Review: The Last Airbender   

Noah Parker as Aang in THE LAST AIRBENDER.

I’m easy. (Hey now!) Notoriously easy, in fact. I liked Transformers 2 for God’s sake! And you don’t have to search very hard to find out just how much I love Avatar: The Last Airbender. AND I’ve never gotten all the M. Night Shyamalan hate. If ever there was someone you’d expect to enjoy The Last Airbender, it’d be me.

Alas, for the first time in a long time, I walked away from a movie disheartened and disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it deserves the panning it’s probably going to get. It’s not a horrible movie by any means. I just don’t think it’s a particularly good one either. And, as an adaptation of a show I love dearly? It fails in almost every way. Honestly, while there will be plenty of people who like the movie, I’m not entirely sure who is going to love it. Which may be where M. Night Shyamalan’s biggest fault lies, who exactly did he see as the audience for this movie?

As the credits rolled, I was reminded of this Eclipse review on HitFix. Ignoring for a moment how perfectly Drew captures my feelings on that “saga,” I’ll admit that perhaps people who have read the books are able to enjoy the movies on a different level because they’ve seen how the story unfolds in its entirety. They’re literally filling in the gaps as they watch. The Harry Potter movies seem to suffer from the same problem. I know a lot of people who have not read the books who find the movies tedious because they tried so hard to work in key scenes from the books that it ends up dragging down the central story. In both cases, the movie makers are catering more to their built-in audience, the readers of the original works, than the audience that will only see the movies.

The Last Airbender suffers from a bit of the same problem. Shyamalan gives us absolutely no reason to care about these characters. The best part of the movie comes at the end, where we get to see the moment at the root of Aang’s shame. You finally have get a sense for the weight of responsibility on Aang’s shoulders and how young he was when it was placed there. And all it took was flashbacks to when Aang was just another carefree child. What’s most disappointing about those scenes is that it was immediately evident Noah Ringer could have pulled the joyful Aang as seen in the show. The Aang that refuses to be serious about much until he can no longer ignore the consequences of his running away. Instead, we never really know what Aang’s feeling. We see his anguish at finding the ruins of his Temple but it’s a shallow sorrow.

Dev Patel as Prince Zuko in THE LAST AIRBENDER.Sadly this is true for almost every other character in the movie. With so little time spent developing the characters, I can’t imagine what people who haven’t seen the show will find to like about any of them. With the possible exception of Zuko. I don’t know if the credit for that belongs to Dev Patel of if it’s just because Zuko’s story takes place separately from Aang’s and is fairly simple. Either way, if I hadn’t gone in knowing Katara and Sokka’s stories, I’d say they were just there to wake up Aang. Seriously. Ask anyone coming out of that movie if they realize just how much her mother’s death affects Katara? Or if their father is even still alive. These are HUGE factors in the decisions these characters make and the movie barely mentions them.

The thing is, even though only fans of the show will be able to connect with these characters, this movie isn’t for fans of the show. Well, not any of the fans I’ve ever met. The world building is stunning. Truly the one compliment I can give the movie is how well it brings to life the world of the show. The effects on the various types of element bending are fantastic. I’ll see the other movies for that alone. (Though I can’t say I’ll feel the need to see them in a theater.) But the tone of the movie is such a far cry from the show that it’s laughable. And not in a good way. Because, see, the show understands the importance of laughter. The show’s heart lies in its comic lightness.

In the end, that’s what I felt was missing from the movie. Heart. There are no scenes showing the love between Aang and Appa. Sokka tells us that he’d give his life for his sister but we’re shown very little proof of their sibling bond. Hell, we’re shown very little of the relationship between any of them. Which you know kills me as my favorite part of the show is the friendship between Aang, Katara, and Sokka (and others in Books 2 & 3). Well, that and how Momo loves to annoy Sokka (also NOT in the movie!). Again, the only relationships that really get any play are the ones between Uncle Iroh and Zuko and Zuko and Zhao (and, by extension, his father). Disappointing to say the least.

Oh and nothing in the movie made me feel any better about the casting choices. Noah Parker looks a lot like the animated version of Aang but, until the end of the movie, he never felt like Aang. Dev Patel, Cliff Curtis, and Aasif Mandvi were about the only actors I actually bought in their respective roles. Nicola Peltz as Katara in THE LAST AIRBENDER.Neither Aasif or Dev look like their animated counterparts but I quickly forgot that. Which is way more than I can say for Shaun Toub as Uncle Iroh. He’s a good actor and I liked the character he played… But that character was not Iroh. Nicola Peltz is not dark enough to be Katara by any means but her real weakness lies in her inability to emote in a voiceover. A problem both because Shyamalan relies on her to deliver a fair amount of exposition that way and because it’s the one direct comparison we can make to the show. As for diversity, there’s plenty of it in the movie but I’ve come around to the view in this Floating World post. Given how much diversity there is in the rest of the cast, it is downright shameful how caucasian they made the main cast.

But my biggest gripe? They kept mispronouncing the character names! Instead of Aang, several of the characters kept saying Awng. At one point, when Katara is trying to talk to Aang while he’s in the Spirit World, I actually said, “Maybe if you’d say his name right, he’d snap out of it.” Look, when you adapt a book for the big screen, I can understand a name being said differently than I might have pronounced it. This is not a book. It’s a TV show. A show that lasted three seasons. A show that I’m sure Shyamalan had to watch before writing and directing his crappy version of it. And yet he let half of his cast say the main character’s name wrong throughout the entire thing? Ridiculous. And don’t even get me started on how she pronounced “avatar.” GRRRRR.

The Last Airbender in a word? Disappointing.

3 Responses to “Review: The Last Airbender”

  1. 1
    Polter-Cow says:

    Yeah. If even YOU didn’t like it, I don’t think I need to see it in the theatre. It sounds like it would just annoy me.

  2. 2
    Jody says:

    Yep, yep, and yep. You’ve pretty much covered it all here. Not an awful movie, but a pretty bad representation of the show.

    I showed a friend the just pilot episodes of the show, and when we came out of the movie the first thing she said was “they totally lost all the humour and magic of the show’. And despite not loving the movie she still wants to watch the rest of the show.

    The mispronounced names drove me INSANE!

  3. 3

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