever. It’s his first acting role, so he deserves a break, but if he’s going to be in the sequels he’ll need to work on his performance.
Look, The Last Airbender was never going to be a great movie. M Night Shyamalan has been absolutely caned over his last few movie-making attempts (in my opinion not all deserved) and he was always going to be on the back foot defending himself from critics. The complex story required so much explaining that it was always going to be an uphill battle to begin with. Taking all of that into account, I think things could have been a lot worse. For all its flaws, it still has an interesting concept, great fight scenes and terrific special effects. I certainly think it’s significant better than Dragonball: Evolution.
The film is actually only the first of three parts, and from what I understand, Shyamalan has already done a rough script of the second film. If they make it, I’ll watch it.
3 stars out of 5
PS: So glad I watched the 2D version and not the 3D crap (which I hear added nothing). We had a choice of a 2D and 3D session and went with 2D, even though that meant we had to sit in the fourth row. And get this — we went on cheapo Tuesday which has $10.50 tickets (that’s supposed to be cheap?), but for 3D films there’s conveniently no discount. And guess how much each ticket would have cost if we watched the 3D version? $24.50! That’s just insane, and another reason to hate 3D.