In no way do I consider myself a cynic or skeptic when I
sit down in a theater to take in a film. I want the best
experience possible. I want the movie to be good, maybe
even surprise me and be better than good. That being said,
it really saddens me on many levels to report that the worst
movie of the year (so far) is here.
M. Night Shyamalan’s streak of recent flops and misfires
weren’t enough, he had to go and make this mess. Now,
I knew going in that Shyamalan had the odds stacked against
him, which is a shame since I was among the few who still
had an interest in his work. I hadn’t given up on
this writer and director who had at least attempted in the
past to deliver unique, interesting and thought-provoking
Maybe he thought that putting off any original work and
tackling a much beloved cult animated series would guarantee
a sure thing. If that’s true, he’ll find out
just how wrong that line of thinking is during opening weekend
of this disaster. Brace yourself M. Night, this will be
the worst weekend of your life.
If Shyamalan and the producers of this film had any respect
for or inspiration from the source material, you just won’t
find it in this big screen adaptation. The Nickelodeon series,
Avatar: The Last Airbender is a colorful, charming
and clever adventure series built like an ancient fable
set in the future with an attractive fun and funny tone
none of that can be found here. Instead, they give us a
boring and bland movie that is both visually and thematically
dark. No amount of fancy special effects here can ensure
the fun and thrills that should come with it. When the action
sequences are not repetitive, then they’re indecipherable.
many of you, I often wind up lifting up the 3D glasses while
watching the film to see just how different the screen is
without the third dimension.
Most of that has to do with the annoying 3D that was slapped
on this 2D film in post-production. That should sound familiar.
Shyamalan and Paramount clearly wanted to ride the slap-on
3D wave that earned box-office success for Alice in
Wonderland and Clash of the Titans earlier
in this case what I saw on-screen was brighter and more
clear than it was with the glasses on. In fact, the colorful
and vivid TV spots you see actually look cool, nothing like
the dark and unidentifiable 3D that brings this beloved
series to a live action blur. They might as well hand out
night vision goggles at the theater instead.
Describing the story might make it sound more interesting
than what you’ll witness on-screen. Three nations
representing natural elements, Air, Water, and Earth, are
under attack by the evil Fire Nation after centuries without
their Avatar, a being that would bring peace and hope to
young siblings from the Southern Water Tribe, Katara (Nicola
Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) happen upon a young
boy frozen in an iceberg. Katara frees him and they soon
learn his name is Aang (Noah Ringer) and he is a monk. They
befriend the bewildered boy and learn he has amazing “bending”
abilities, the power to harness natural elements at will.
All three discover he is the last Avatar that all have been
waiting for, and as Aang practices these powers, he discovers
his purpose is to unite the four forces to get ready for
the Fire Nation.
The Fire Nation has its own problems, though, with all their
bickering and shouting, the least of which is banal dialogue.
Led by Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) and enforced by Admiral
Zhao (Aasif Mandvii of The Daily Show), who leads
an armada of enormous steel battleships that have an indistinguishable
unclear why Ozai’s perpetually angry son, Prince Zuko
(Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire), is disgraced
and feels that capturing Aang would restore his reputation.
It’s also unclear what that reputation was to begin
with. These three actors have proven themselves to be talented
in previous work, but Shyalaman gives them one emotion to
work with, anger, and provides them with a script with stiff
exposition lines that no one can breathe live into.
Zuko would do well to listen to his patient and wise uncle,
Iroh (Shaun Toub), who acts as a surrogate father. In the
animated series, this character injects lively humor balanced
with sage wisdom. Here, he comes across like a hybrid of
Gandalf and Mr. Miyagi, helping out wherever he can. He’s
yet another stock character in this film that feels like
so many others we’ve seen before.
Usually an actor can rise above vapid material or can stand
out as the best part of an awful film. There’s no
one like that here as we see the entire ensemble cast caught
up in Shyamalan’s net of incoherence. Amid the crude
delivery of over-the-top intensity that steadily drag the
film down are droning monologues and generic reactions that
Avatar, Ringer has a believable physical presence yet his
work put me to sleep and made me hope that the film’s
title is true. Jake Lloyd’s work in The Phantom
Menace is like Daniel Day-Lewis compared to this kid.
Why am I so harsh on a child actor? Well, he is the title
character and if the title character doesn’t absorb
or interest an audience, then what hope does the movie have?
The Last Airbender is final proof that is Shyamalan
is lost and creatively deflated. Up till now, viewers could
pick up on the style of M. Night Shyamalan in his films.
Here, the film centers so much on spastic acrobatics, rote
dialogue and fuzzy visuals, that it really could’ve
been directed by anyone. Shayamalan has jettisoned the appeal
intact in the series, resulting in a boring waster of time.
It’s such a let down since the series is so much fun.
Shyamalan isn’t the only one to blame for this cinematic
travesty. Producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy
should have known better. After all, they were involved
in such classics as Raiders of the Lost Ark and
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as well as the Jason
Bourne movies. Where were they in the making of this film?
How could they even condone removing anything that is endearing
and enjoyable in the series and give this lazy feature to
fans? That’s insulting.
Shayamalan will take the fall for this failure. Although
he already has more films in the pipeline, I would be amazed
if anyone showed even a slight interest in them.
It’s hard to believe that the title was changed to
distance itself from James Cameron’s last film. As
if it would make any difference whatsoever. Cameron’s
achievement seems like the greatest film ever compared to
this. The final scene, hinting at a sequel that would adapt
more of the series, is the final insult.
please….no more, just quit while you're behind.
review also appears on David's own website,
Keeping It Reel.)