Articles

REVIEW: The Last Airbender (RIP M. Night Shyamalan)

In Film, Review on July 4, 2010 by Peekahso Tagged: , , , , ,

GRADES

  • General Rating: 3%
  • For What It Is (children, sci-fi/fantasy film adaptation): 8%

Source Content Background

The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan’s latest piece, is the film adaptation of the beloved animated source material by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.  The story follows a young “boy,” Aang, who is the eponymous last Airbender–the remaining member of his air-manipulating tribe.  More importantly, Aang is the Avatar (non-blue), a once-in-a-generation incarnated supernatural being, capable of manipulating all of this world’s elements: air, water, earth and fire–in that order.  Unfortunately, the Fire Nation has decided to go agro, and Aang is the only one who can stop them.  Dun dun dun.

Goodbye, M. Night Shyamalan

Like most, I fell in love with Shyamalan’s adept ability to convey depth in subtly in the heavily-lauded Sixth Sense.  Since then, Shyamalan has released a slew of box office bombs (the list goes on and on).  Losing inspiration is one thing, but failing to deliver the goods because of an unwarranted ego (supposedly riper than normal Hollywood-types) is brutally unacceptable.  And therein lied the problem, to date.  When Shyamalan signed on to handle Airbender, more critics than not cheered.  Now was his chance to finally lay aside his ego, succumb to content that was as rich as his first, and begin anew in a genre that was different enough but not diametrically opposed to his origins.   Many of us wanted him to win.  We wanted this to be a comeback.  Unfortunately, ten years after his strong entrance into Hollywood, today stands not as an extension of that initial celebration, but as Shyamalan’s funeral.

Why this Movie Isn’t Even Razzie-Worthy

Casting: Awful, across the board.  I’m hard-pressed to find any single cast member who evoked any corollary to his/her source material character or even a hint of personality, period.  The children can’t fully be blamed here, though–surely, they were doled lines that were 1) either too trite to take seriously or 2) simply too weighty for any young actor to appropriately articulate (amidst fleeting shots–which we’ll talk about in a second).  Gone is the fanciful and somewhat glib Aang from the source material with an Atlas-like duty; nowhere is the comic-relief Fire Nation uncle.  I hate to say it, but the character that shines most is Appa, Aang’s flying bison (Andy Serkis, was that you??).  That being said, Dev Patel (who plays the bitter and banished Prince Zuko) was surprisingly digestible as a villain.

Incomprehensible Plot: And here is the greatest problem. Granted, Shyamalan was not handed a simple task (conflate a season’s worth of source material into a 2-hour film), but the fact that he adamantly re-wrote the script himself once again exempts this Fallen Star from exoneration.  The plot–simply put–either 1) makes no sense or 2) makes too much sense.  Scenes move left and right as if trying to finish a checklist; there’s no flow nor movement to evoke any serious emotional weight.  Moreover, characters and new plot streams are introduced with little backstory and, frankly, often fall off half-way through the film.  Worst, the climax feels underwhelming and unrelated to its build-up (plus, most of it’s already in the trailer).  With regards to the latter, annoying voiceover narrations and incessant title screens explain scenes and background content as if we were five years old and completely unfamiliar with the source content.  This is probably the most telling area of Shyamalan’s lost penchant; emotionality and important plot points have to be explained rather than shown, a junior mistake that even the worst of film school students avoid.

Embarrassing Dialogue: There’s not too much to say here.  The dialogue is uninspired, hardly drives the plot forward, and is just plane awkward.  A great example (that relates to plot) is shown when the three arrive in the Northern Water Tribe; Kitara, one of the Water Benders, narrates that her brother “became great friends with the Princess very quickly.”  WTF?

Unbelievable Action Sequences and General Poor Filming: Somewhere in the world, James Cameron just threw up.  If you’re going to employ special effects, at least make them VISIBLE!  Shyamalan could not have made it any more obvious that he’s a complete amateur when it comes to action films.  The action shots are awkwardly-paced, barely show all of the events at play, and are simply embarrassing.

The Bottom Line

I could go on a lot longer here, but I feel like I’m beating a 9-year-dead horse.  The bottom line: this is a Made for TV  movie and if its sequel wants any chance at having legs, it needs a new cast, rebooted narrative vision, and a new visionary at the helm.

Who should see this film?  5 year olds who are unfamiliar with the source content and 60+ folks who need an excuse to feel distracted.  No one else.  RIP, Shyamalan–for no one’s sake more than yours, I hope that you’re relegated to B-level TV movies from now on.  Not even a prayer can save.

Love,
Eggbert

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