Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis
- Rated PG
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
. Night Shyamalan is a talented filmmaker, but you wouldn’t know it from watching his new movie, the latest in the writer/director’s recent string of unmitigated disasters. Based on the wildly popular Nickelodeon series, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (they had to drop the first part due a certain record-setting blockbuster of the same name), the film certainly had the potential to become the next “Harry Potter,” but Shyamalan fails to make any of it interesting. Just like Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” it’s all set-up and no payoff, and while Shyamalan may already be busy planning the next two installments in a proposed trilogy, he should have done a better job of making the first movie good enough to even warrant a sequel. We all saw how well that strategy worked for “The Golden Compass.”
The film takes place in a fantastical world where human civilization is divided into four nations – Fire, Water, Earth and Air – that base their societies around the respective elements. Some of these people, called Benders, have the ability to manipulate those elements through martial arts, and one of them – the Avatar, the planet’s protector – can control all four. But the Avatar has been missing for a century, and in that time, the Fire Nation has waged war on the rest of the world. When a novice Waterbender named Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her older brother Sooka (Jackson Rathbone) discover the Avatar, a 12-year-old monk named Aang (Noah Ringer), frozen underwater, they embark on a mission to stop the Fire Nation and restore peace to the world. But Aang never completed his training, so they must first travel to the Water Nation so that he can learn to bend water, all while the Fire Nation’s banished Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) sets out to reclaim his honor by capturing the Avatar for his father, Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis).
There’s a lot of mythology swirling around the world of “The Last Airbender,” but Shyamalan gets most of it out of the way in the opening minutes with a text crawl that practically sums up the entire movie. Of course, that doesn’t stop the characters from explaining it all over again, nor does it prevent Shyamalan from filling the script with wooden dialogue that spells out every single plot development. Meanwhile, the movie jumps back and forth between locations so quickly that you stop paying attention, and new characters are introduced with such brevity that only fans of the show will care. (Sooka and Princess Yue, for instance, meet in one scene and are deeply in love the next.) Shyamalan has clearly cut some subplots from the finished product in an attempt to keep it moving along, but even at 103 minutes, “The Last Airbender” is painfully slow.
The only thing worse is the acting. Though it makes sense to cast someone familiar with martial arts in the lead role, Noah Ringer simply doesn’t have the charisma or the talent to carry the film. The rest of the cast is stuck playing characters with almost no personality, while “The Daily Show” correspondent Aasif Mandvi apparently didn’t get the memo that this was a serious movie. Those hoping that the action sequences would save the film will also be disappointed, because they’re mediocre at best – a real shame when you consider all the cool things that can be done with special effects these days. Something should also be said of the 3D version of the film, as it’s not only a major scam, but it’s yet another case of a post-conversion process making the movie even worse than it is. Because even in 3D, “The Last Airbender” is one-dimensional.
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Though it’s hard to imagine many people wanting to actually own “The Last Airbender” on Blu-ray, those that do will be happy to discover a wealth of bonus material that includes a picture-in-picture video track filled with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, and an hour-long making-of documentary. The two-disc set also includes a short interview with Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko about creating the animated series (“Origins of the Avatar”), an in-depth featurette on filming the final battle sequence (“Siege of the North”), deleted scenes, and a DVD and digital copy of the film.