Movie Review – The Last Airbender (2010)

Director: M. Knight Shyamalan

Stars: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis, Seychelle Gabriel

Based on the amazing animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the film adapts the first season of the show in which Aang, the last survivor of a race of air nomads and the avatar, of the four elements, is found after being frozen for 100 years. In an effort to learn water bending, he and his new friends Katara and Sokka travel to the Northern Water Tribe with the Fire Nation hot on their heels (pun intended).

So Avatar is one of my favourite tv shows of all time. I could go on for ages about how much I love that show but I won’t do that here. This is to talk about the movie. Now, there was a big controversy about the casting and the white-washing of the characters, which I’m not going to go into here. What I will say about the cast is that the vast majority of them are poor.

The film is really disappointing, especially when compared with the quality of the show. I don’t know whose decision it was to truncate an entire season down into a movie that’s less than two hours, but it feels like a clip show has been put together. There’s clunky narration which skips over huge chunks of the story and there’s no chance for any depth to the characters. If I hadn’t already known the story from watching the show I would have had NO idea what was going on. There’s the loosest of narratives given but it’s just lacking so much and they would have been served better if they had just taken the basic concept and gone with a story that actually fit in 120 minutes.

But there’s more than that, there are some stylistic choices that just don’t work at all. The fights seem stilted, as does the dialogue, and there are attempts to create mystery and suspense that fail completely. For example, right at the end there’s a scene with the Fire Lord that is shot from over his shoulder, but we’ve already seen his face so there’s no tension there. There’s also the Blue Spirit, but the film crams so much in there’s no reason given as to why the Blue Spirit exists.

There are also glaring problems, like the Earth Nation prisoners being held in a prison made of…earth, and the Fire Nation only being able to manipulate fire, not able to generate it themselves (which is stupid given in the mythology of the show they got their power from dragons so it makes sense that they’d be able to generate it themselves). I’ve read comments where Shyamalan said that he watched the show with his daughter a lot and it’s amazing that he managed to make this such a misfire.

With the show, it’s clear that the creators care but I don’t get a sense of that from the film. The show had bags of heart and a really good sense of humour, yet it could be serious at times as well. The movie has no heart at all and it just feels like way to cash in on the show. It’s not even so bad it’s good, there’s just nothing that’s very good here. Avoid this one, especially if you like the show. I just hope that people weren’t turned off trying out the show because of this movie.

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