I hate everything about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. I hate that it’s racist. I hate that it takes a great, easy-to-adapt show and completely disrespects the material. I hate the performances. I hate the special effects. I hate the borderline non-existent 3D that serves only to jack up ticket prices. I hate the lack of imagination. I hate the embarrassingly bad script that would be laughed out of a Screenwriting 101 class. I hate the consequences if this movie is a success at the box office. I hate the consequences if it fails at the box office. I hate that this movie exists. And “hate” isn’t a strong enough word.
In the world of The Last Airbender, there are four nations, each one represented by a particular element—water, earth, fire, and air—and there are special individuals in each nation who have a telekinetic power to “bend” a particular element. The world also has one “Avatar”, a singular being who has the power to bend all four elements and bring peace between all the nations. Well, that’s the idea anyway.
The Fire Nation has become power-hungry and taken over most of the world. Katara (Nicola Peltz)—a waterbender—and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) come across a boy (Noah Ringer) frozen in an iceberg. They free him, learn his name is Aang, and discover that he’s an airbender. That last part is curious since the Fire Nation wiped out all the airbenders over a hundred years ago. The arrow tattoos on his body indicate that he is the Avatar and must learn all four elements and then will be able to stop the war. However, the banished Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) of the Fire Nation wants to capture the Avatar. Zuko’s believes this is the only way to reclaim his honor and regain his father’s respect. Aang, Katara, and Sokka must evade the Fire Nation, get to the Northern Water Temple so Aang can learn waterbending and begin to accept his destiny.
In the original Nickelodeon series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, this information comes about organically and only takes a couple episodes to set up the entire premise of the series. In the movie, nothing is shown and everything is told. Katara’s narration, characters delivering exposition, and even a young boy telling a character his own backstory, is how Shyamalan sets up this world. I felt a scornful/derisive/dumbstruck when Katara simply says that Sokka and the princess of the Northern Water Tribe “became fast friends.” I’m not sure why Shyamalan hates character development, small personal moments, or anything that would show these characters as people rather than glorified hand puppets.
And as much as Shyamalan abhors basic storytelling, he resents the fans of the show even more. Setting aside his decision to change the races of the characters simply because he could, one is left to wonder if Shyamalan actually watched an episode of the series or just read the Wikipedia page and went to work. The fact that he couldn’t be bothered to get the correct pronunciation of the characters’ names should tell you all you need to know. And if you enjoyed the show’s humor, imagination, and depth, you can go ahead and forget about it. It’s a joyless experience bereft of exhilaration, excitement, and fun.
It’s disturbing that Shyamalan can’t pause for one second to let a character tell a joke or share something personal but not in the form of strained exposition. Perhaps the writer-producer-director wanted to simply create a world and ignore such trifles like compelling characters and competent storytelling, but he still fails miserably at building the world of The Last Airbender. The movie copies the imagery of the show, but has none of its creative spark. It’s particularly damning in the boring use of bending. These mystical powers lack all wonder and mysticism as the characters do what feels like eight minutes of Tai-Chi in order to do one simple and unimpressive move. Everything you loved about Avatar: The Last Airbender is strangled and kicked into a shallow grave in this heartless adaptation.
But let’s leave aside the source material. Taken on its own, Airbender is still an abomination of monumental proportions. The effects are stolid, the young actors—particularly Ringer—have no concept of competent delivery of dialogue (which, to be fair, is so stale that only a master thespian could have provided a character with a spark of life), and the sets and special effects feel hollow when its clear that no care or enthusiasm was put into this production. Shyamalan has ripped off Paramount and both the studio and the filmmaker have ripped off anyone even slightly hopeful for a quality picture.
Speaking of rotten pictures and rip-offs, if you do go see The Last Airbender (and I don’t know what more I can do to stop you), don’t pay to see it in 3D. You’ll simply be throwing even more money away. This is a post-conversion and the 3D is barely noticeable. There were moments when I took of my glasses and it looked like a 2D movie. When the film does engage in 3D, it looks atrocious—particularly in fight scenes involving panning shots. The images become blurry and diverge and give you a headache on top of the one the movie causes on its own.
That kind of rip-off is what makes the movie hurt even more. There is no victory for Airbender. If it succeeds at the box office, then Shyamalan gets to make two more of these wretched piles of infected waste. If it fails, then there won’t be another attempt at an Airbender movie for at least another ten years. Furthermore, the crappiness of this film could turn away audience members who may have considered watching the show, but now don’t trust the source material.
This needs to be the end of M. Night Shyamalan. The Happening was a joke but The Last Airbender is an insult. I wouldn’t let him direct me to the restroom after this movie. If a studio wants to hire him, they would be better off burning their money for warmth. He’s a fool for thinking that whitewashing the movie wasn’t problematic. He’s a fraud for turning in a script that’s not worth the napkin it’s written on. He’s a hack for cobbling together a vapid, cruel taunt of a movie that blows its budget on subpar visual effects and massive sets while refusing to take even a second to provide a character moment. As much as I hate this movie, it hates me and every person who sees it even more. I don’t care that the year is only half over. I’m calling it: The Last Airbender is the worst movie of 2010. It’s too disturbing to consider that there could be something even more hideous out there.
Rating: F (I wish there was a lower grade I could give)