The Last Airbender
Review by Jack Foley
M NIGHT Shyamalan remains one of the most interesting filmmakers of the moment… but not necessarily for good reasons.
Having wowed everyone with his debut The Sixth Sense and followed it up with the likes of Unbreakable, Signs and The Village, his career then began to hit the skids with The Lady In The Water before being blown away (almost literally) by the folly that was The Happening.
The Last Airbender, his latest, marks the first time Shyamalan is directing from someone else’s material, but was critically lambasted upon release in the States.
That it made a respectable $40 million on its opening weekend probably had more to do with its built-in fan-base (who had previously tuned into Nickelodeon’s animated series) rather than any lasting sense of loyalty among the director’s own fans.
But now that it’s arrived in UK cinemas, it’s hard to know why the movie was able to make even that much.
The Last Airbender is a borderline pretentious, unintentionally hilarious attempt to kick-start a franchise that really shouldn’t be indulged.
Unfolding as Book One: Water, the film picks up as two young water-benders named Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, of Twilight fame) discover a young boy named Aang (Noah Ringer) in the ice, who turns out to be a returning avatar.
The avatar in question has long been prophesised, yet owing to his difficult past (100 years ago), has yet to master the ability to bend all four elements (fire, water, earth, air) and bring peace across the Four Nations.
He’s therefore pursued by the ruling Fire Nation, as well as their renegade prince (Dev Patel), who has his own reasons for settling a score with Aang.
Given that Shyamalan establishes from the outset that The Last Airbender is the first in a planned series of movies, it’s little wonder that this first instalment unfolds like a scene-setting opening chapter. Hence, there’s no real sense of closure or peril.
But what really undoes the movie is the irredeemably bad script, which foolishly attempts to marry elements of Asian (Inuit) culture with Buddhist traditions, Hong Kong martial arts movies and Hollywood blockbuster elements borrowed from Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
Hence, when audiences aren’t sniggering at laugh out loud lines like “she’s a bender”, they may be scratching their heads or yawning through pointless exposition about people’s place in the world, or the need to keep the various elements working in harmony.
This, in turn, should fly over the heads of its target audience, while sending their older guardians to sleep. The martial arts element, meanwhile, is poorly delivered and inhibited by shoddy CGI and a restrictive PG certificate.
The 3D, on the other hand, feels like an after-thought and another attempt by a big studio to rake in some extra bucks.
That leaves the performers to flounder amid the elements, with the likes of Rathbone, Patel and Ringer made to look particularly wooden at all times. Put simply, with so many external factors conspiring against them, their plight simply becomes arduous and not in the least bit interesting.
A final sequence that sets things up [presumptuously] for a second movie merely feels like a slap in the face to anyone who’s made it that far. It remains to be seen where Shyamalan goes from here… suffice it to say that we hope not into Book Two!
Running time: 90mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: December 13, 2010
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- M Night Shyamalan interview
- Dev Patel interview
- Jackson Rathbone interview