The Last Airbender – zero stars

the-last-airbender-movie

Where do I start with “The Last Airbender”?  It has been a very long time since I have seen anything this bad.  I’m still in awe of how bad this film is and am writing this piece simply as an initial reaction.  I just saw this and I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around this disaster.  How could this movie have gone so wrong?  The initial trailers all looked terrific.  It has some talented players at work as well. 

Lets start with the worst aspect of this film which is the 3D.  I think I watched more then half of this film with the glasses off and noticed no difference whatsoever.  Also it is a widely known fact that 3D makes the image darker but here, coupled with already bad special effects, it looks muddy as well.  Nothing on the screen pops making 3D even remotely necessary. I feel a serious backlash coming on as no movie since “Avatar” has looked good in 3D. I doubt that this movie would have looked any better in 2D, but at least the experience would have been slightly more tolerable.

The director is M. Night Shyamalan.  Shyamalan’s career seems to be in a tail spin in terms of critical consensus and box office.  I for one have only truly disliked once of his films, “The Village”.  Taking on a film like this seems like a logical move for him.  This is the first time he is directing a film based on someone else’s source material.  It is a fantasy epic based on a hugely popular animated television series. 

So what went wrong here?  Lets start with the story. Those who are not familiar with the source material are likely to be as confused as I was. From start to finish it is an unfocused, incomprehensible mess.  From what I could gather there are four nations, one to represent each of the elements.  The Fire Nation is the most hostile and seems to want to conquer the world.  In each nation there are people known as benders.  They have the ability to control their assigned elements.  There is also a single person who can control all four elements known as the Avatar.  It is his job to keep balance among the nations and maintain peace but he vanished a hundred years ago. 

As the story opens he reappears in the water nation, frozen in a glacier.  His name is Aang, and is played by Noah Ringer.  He is found by Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), and Katara (Nicola Peltz), both from the Water Nation. 

Other characters are Prince Zuko, played by Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire”, Cliff Curtis as Zuko’s father Ozai of the Fire Nation, and Princess Zue of the water tribe played by Seychelle Gabriel.  Each actor gives a painfully unconvincing performance.  I seriously doubt this is the fault of the actors but they basically stand on screen and deliver their lines with no feeling or emotion.  Might have to do with the serious lack of a quality script or the fact that they were given no direction. 

One character I want to single out is Commander Zhao played by Aasif Mandvi, who you might recognize from “The Daily Show”.  Here is a serious case of miscasting.  This is who we are to believe is the major threat of this film.  Nothing against Aasif because I fully appreciate his work on television but I just could not take him seriously as a bad guy.  Not because of his comedic talents but because he couldn’t pull this off. 

Shaymalan also has a problem directing action scenes as he seems to have no idea where to place his camera half the time and the background actors seem to have been given no direction at all.  Fights take place where events happen and the actors don’t seem to know how to react to what’s taking place.  Everyone seems to have this confused look on their faces.

Everything in this movie just seemed so underwhelming.  None of the characters are given depth or weight so we really don’t care about them.  The special effects seem rather pale because they are servicing a hollow story.  

Watching “The Last Airbender” was one of the most unpleasant movie going experiences of my life and apparently it is the start of a trilogy.  Maybe they should have done this in animation.  I don’t know.  As for Shaymalan, I will look forward to his next film and try to forget this one.

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