Movie Review: The Last Airbender


After a hundred years of war waged by the Fire Nation, a new hope comes in the form of a young boy named Aang, who is discovered to be the latest in the line of Avatars, the one person who can bring peace between all the nations.


M. Night Shyamalan, 2010

Soooo….there are two white kids in an Inuit-like Water tribe, Katara and Sokka, who find a kid and a flying six-legged bison in an iceberg and let him out to discover he’s the last Airbender, from the Air Nation, which the Fire Nation wiped out years earlier because they knew the Avatar would come from the Air Nation. They have to escape when the exiled Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation comes to kidnap Aang, and then they sort of…wander around and provide exposition for a while. The Fire Nation tries to kill them, but then Aang saves everybody after wandering the spirit world and talking to a bunch of other white people. Sometimes there’s some Asians. Also, Sokka falls in love with a girl who becomes the moon. And there’s a lot of special effects. Sometimes for no reason.


I think everyone reading this has probably heard about this movie’s terrible reputation, and I’m here to tell you it definitely lives down to it. I was instructed to watch the cartoon series on which this movie was based before watching the movie, and I did. The movie cobbles together plot points from across the first season of the show in the clunkiest way imaginable, skipping from confusing scene to confusing scene with terrible narration trying to join the dots, only serving to confuse the audience more. In a movie that commits terrible filmmaking sins, perhaps this is the worst of them; “show, don’t tell” is a cardinal rule of movie making, and this one tries to tell us everything and shows us nothing. Everything is pretty but blank and empty, with a layer of story spread thinly over the top via nothing but expository dialogue. For a movie that tries to do so much, it’s almost impressively boring. The acting is across-the-board bad, flat and emotionless; where the show lightened its dense and fascinating mythology with humour and a light touch, this is heavy-handed po-faced seriousness throughout. It’s completely devoid of humour and joy, even changing plot points to make it more miserable than it needs to be. (Also, I can’t work out why they even included the storyline where Sokka falls in love with the moon spirit. It’s long, distracing, confusing, and he isn’t the main character; they can’t possibly do it justice.) It also, bizarrely, changes the pronunciation of various names from the series, a step that I cannot fathom the reasoning behind. Less bizarrely, it completely whitewashes the characters from the show; Sokka, Katara and Aang are all white, as are almost all the heroes, while the bad guys are variation on brown (New Zealand-born Cliff Curtis, Iran-born Shaun Toub, and Dev Patel all play members of the same family). The show’s protagonists and villains seem to mostly be Asian, and even in the film Sokka, Katara and their grandmother are surrounded by non-white people in their frozen homeland.

On mute, this movie would probably be a lot better. It’s still slow and ponderous, but you’d have time to enjoy the beautiful cinematography, the amazing animation of Aang’s flying creature Appa, and the great special effects show down at the end. It does lead one to wonder if they didn’t edit the film on mute, frustrated with any earlier efforts to make it into a coherent story with a narrative the audience can follow. It seems to be going for atmospheric, in the vein of Shyamalan’s better efforts, but with so much exposition there’s no way it can create the atmosphere needed – you’re always struggling to follow along. There’s nothing even approaching decent storytelling, and the film actually has scenes in which people tell you what happened in scenes we didn’t even see that occured between when we last saw the characters and now. Why bother? Why not just SHOW THE DAMN SCENE or cut that part from the movie? It’s a masterclass in how not to make a movie.

The Last Airbender on IMDb


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