Bald is the new mohawk!
The Last Airbender is based on the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender, although, the Avatar part of the title was dropped to avoid comparisons to this other film no one's ever heard of. Anyway, the story is set in a mystical world where people who can control, or "bend", the four elements, are common place among the native tribes and cultures. There are four nations, each one attributed to it's own element. There's the Fire Nation, the Air Nation, the Water Nation, and... well, you get the idea. The Fire Nation is compromised of a bunch of hotheaded, power hungry jerks, who decide one day that it would be a really good idea to wage war on the other nations. So, armies of pyromaniacs run wild raping and killing and pillaging and burning until two kids from the Water Nation discover Aang, a young boy frozen like The Thing in a block of ice. They soon discover that Aang is the Avatar, a human who can control all four elements! He's basically the ultimate badass, and the only one who can bring balance to the world. Only problem is, he only knows how to control air. So, he and his two new friends go off on an adventure to master the other elements and stop the Fire Nation, and that's about as deep as the plot goes. It is pretty much a summation of the first season of the show, so I'm told. Shyamalan also wrote this, and, Good Lord, it could not be more boring! The only remotely interesting aspect of the plot comes courtesy of the disgraced Prince Zuko, a firebender, who is constantly hounding Aang and his friends in hopes of capturing them and regaining his honor. His is the only part of the story that feels like it was touched by actual human hands. I can't fault the movie too hard for turning in a bad story, but, it was based on something with a rich tapestry of characters and mythology. It was prime pickings for a fantasy epic, and it was completely squandered!
Performances in The Last Airbender give wooden a whole new meaning. Newcomer Noah Ringer, who plays Aang, must have gotten lessons from the Jake Lloyd school of acting. He recites his lines like a third grader who's just been cast in the class play and has no idea what he's saying. Ditto for his female counterpart, Katara, played by Nicola Peltz. Neither one of them delivers their lines with any conviction or interest in what they are saying. They have no chemistry with each other, or anyone else, for that matter. I wish I didn't have to say the same for the older members of the cast, but, I do. Jackson Rathbone plays Katara's brother Sokka. Sokka, in the cartoon, is, apparently, a saracstic, cynical, but sweet and caring funny man. Sokka in the movie is none of those things. Rathbone sleepwalks through the role, and, honestly, he has every right to. His other movie that came out this week is going to destroy The Last Airbender at the box office. Aasif Mandvi plays main bad guy, Commander Zhao. Yes, you read that right. The correspondent from The Daily Show is in this movie. He should stick to comedy! He can't do villainous if his life depended on it. The only decent performer featured here is that lucky slumdog, Dev Patel, who plays Zuko. His is the only character we can connect with, because Patel is the only one here who seems to give a damn! He's at least trying, and the effort shows. He's actually not bad in this movie, made doubly apparent by the fact that everyone else around him sucks major balls! Again, I can't blame them too hard. These are talented people, and the majority of the fault does not rest with them. That being said, these are talented people, so they should have been able to somewhat overcome the terrible script, but, I guess, they didn't have their coffee in the morning or some pathetic excuse like that.
Win a game show, and then look what happens. I mean, really!
No, the real blame should be placed on writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan. Here is a man who was once the go to guy for chilling, twisty, thrillers, and now look at him. His last few forays into suspense/horror were colossal failures on all levels (see Lady in the Water and The Happening... or, actually, don't!) but The Last Airbender is in a league all of it's own. It is actually remarkable how bad the writing and storytelling is in this movie! "The Fire Nation is coming! They are ruining everything!", wails Aang! I HAVE FURY! I'd be willing to overlook the scripting issues had the movie provided the escapism in its action scenes that films of this genre usually do, but, in that sense, it's an even bigger failure then the script! The action scenes here are not the special effects fueled, epic to a epic level, crowd pleasing sequences we've come to expect. They feel like they were taken from the back catalog of a 90s sci-fi serial. They simply aren't exciting! Aang's foes just stand around like lemmings, waiting for him to blow them away! It reminded me a lot of Assassin's Creed, only without the interactivity or gruesome counter kills. Even the finale is a snooze. Instead of having awesome displays of water vs. fire, Shyamalan is more content to have his extras beat the crap out of each other with their fists! These guys can turn a building into an inferno and can create a flood to wipe out an entire contingent of soldiers! There are countless possibilities of what you could do with this, and you opt to have them not use their powers at all? Are you fucking kidding me? It's clear that Shyamalan is trying to use elements from films such as The Lord of the Rings, and Narnia, but he is so far off the mark that the similarities are fleeting at best! And don't even get me started on the 3D! Yes, I saw this in 3D. I didn't have a choice. The theatre near my house was only showing it in 3D. I took the glasses off at one point, and honestly, there was no difference. Seriously, 3D is a gimmick! Unless it's being used by James Cameron or Pixar, it is not worth your time or your extra cash! I appreciate Shyamalan's attempt to change things up, but I've had enough! Shyamalan should get out the director's chair, hand the pen over to someone else, and crawl into a hole, because he's officially a hack!
The Last Airbender is being set up as a franchise. The film ends on a cliffhanger with Aang having only mastered one other element, and the Fire Nation retreating to lick its wounds. Honestly, I hope this movie does well, because there is potential for something really good here. They just need to recast everyone except Patel and get a new director and a writer with something more then middle school vocabulary! Future films in the franchise, if they ever come to be, could be good. This one is far from good. Hell, it's even far from bad! This is simply horrible! This is enough to make your eyes bleed! The Last Airbender is the worst movie I have seen this year, and will be considered heavily for worst of the year when 2011 rolls around! Avoid it, aggressively!
BUT ON AN ENTIRELY NEW LEVEL!