THE LAST AIRBENDER
*1/2 (out of 5)
July 1, 2010
Noah Ringer as AANG
Dev Patel as PRINCE ZUKO
Nicola Peltz as KATARA
Jackson Rathbone as SOKKA
Shaun Toub as UNCLE IROH
Aasif Mandvi as COMMANDER ZHAO
Cliff Curtis as FIRE LORD OZAI
Seychelle Gabriel as PRINCESS YUE
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
It has been a long, long time since I have been as disappointed with a movie to the degree I was with M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender.” First of all, I’m a huge fan of Shyamalan’s films… well, everything except “Unbreakable,” that is. I even like his crappy ones, like “Lady in the Water” and “The Happening.” Even “The Village” has its merits, as far as I’m concerned.
But when he left twist endings and “Twilight Zone” style stories behind to do a big screen, live action adaptation of the brilliant cartoon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” he truly rose to his own level of incompetence.
The original series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is inspiring, beautifully animated, exciting, humorous and has tons of heart. All of that is missing in Shyamalan’s film. The story’s basically the same, mirroring the first season (or Book I) of the series. Aang is an airbender, a person who can control the element of air. But he is also the Avatar, the savior who can control all four elements: air, water, earth and fire.
After being buried in the ice for a hundred years, Aang is discovered by two kids of a waterbender tribe. They release him, and he helps them defend their land against the ruthless Fire Nation that has set its sights on taking over the world.
“The Last Airbender” is doomed from the script stage, featuring godawful dialogue that sounds like it was plucked from a 1960s-era Stan Lee comic book. The kids-oriented original cartoon doesn’t have the stilted language or the awkward delivery we see in the film. Perhaps in the hands of better actors, it could have been bearable. But there really aren’t any good actors here.
It becomes apparent with “The Last Airbender” that Shyamalan doesn’t necessarily direct actors as much as allow them to play their stock character in his movies. This is why people like Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Haley Joel Osmet, Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Paul Giamatti and even the scenery-chewing Mark Wahlberg come off decent in his movies.
But with “The Last Airbender,” this is some of the worst acting you’re going to see on the silver screen in 2010. And that’s saying something, considering this film is opening against the perfect storm of bad acting from Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”
“The Last Airbender” drags and rushes at the same time. It crams story elements that took the whole season on the series to develop, yet it plods along with seemingly pointless and redundant scenes. All the parts you’d expect from a fine production are there, but there’s no passion behind the movie.
I many ways, this film reminds me of the travesty that was Gus Van Sant’s remake of “Psycho.” He hit all the beats from Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but he did so in the worst ways. Such is the case with Shyamalan’s adaptation of this charming cartoon. It’s actually quite depressing when you watch it.
I will give the film some credit. The production design is cool, and it does emulate very faithfully the look of the series. It’s also got a few – and I mean only a few – neat 3D effects. It’s too bad these all come in the credit sequence. Again, this is saying a lot coming from me because you won’t find a bigger supporter of the current 3D explosion… yet Shyamalan squanders that away.
Sadly, it seems that Shyamalan is channeling George Lucas et al from “The Phantom Menace.” It’s as if he saw that movie’s aimless story, uninspired action and tour-de-force of Anakin Skywalker bad acting and said, “Hey, let’s do that with this movie!”