"The Last Airbender" Movie Review
M. Night Shyamalan, the writer-producer-director of “The Last Airbender,” made a huge Hollywood splash in 1999 with the unforgettable “The Sixth Sense.” But since then, I’ve been wondering if the multi-hyphenate peaked too soon.
The quality of his films has been spiraling downwards culminating with his back-to-back head-scratching flicks “Lady in the Water” and “The Happening.” With “The Last Airbender,” I seriously doubt he will regain the auteur status he so deservingly received with the success of “The Sixth Sense.”
Based on the popular Nickelodeon series called “Avatar: The Last Airbender” created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the film is the first of the planned trilogy about a mystical world where people can control the elements namely Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. This is the first movie that Shyamalan adapted from a famous source.
We learn that the Fire Nation is hell-bent on world domination and has been enslaving the Water, Earth, and Air nations. But there’s a chosen one and his name is Aang (played by newcomer Noah Ringer). He’s a young successor to a long line of Avatars, the only one who can control all the elements and can communicate with the spirits.
Aang has been missing for a century and in his absence, all hell breaks loose. The Fire Nation, headed by the Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) launches a brutal war against the others. Upon waking up from a deep slumber, Aang teams with Katara (Nicola Peltz), a Waterbender, and her brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone who plays Jasper Hale in the “Twilight” films), to restore peace in their war-torn world.
Written, produced, and directed by Shyamalan, “The Last Airbender” is poorly developed and executed. In order for this type of film to work, it must be constructed as a large epic. Clearly, Shyamalan does not have an epic eye, resorting to minimal camera set-ups when a scene calls for a grand vision.
There is one battle sequence in the film when Aang and company visit the Earth Nation. It’s a big battle scene that’s wasted because Shyamalan insisted on using one-camera set-up instead of multiple angles to pull us right into the excitement. The director was adamant in telling the story rather than showing it.
Trying to add tension is “Slumdog Millionaire’s” Dev Patel as Prince Zuko, the banished prince of the Fire Nation. There is an interesting angle to his storyline that Shyamalan failed to develop.
Most of the actors go through their lines like it’s a high school play except for Shaun Toub as Prince Zuko’s Uncle Iroh. He’s one of the few shining stars of the movie. Another saving grace is the film’s look. The color contrast of the different nations (red for fire, blue for water) is dazzling to the eyes.
You may want to see the film in 3-D for the sole purpose of its visuals. True to Shyamalan fashion, he saved the best for last. There is a mind-bending sequence near the end that you wished the director incorporated throughout the entire film.
I am still trying to figure out who the film’s audience is. Young kids will get bored, while the older crowd may fall asleep. Only few Shyamalan believers and die-hard “Airbender” fans may stay awake throughout the movie. At least the director, famous for making cameos in his films, did not appear in the movie.
But after all that’s said and done, the film made me interested to find out the next chapter. It’s a curious reaction to a poorly developed yet visually appealing film.
There is one probing tidbit to report about the movie. The Fire Nation, the traditional villain of the film, is played by Indian actors. I was wondering what Shyamalan, who was born in India, was thinking when he made this casting decision. Was he trying to exorcise his own personal demons?
RATING: “THE LAST AIRBENDER” 2 KISSES
Country: United States
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