M. Night Shymalagong came to mainstream recognition through his work on The Sixth Sense, which he both wrote and directed. It was nominated for several Academy Awards including: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Oops, excuse me, before I continue on with this review, I must correct myself — I’ve been informed that his last name is actually “Shyamalan,” darn, I can never remember that name correctly. But moving on, M. Night, though once very promising, has withered in a complete mockery with films such as Lady in the Water and The Village (I won’t include The Happening in this because, though critically-panned, I found it a semi-enjoyable romp — excluding the ending.) But this summer has brought another stinker for Shyamalan’s filmography and it goes by the name of The Last Airbender.
Originally called Avatar: The Last Airbender, but facing a name change to stop confusion with another “small” motion picture which racked in a “modest” amount of cash (I think the movie was called Avatar and I’m pretty sure it was directed by James Cameron), The Last Airbender, which sports a cast of mostly amateur child actors, fails on all fronts — writing, direction, and of course, performances (but this is to be expected).
The film starts by introducing the audience to a future world. In it, Earth is split into four kingdoms — Water, Fire, Earth, and Air — which are so named after the element that they harness. All are watched by the protecting eye of the Avatar, a person who has the ability to “bend” or control all of these elements; whereas regular kingdom benders can only control the one specific element to which they are born into. However, times of prosperity and peace quickly ended when the young Avatar disappeared from the face of the planet giving rise to the power-hungry Fire nation to start a war for world domination.
Fast forward 100 years and we meet Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), siblings from a Water tribe in the south, who find a mysterious boy trapped under ice near their village. It turns out that the boy is named Aang (Noah Ringer), and he’s the Avatar that is destined to save the world from the entire Fire nation’s tyranny. However, during one of the trio’s raids to free enslaved towns from the nation’s control, Aang confesses that he ran away from his Avatar training before learning how to bend any elements besides his native Air element.
And so, the group goes on an adventure — armed with a giant flying yeti (or whatever it is, I’m not really sure) — Katara, Sokka, and Aang go to the northern Water tribe to learn from the masters who to bend the Water element, however, things are not smooth sailing as the Fire nation quickly catches onto the team’s efforts and tries to stop them.
My first complaint is the 3D aspect of the movie. Although, The Last Airbender was initially shot in regular 2D format, it was agreed that the film be converted for 3D. This was a major miscalculation. The film is already one of the worst to come out this year, but to add a hefty price tag for admission is just unforgiveable. Like Clash of the Titans since the conversion to 3D was done post-filming, the effects are not as robust as say, Avatar or Alice in Wonderland. In fact, they’re absolutely non-existent. This just proves that M. Night just saw the animated series as shameless cash-in (I suppose he needs another million-dollar home).
Now I’ve only seen a couple episodes of the Nickelodeon show on television, but surprisingly they were enough to point out some major missteps in the big-screen version. Aside from the cultural miscasts that all of the major critics are ranting about, there is also the fact that all of the character’s names are severely mispronounced. It’s simply embarrassing that a non-fan of the show, such as myself, noticed something that even M. Night failed to catch on about (of course, maybe he just didn’t care to do anything about it).
Another thing that got my panties in a bunch came pretty soon into the film. In one scene, Katara practices her water bending and accidently dumps a ball of water on Sokka. “Hey, you got me wet,” Sokka shouts, but on-screen, he appears visibly dry. Now even though the special effects aren’t that great (though there are a couple of decent set-pieces), it’s common sense that a bucket of water costs much less than computer generated images, so would it have killed M. Night to reshoot this scene so that Sokka actually got wet? Secondly, for some reason, fire did not burn anyone; it either bounced off of them or it just disintegrated as it hit a surface (most commonly a body). Once again, common sense M. Night — for the sake of my patience and also your career (which I don’t believe you care about anymore).
I could write 40 pages about why The Last Airbender sucked, but I don’t want to induce as much boredom as the film itself did, so I’ll cut my rant short and commence to talk about the extremely wooden performances by the film’s entire cast. Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, and Jackson Rathbone (who just looks fucking stupid) were pretty much expected to be horrible as they have no real acting experience and they indeed delivered such mediocrity. There is no chemistry between these characters, and though this is partially due to a horrible screenplay, the actors themselves seem to have no more than one facial expression.
But why M. Night hired Dev Patel is beyond me. This man needs to stay away from everything besides Indian game shows and “Skins.” He looks nothing like his character (Prince Zuko — a disowned Fire nation leader who is hell-bent on capturing Aang) though in his defense, nobody really does. Also, why the hell is the entire Fire nation of Middle Eastern descent? I certainly don’t remember this from the animated series.
The last nails in M. Night’s coffin are the incredibly slow-moving action sequences. It’s simply surprising to see these sequences fail and even become progressively worse as the film progresses. Usually action scenes are the easiest ways of getting an audience’s attention, but in The Last Airbender these do quite the opposite and offer no saving grace for this stinker.
M. Night Shyamalan is the anti-Avatar of filmmaking. He fails at every element of sculpturing a great piece of cinema and this is why many should avoid his movies at all cost from this point forward (sorry to the cast of the film’s expected sequel — which is, sadly, set up for at the end of The Last Airbender).