July 2, 2010
Review - " The Last Airbender " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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The Last Airbender
Directed by: M Night Shyamalan
Starring: A bunch of nobody's and Jackson Rathbone (of Twilight fame)
Remember when M. Night Shyamalama-ding-dong used to be able to
thrill us with the likes of "The Sixth Sense", "Signs", "The Village", and
even the poorly recieved "Lady in the Water"? Last year he left us
wondering "what happened?" with the truly awful "The Happening" -
OK, Maybe it wasn't so much awful as just awfully boring. It is now
official that writer/director Shyamalan has lost his stuff with his latest
foray into all things super-natural "The Last Airbender". You have to
wonder if the studios are going to finally stop shoveling money at him
to make these festering turd's (to quote the great Billie Mack)
The world is divided into four kingdoms, each represented by the
element they harness, and peace has lasted throughout the realms of
Water, Air, Earth, and Fire under the supervision of the Avatar, a link
to the spirit world and the only being capable of mastering the use of
all four elements. When young Avatar Aang disappears, the Fire
Nation launches an attack to eradicate all members of the Air Nomads
to prevent interference in their future plans for world domination. 100
years pass and current Fire Lord Ozai continues to conquer and
imprison anyone with elemental "bending" abilities in the Earth and
Water Kingdoms, while siblings Katara and Sokka from a Southern
Water Tribe find a mysterious boy trapped beneath the ice outside
their village. Upon rescuing him, he reveals himself to be Aang, Avatar
and last of the Air Nomads. Swearing to protect the Avatar, Katara and
Sokka journey with him to the Northern Water Kingdom in his quest to
master "Waterbending" and eventually fulfill his destiny of once again
restoring peace to the world. But as they inch nearer to their goal, the group must evade Prince Zuko, the exiled son of Lord
Ozai, Commander Zhao, the Fire Nation's military leader, and the tyrannical onslaught of the evil Fire Lord himself.
Caught between combat and courage, Aang (Noah Ringer) discovers he is the lone Avatar with the power to manipulate all
four elements. Aang teams with Katara (Nicola Peltz), a Waterbender, and her brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), to
restore balance to their war-torn world.
The Last Airbender, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, spends inordinate time explaining itself in detail - so much
so that viewers unfamiliar with the source material, the animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, can be forgiven if
their eyes glaze over like an Easter ham.
The film opens with orphaned siblings (Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone) discovering a giant ball of ice that houses a
tattooed young boy (Noah Ringer) and his pet, a furry beast that resembles Falkor from The NeverEnding Story crossed with
one of Maurice Sendak's Wild Things.
The boy, Aang, is the reincarnated "Avatar," a flesh-and-blood linchpin that keeps the Air, Water, Earth, and Fire nations
from losing balance. Aang is a spoiled pouty little boy who ran away from home because he couldn't get his way, even
though everyone bowed down and worshipped him as a god. Aang, along with a few others, are "benders," capable of
manipulating their nation's element.
Did I mention that there is a congruent "spirit world" populated by gravelly voiced dragons that only Aang seems capable of
visiting? And can anyone decipher this line of dialogue: "The Fire Nation knew the Avatar would be born into the Air Nomads,
so they exterminated all the Air Nomads"? The mythology is exhausting - made more tedious by the fact that the main
players in Shyamalan's screenplay routinely stop in their tracks to explain the particulars of the plot to one another.
That's really too bad because Ringer, a first-time actor, has a charming, wide-open face that invites immediate sympathy
from the audience. Dev Patel ( Slumdog Millionaire) does a nice bit of brooding as a banished Fire Nation prince. Shyamalan
also casts Aasif Mandvi of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart as the film's heavy - a choice that mostly works.
The Last Airbender also boasts an attractive mix of digital wizardry and practical sets. Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie is a
veteran of The Lord of the Rings series, and
The Last Airbender is a largely good-looking
movie. Still, the PG-rated adventure is a mess
and not likely to win Shyamalan new fans - or
return him to the rarified air he occupied after
directing his box-office successes.
Pretty as it can be, The Last Airbender is far
too muddled and rushed - and surprisingly
amateurish from a storytelling standpoint - to
attract viewers outside its built-in fan base.
The movie has a few elements too many.
Based on the hugely successful Nickelodeon
animated TV series, the live-action feature
film “The Last Airbender” is the opening
chapter in Aang’s struggle to survive. Much
like the first Star Wars sequel the movie ends
half way through the story. As bad as this film
is we can only hope that the rest of the story
is never told.