– Summary –
Director : M Night Shyamalan
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Cliff Curtis, Shaun Taob, Aashif Mandvi
Approx Running Time : 103 Minutes
Synopsis: The last surviving member of the airbending tribe of the north, Aang has been imprisoned under the ice for a hundred years – only to be rescued by Katara and Sokka, a girl and her brother from the Southern Water Tribe. Aang is actually the lost Avatar, the one who can bend not only is own element of air, but also the three other elements as well – water, earth and fire. He is pursued relentlessly by the Fire Nation, who seek domination over the four corners of the world.
What we think : Expositionally heavy, mind-bendingly tedious fantasy epic, The Last Airbender is an unfortunate entry into one of those franchises that never really takes off… like Eragon, for example. Shyamalan’s direction isn’t too bad, and he handles the action and majesty of this story with consummate ease, yet the script is terribly wooden and clunky, and the characters poorly written. It’s as if we’re expected to already know who these people are before watching the film, which means if you’re not a fan of the animated Nickelodeon series of the same name, this entire film is going to be a gaggle of WTF’s as you watch it.
The Last Airbender was critically panned upon release, and now I see why. A live-action version based upon the first part of a children’s cartoon show, the simple premise of the film and the overly convoluted narrative weaving done by director M Night Shyamalan are truly enough to put off even the most non-discerning adult. Then again, had this film been watched and debated upon by children, the series’ core audience, The Last Airbender might have stood a chance in getting itself a sequel. The story of a long lost boy, the last of his tribe, with the ability to bend (manipulate) the four elements (although, at the time this story is set, Aang is only able to control his own element of air), who journeys far across the land with his friends Katara and Sokka to outrun the pursuit of the Fire Nation, namely the exiled Prince Zuko and the loyalist Admiral Zhao, is a typical Quest Epic. Our trio encounter many obstacles and magic along the way, setting in motion an uprising amongst the tribes against the evil Fire Nation, who seek control over the world through the use of their machines. Not only is this film a Quest movie, it’s also a kids movie, and as such, you have to expect certain limitations in the amount of violence, carnage and thematic material able to be displayed. It’s this aspect I think people forgot while they watched, that this is a film for kids, who are often less discerning than adults when it comes to things like character development and plot holes. With that in mind, I present my thoughts on The Last Airbender to you.
First, the bad. This film is a poorly written genre story about good triumphing over evil, going on a quest, leaving home, dealing with parental abandonment and saving the world from destruction. All the key elements for children’s fantasy, right? I say poorly written, because the script, or at least the delivery of it, seems like it was mangled in a car wreck on the way to the set. The dialogue ranges from simply awful to adequately descriptive, with barely a pause for appraisal of the impact of said dialogue at any time. Characters have to deliver crunching, cast iron clunkers with the import of Optimus Prime and the believability of the Loch Ness Monster. There’s a sense that a lot of the story was cast aside in the interest of cost and brevity: the film only runs an hour and a half, and perhaps in all that time had somebody stopped to think that maybe explaining all this stuff might be a good option, because it’s so damn confusing at the start you get lost at the outset and don’t catch up until much later. The characters don’t feel fully fleshed out, as if they’re merely cardboard constructs opening their mouths to say stuff, without their eyes actually believing what they’re saying. I’ve seen more realistic dialogue in an early Charlie Chaplin flick. This clunky dialogue, trying desperately to tell about a dozen separate character arcs in one swoop, comes undone when it gets stuck into the story of the films’ central character, Aang. Noah Ringer plays Aang, and although he can move and shimmy like a master martial artist, he can’t act to save his life, and that causes the entire film to fall flat on its well filmed face. Speaking of which, kudos to DP Andrew Lesnie, who brings his A-game to the look and style this film has – at least if the story and the characters are piss poor, it’s still pretty to look at. As it is, the story is more convoluted than a Rubick’s Cube, and a whole lot more complex than it needed to be. As far as setting up a potential franchise goes, this will be an unmitigated disaster. However, and this is a biiiig however, the film will no doubt keep the kidlets entertained for an hour or so with all the effects (and there are a heap of effects, all of which look pretty cool) and the cheeky characters – I detected at least two toy lines out of this, one for the weird lemur-bat creature Aang has as a friend, and the other the enormous furry dugong creature which struck me as simply a grossly overweight Luck Dragon, for those able to understand the reference. The Last Airbender barely gets off the ground as adult entertainment, but since it’s aimed at the younger crowd, I think the majority will probably get some fanciful, try-and-copy-this-style-onto-YouTube craze out of it. It’s a stupid film, but it looks awesome.
PS: you might have noticed that there’s no “good” section of this review. What that means, I’ll leave up to you.