The Last Airbender
What A Twist!!!!
Finally, a freaking movie where M. Night Shymalan doesn't have the compulsive lustful urge put a damn plot twist in it. Sure, plot twists can make any story interesting, but not when it's expected because you have a director that's compulsively known for it. However, it seems Shymalan has learned from his previous mistakes, as he takes on his newest project, "The Last Airbender." Based off the hit Nickelodeon anime influenced TV cartoon, "Avatar: The Last Airbender." Not to be confused with James Cameron's blockbuster, "Avatar", as they're two completely different stories.
"The Last Airbender" takes place within a fictional universe governed by four nations, where each nation is represented by the symbol of the power a select few can harness, within each perspective nation. Each nation containing the power of one of the four elements of nature such as wind, water, earth and fire. Each nation living in harmony and peace amongst one another, as they all bring balance to the Earth. Unfortunately, such balance isn't meant to last. As the Fire nation grows ever so power hungry, they launch an invasion to conquer the other three nations. Over the years, wiping out completely the entire Air nation of it's airbenders. The prophecy has foretold every lifetime an airbender is born into this world that will be able to control and master all four of the elements, as he will bring and maintain balance within the world. Needless to say, the Fire nation couldn't risk the possibility of the prophecy coming into fruition, so they genocide the entire Air nation. Thinking they've destroyed every last airbender to keep the prophecy from coming true. Unaware that one has somehow managed to survive these past hundred years.
Aang (Noah Ringer), a young airbender, that was frozen in a block of ice for a century, has finally returned to bring back balance to the world, that the Fire nation has corrupted over the years. Only one small problem, he never finished his training to control the other elements. Inevitably, this leads our heroes on a journey to train Aang under the guidance of many element benders along the way, to prepare him for his ultimate destiny. Add in the drama of a young man named Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), who was banished by his father, who runs the fire nation, because he was deemed too weak. Thus, in order for him to regain his father's trust and respect, he is ordered to catch the airbender, at any cost. Or else, he will forever be labeled as an outcast among his own kind.
For those who have never seen the original animated series, I would highly recommend it. As it's a beautiful story about a young man embracing his destiny and growing up, as he overcomes various diversity along the way. Even the subtle humor and relationships make the series special, as I loved how Katara and Aang had a big sister/little brother type of relationship, at the start of the series. Only to end up harboring feelings of something more around the ending, as it's truly a great story. A story about a boy who grows up to become a hero, to a world that sorely needs him. Even the cultural references to Asian and Indian cultures woven into one fantasy type story plays beautifully in "Avatar: The Last Airbender." Sadly, I can't say the same thing for the live action incarnation.
Sure, the film follows the story line pretty faithfully, but it leaves a lot of stuff out due to time constraints. Don't get me wrong, I understand when you translate a epic TV series into a two hour film, there's obviously going to be a lot stuff left out. However, one can only hope that the one thing that doesn't get left out are the relationships between the characters themselves. As I always felt that was more of the heart of the series, than anything else. Sure, Aang had a destiny he needed to fulfill, but it was his relationship among his friends that truly made the series interesting. Sadly, Shymalan skips that part, in favor of setting up the various action sequences of the movie. Sure, he does a great job fleshing out the emotional struggles of Prince Zuko, who is essentially a outcast among his own people. However, it's sad that Shymalan doesn't do the same thing with the main protagonists, Aang and Katara. As the start of the series, should have been focused primarily on them from the start. Unfortunately, it seems Shymalan doesn't agree with me, and the result of that is a action heavy oriented film that offers little character focus if at all. Which is a shame as Shymalan had such a beautiful and unique story to work with, only to end up butchering and screwing it up.
If that wasn't bad enough, the film suffers from a lot of pacing issues. As I felt the story kind of rushes through too much of the character development, in favor of action sequences so much, that you really don't get the same feeling of who these characters are, like you do with the series. Even the tragic death of the Water princess seems meaningless, as the film does hardly anything to establish her character. Sure, it's always sad when someone dies, but it's lot more potent cinematically speaking, when the film takes the time to establish who the character is first. Just look at the first "Star Wars" movie for instance.
When Obi Wan Kenobi dies, the audience can't help but feel sad. Want to know why? Because George Lucas gave us a reason to care about that character, as the film established who he was before he died. Where as in "The Last Airbender", the Princess is only in a few scenes, with little to no dialogue most of the time, so when she dies, you don't get the same emotional impact. Then we get to the special effects and cinematography.
The special effects are obviously very well done. In fact, it's probably about the only thing this film got right. As for the 3-D, it's barely noticeable at all. I guess this is what happens when you try to copy what the remake of "Clash of the Titans" did, by turning a 2-D film into a 3-D one. Yes, for those that are unaware of this, this entire film was originally meant to be in 2-D only. However, since Shymalan wanted to take advantage of the latest craze with 3-D, in Hollywood, he had this film converted to 3-D. Unfortunately, it shows in this film, as the 3-D images are barely noticeable at all. In fact, with the exception of a few scenes around the beginning, you'll find yourself asking....where's the 3-D? Seriously, where is it? As the film literally seems like it's still in 2-D even though your wearing the damn glasses. Then again, maybe that's Shymalan's twist for this movie. A 3-D film, that barely produces the 3-D element. Yeah, I guess I was wrong then, as Shymalan did find a way to incorporate his obsessive lust for plot twists into this movie after all.
Although I've been bashing this film for quite a bit, I think children will still love it. As the movie offers a very simple to follow plot structure, and great special effects to keep your kids entertained.
However, if you want my advice, I'd wait for this one until it gets released on DVD. Or better yet, just watch the animated series. The original series was so much deeper and inspirational than this movie, and it offers a much richer and deeper story that adults can enjoy too, while remaining simplistic enough to not be too overly complex for children to understand. I always felt like "The Last Airbender" could have been a great film franchise, but it's sad that Shymalan failed to have his version live up to the heart of the series.