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The Almost Second to Last Airbender
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The Last Airbender, Save TwoThis week, I decided to see a movie so you wouldn’t have to. My wife and I got up early, because it’s cheaper, and headed to the local cinema. By the time I actually uttered the words, “Two for The Last Airbender,” I was well beyond second, third and fourth guessing this decision. Based on the American animated series that blends elements of Japanese and American styles of animation, the first installment of the planned trilogy lacks the heart of the source material.

Okay, just in case you that have never seen the animated show, here are a few things that may or may not help.

THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

Bender – a special person that has the ability to manipulate one of the four classic elements (Earth, Air, Fire or Water, but not heart. More on that later) using martial arts movements.

Avatar – a powerful bender that has the ability to manipulate all of the elements. There is only one Avatar at any time. Each Avatar is a reincarnation of the previous one. They are born into one of the four tribes of humans according to a cycle that relates to the seasons. The Avatar is responsible for maintaining balance between the four tribes of the world.

The human tribes – Human culture is divided into four tribes, according to the elements. The tribe’s element is the center of its culture. Occasionally there are people born into a tribe with the power to control or bend the element of their tribe.

THE FILM:

Aang (played by found-on-the-internet-martial-arts-phenom Noah Ringer), an airbender, finds out that he is the Avatar, or the spirit of the planet, manifest in human form (not a giant, blue, cat-reptile-thing from Pandora). This is too much for young Aang to take, so he decides to run away with his flying bison, Appa. The two are caught in a storm that activates a self-triggering defense mechanism called the Avatar State, freezing Aang and Appa in a state of suspended animation within a huge sphere of ice. One hundred years later, the movie begins.

The Last Airbender, follows season 1 (Book 1: Water) of the animated series. Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother, Sokka (Twilight’s Jackson Rathbone), of the Inuit-like Southern Water Tribe, stumble upon the previously mentioned huge sphere of ice while hunting. Katara and Sokka free Aang from the ice sphere and claim responsibility for him, for some reason, and take him to their village. This is where we are fed the entire back story, by a village elder. The elder makes a point to mention the heart of a warrior. [I was unable to keep myself from shouting “By your powers combined!”] Upon returning to their village with Aang, he surrenders to Prince Zuko (played by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dov Patel), son of Fire Lord Ozai. Zuko was banished and the only way to regain his honor is to capture the Avatar. Zuko is accompanied by Uncle Iroh (Shaun Taub – Iron Man’s Yinsen), a powerful firebender and former crown prince of the fire nation.

Of course, Aang escapes using his Airbending ability and his trusty glider staff (I want one). This is probably the best shot scene in the entire film.

Aang decides to make a quick stop by the Southern Air temple and with the help of the spirits he realizes that he is… wait for it… The Last Airbender. All of the other members of the Air Nomads were killed off by the Fire Lord, shortly after Aang’s disappearance.

Since Aang ran away, he never learned to bend the other elements. To fulfill his destiny, he must learn the elements in the proper order, which apparently means that he must learn water next. The three journey to the Northern Water Tribe to find a teacher for Aang. Along the way, they make a few stops to help spread the word that the Avatar has returned.

There’s a bit about the Spirits that give the waterbenders their power, but they just looked like koi to me. Something about the evil firebenders power increasing in three years upon the arrival of a comet, but this one had long since lost my interest.

Confused? So was the audience. Shyamalan (How the hell do you pronounce that anyway?) decided that rather than explain it more clearly, he would just distract the audience. Plot holes? Look! I have some nice effects. What do you mean is doesn’t make sense? Heyyy, effects made by ILM! Pay no attention to the fact that my “stars” deliver performances that make the voice-overs from the animated series sound like the latest Daniel Day Lewis offering.

The Last Airbender cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million to make and had an advertising budget of around $130 million. After the lack of commercial success of The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening, I’m surprised that Shyamalan received backing for his Airbender project. I doubt anyone will make that mistake again. Remember studio executives, “The Power is Yours!”

Do yourself a favor, skip this one. If you love the animated series, spend your money on the DVDs. If want to see a family adventure film, Toy Story 3 is the way to go. If you feel that you need to watch a Shyamalan film, watch The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable or Signs again and think of a time when Shyamalan could make a decent film and we didn’t know how much of an asshole Mel Gibson was.

How much would I pay to see this one again? Out of $10, $1 if I can’t sleep, or $2 if I’m having friends over, just so we can rip it apart.

Jay (J.C.) Fralick is the host of The Drivecast
The co-host of the Wanna Watch a Movie Podcast
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46 comments

  • Thanks for the review. This one will definitely not be on my list to watch unless I have copious amounts of intoxicants to make the film more pleasurable.

  • Buwaha “If you feel that you need to watch a Shyamalan film, watch The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable or Signs again and think of a time when Shyamalan could make a decent film and we didn’t know how much of an asshole Mel Gibson was.” That made me LOL. Fabulous review!

  • Too bad the movie does not approach the heart and spirt of the animated series. I watched a few of them with my kids and you know what? It was a good cartoon, and when I saw the previews for this movie I was like “Wow this may be good!” I have however heard several people speak about this movie and NO ONE likes it. What a disappointment, especially when the right ingredients were there to make it something spectacular. So sad…guess it’s time to watch Sixth Sense again and hope Shyamalan gets creative again soon. Thanks for the review.

  • The advertising almost had me sucked in. My son was watching the cartoon the other day and I thought for a split second that the movie might be worth it. Thanks for saving me the experience of watching a film abortion. BTW, the phonetic pronunciation of Shyamalan is: (MI-Philms-R-SHiT)

  • What a hilarious review!!!
    I’ll take your advise and stick to watching Mel Gibson’s older movies before we found out he was an asshole :-). I was just thinking of that this weekend while watching Ransom.

  • I am a huge fan of the animated series and I was fully prepared for The Movie to be different from the series but the directing was offensive. I wanted to leave after the first 15 min. Every character is flat. No personality. Why o Why was this project given to someone who does not even understand that the heart of the story is in the characters and their interaction with each other. The bending is just a bonus cool factor.

  • There hasn’t been a film that I WAS really excited for a long time. When I saw the first trailer, I wasn’t familiar with the animated series at the time. Then, one of my co-workers got me hooked on the series. I watched Book 1: Water straight through. I couldn’t believe how wonderful the show was and still is. I immediately thought how is he going to cram 20 episodes into one film? As it turned out, not so good at all. This film is atrocious. What makes it worse is that it could of been the next “Star Wars” of the younger generation. There was so much potential and it failed on every single level possible. I felt embarrassed for the actors. What’s even more disturbing is that Shyamalan didn’t see any fault within this film. He was so engulfed with his visions that he essentially became blind. I’m done ranting. Any who, great review. “By your powers combined!” That’s going to make me laugh throughout the day. Haha.

  • I agree with everyone above. I’m an insane lover of the cartoon, and while I had heard the movie was shit, from the ads it at least looked pretty… Little did I know inwas in for 2 hours of bitching about actors that can’t act, cameras that zoom in so close that it cuts off the actors head, bending that is more like dancing before anything happens, mispronounced names, and hardly any actual 3d effects after the first half hour (the previews had more and better 3d). Personally if I see the other three (if anyone is actually allowed to continue them) I won’t be paying for more of this shit (unless it’s a new director) and basically only will if I feel like bitching about something for a few hours (just like twilight).

  • I was really looking forward to seeing The Last Airbender, being a big fan of the series, but now that I’ve heard it sucks, I guess I’m not going to. Thank you for the review. I hate wasting my time on going to see movies that aren’t that good.

  • ” [I was unable to keep myself from shouting “By your powers combined!”] ”

    OMG !!! I’m not the only one that has a brain that automatically goes to Captain Planet, when the elements are said!

  • M Night’s gotta go. To say he dropped the ball on this adaptation, is probably the biggest understatement I’ve ever made. I really don’t think he understood what a strong fan base this franchise had, and how many fans he’s personally offended. At this point, even if they were to green light book 2, and even if they were to can Mr. Assclown for a better director and actual screenwriter, I don’t think they’ll be able to salvage what Night has tainted with book one’s poor casting, and story direction. The best we can hope for, and I admit, its a long shot, is a complete reboot similar to what “The Hulk” did a few years down the road. This is the most disappointed I’ve ever felt toward a film, and I pray its his last.

  • So I am apparently the only person on the internet who enjoyed this movie. I LOVE the series, and have been really, really excited about the movie for months. My husband and I went to see it on opening day.

    No, the acting isn’t stellar. Yes, there are things that got left out or changed a bit (there is a lot less humor in the movie than in the show, although they DID make a point to put some in). But to me, it felt like it got the heart right. The characters FELT like the characters to me, even if they didn’t LOOK like them. (And yes, I totally agree that the whole racebending issue needs to be brought into the spotlight.) In particular, I thought Dev Patel got Zuko down right. Yeah, he basically has one emotion through most of this film (angst) but it’s not til later on that most of Zuko’s character development takes place. Even Zuko’s uncle, who looked NOTHING like his animated counterpart, FELT like Iroh to me. I was very impressed that they pulled this off, being that I am usually a huge stickler for adaptations not changing ANYTHING.

    The bending was amazing. I even liked how they chose to slow the bending scenes down so you could better see/appreciate what was going on. And the costuming and sets? Absolutely incredible. I felt like that was exactly what the show was going for, but couldn’t do because once you animate 1000 details on an outfit, you then have to draw them for the rest of the show.

    Basically, the show is amazing and I would always recommend the show rather than the movie, but I thought that the movie was an acceptable adaptation. It put a smile on my face coming out of the theater. And I am looking forward to the next one, even if I’m the only one there.

  • It must be killing you way deep down in your heart of hearts to have to keep convincing yourself that this was an acceptable adaptation of the series. Nothing but the best of luck to you and your life of grand delusion, jules

  • Your crazy!!! Avatar: The Last Aibender ROCkED!!!! I LOVED IT!!! I’ve never seen the amine and knew no more than the trailer showed but I had NO problem following the plot.

  • I have to say that I am in total agreement with you on this one. I saw The Last Airbender last week and immediately regretted it. Though, it did give me much ammunition to tear it to shreds on RottenTomatoes.
    Oh, and was I the only one sent in to fits of nerd rage by the mispronouncing of various names?

  • This story sounds like a ginormous clusterf*&# of old material. Lion King meets Captain Planet meets Lord of the Rings meets Avatar. Plot holes and wooden acting…. is it even possible that it could be worse than Mark Wahlberg talking to house plants?

    Maybe M. Night Shyamalan’s career mirrors most of his films, and the twist at the end is that despite initial success, he actually sucks.

    But I’ve never written, adapted or directed a film, so what do I know!

  • I agree with Julie.

    I’ve read all the negative reviews, and they all make good points about the bad acting, the bad dialogue, the bad directing, the bad 3D, etc.

    I was really looking forward to this movie, and I wanted to see for myself if the critics’ vitriol was really warranted. Much of what they say is true, but there’s more to it than just hating on Shyamalan.

    I enjoyed the cinematography & special effects (I saw it in 2D, the way it was shot, rather than the 3D retrofit which never looks good).

    I liked the action scenes (I’m glad M. Night managed to squeeze in a sequence with the Blue Spirit, but I’m sad that the Kiyoshi Warriors were cut).

    I liked Noah Ringer’s performance (he managed to portray Aang quite well, despite the script and direction).

    I liked the changes to the name pronunciations (“Ang” and “Eye-ro” in the cartoon sound like English bastardizations to me; in any other language, Aang and Iroh would use short A and long E vowel sounds — even I know this, and I’m white!).

    I did not like the lack of character development (no sarcastic quips from Sokka, no romantic crush or student/teacher bonding between Aang & Katara, the relationship between Princess Yue and Sokka was “told” not “shown”, and on & on).

    As I tweeted yesterday, I hope the trilogy continues. My favorite character in the series, Toph the blind earthbender, appears in the second season and I really want to see her kicking ass on the big screen.

  • Here’s another example of the movie industry machine destroying a decent plotline for the sake of money – and have been called out! DUDE probably followed the plot by smoking WAY too much stuff beforehand, or was paid and a castmember or some such. Maybe “Key Grip”.
    The only good news is that reviewers that bring the machine to task get to make the next generation of MST3K some day…

  • Thanks for the warning. I still have to see it but I’ll wait for it on DVD. The really sad part is my 10 year old daughter picked out some of the same stuff. What to f**k up a great story M.K.S.

  • I’m sorry to hear that the movie is so bad. My kids were super excited about it because they belong to the same martial arts association as Noah Ringer.

  • The Movie Was A Hot Mess!! It Took Me Half of the Movie to Realize Who Uncle Was because HE Didn’t Look How He Supposed to!! He Supposed To Have Gray Hair, Not BLACK Hair With Gray Strands!! and Sokka Wasn’t Even Funny!!! He Was To effin Serious!! In the Movie He Was All Like, “Katara Dont Do This”, and, “Katara Dont Do That”. In the T.V Series He Was the Fucking Comic Relief!! but I do Agree That Effects Were Good but Damn It, I Didn’t Go See teh Film For the Bloody Effects! I Went To Go Watch The Fucking Awesomely Great Story Line That I Saw On the Television Series to BE Played Out On The Damn BIG Screen!! but Moving On From the First Book to the Second Book!! My Fav Charater, TOPH! is Coming in to the Story. and I Swear to BOB if he messes up Book Two, There Is Gonna Be Hell to Pay! and If Azula (Zuko’s Sister) Come In With Some Bad Assrey! I Will Kick M. Night Shamadoogan (WHAT EVER THE FUCK HIS NAME IS) In The Balls Soooo Hard, He Will Have to Go To The Hospital To Get Them Surgicaly Removed From His Throat!!

  • Yes, the choreography of this film was pretty cool. But, like @JayFralick said – this was only to distract you from the massively bad acting, directing and plot holes.

    It did make want to take Tai Chi, though. What, in fact, is Tai Chi?

    Love these reviews. Thanks for taking one for the team. I appreciate that you’re not just doing reviews on “good” movies, that you went to this one to find out for yourself just how much it sucked.

    Get me the DVD’s of the series, I’ll gladly watch to see what “could have been.”

  • Kid-sploitation? I like a bunch of the fantasy & comedy kid films, but if the story is shoddy and not even any real mythology to reference, then it’s just expensive eye candy from what I’m gathering here.

  • As a fan of the show, I wanted his head on a platter but not because I saw the movie and had my own list of grievances. No. They made the bone-headed decision to marginalize the cultures depicted in the cartoon. Oh wait, they cast people of colour but they merely populate the backgrounds or were villains. And as an Asian-American, it angered and saddened me. Hollywood missed an opportunity, yet again.

    I’ve heard people say that they will never watch the cartoon because the movie was so deplorably bad. I dislike speaking in absolutes but it would be a disservice to skip source material. The cartoon won a Peabody, a distinction that few animated programmes have done. Watch some of the show, it’s available on watch instantly on Netflix and realise there’s good dialogue, actual plot, strong female characters, and actual consequences. There’s a lot of humour but also moments of poignancy that resonate beautifully with the characters you come to know. Forget this hack-job piece of drivel and to those who paid their money and regret it, please don’t condemn an excellent show because of M. Night’s travesty.

  • Thanks for the info and review. We will probably still see it. Hubby’s a big fan of the series. Hopefully the special effects will make up for the acting and story lines.

  • Can we please declare a moratorium on making jokes about Shyamalan’s name? It’s a hacky joke that was run into the ground over ten years, it has the whiff of xenophobia about it and it’s a flawed premise. His name is easy to pronounce: shah-mah-lahn. Perfectly straightforward.

    Besides, he’s become such an awful filmmaker that there are plenty of other qualities to mock him for. The Happening anyone? Jesus that was excruciating.

  • Thanks for the insight into this movie. I was not real impressed with the clip I had previously viewed as well as did not know what the story line was really about. Now that I have read and been entertained by your review, I definately am giving this one the big pass.

  • Toph is the ONLY reason I’m considering watching the next one, assuming there is a next one. She made the series so much fun for me to watch.

    Like so many I loved the show. Once I got a hold of it I went through all 3 seasons in 3 days. I wish I had been able to watch it as a child.

    As I sat watching the movie, which I gave every chance to prove itself, I couldn’t help get the feeling of a beautiful bird trying to fly for the first time. Wings flapping, heart pounding with the exertion, barely getting off the ground into a glide only to be sucked into the engine of a jet. I felt the effort of the movie, the desperate pleas of birth. I felt them silenced just as quickly.

  • FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS NOT COMPLETELY SCREWED UP IN THIS WORLD, WE NEED TO STOP THIS PIECE OF CRAP!
    M. Night Shymalan could not have had an easier job, the source material was already written, and it was actually good. but NO, he had to go and do what he always does and make it better in his eyes (only so he can expanded the target demographic and in actuality cut out the majority of the original fans). the casting choices where crap, the story none of the important parts from the original source material, and the movie itself looked like crap with some of the worst special effects I’ve ever seen.
    we need to burn all copies of this piece of crap, abandon M. Night Shymalan on a desert island, and never speak of this mess ever again!

    id say that Shymalan deserves a razzie for this flaming abomination, but that is just an insult to the razzies!

  • This was an outstanding film. Ignore this pretentious reviewer. I had never seen the animated series, and found this movie had a very compelling and fast moving plot, which was not at all confusing. For devotees of martial arts like myself, it was a genuine pleasure to see such a reverent and mystical presentation of the intertwining of natural forces and martial arts. I have since watched the animated series in its entirety on Netflix, and regardless I still watch the live movie at least once a week, enjoying it more every time.