M. Night Shyamalan’s films are known for pulling the rug out from underneath audiences in their closing minutes, and viewers should be aware that The Last Airbender actually breaks the mold in that regard. Sadly, that’s because it’s nothing more than part one of a possible series. There’s no third-act twist because we never get out of the first act.
The story is set in a world populated by four factions: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. There are “benders” within each group that have the ability to control their particular element; the Fire people can shoot flames, the Water people can make walls of ice appear, etc., etc., etc. The Fire people have declared war on the others, and only a young boy named Aang (Noah Ringer), who is the current reincarnation of the Avatar -- a mystical being that can talk to the spirit world and control all four elements -- can bring the world back into balance. When Aang reappears after a century-long disappearance, a shamed Fire prince wants to return him to his father in order to end his banishment from the group. Meanwhile Aang, with the help of two teenage Water people, attempts to stay free and develop the skills necessary to save humankind.
The biggest problem with The Last Airbender is the atrocious dialogue. It seems like nearly every line that isn’t exposition is a character telling you what they did, what they are doing, or what they are going to do. The conversations are so focused on these aspects that nobody develops into a recognizable or interesting three-dimensional person -- when the movie is over it’s just about impossible to remember anybody’s name except Aang, and that’s only because we hear his name repeated endlessly throughout the film.
Shyamalan used to be a talented director, a fact that often helped hide the dodgier aspects of his increasingly terrible scripts. But here he shows no particular gift for action, aside from some rather entertaining tai chi-esque choreography that the benders contort into before firing their various natural weapons. Add the pedestrian, bombastic visuals -- which include junky retrofitted 3D effects -- to a story that, for its last half, feels like one elongated battle that doesn’t move anywhere, and what results is a turgid, boring movie that doesn’t want to exist on its own merits, but just wants to lay the groundwork for a franchise.
In that way, The Last Airbender bears an unfortunate resemblance to The Golden Compass, another absolute misfire that promised sequels that we’ll probably never see. However, in that instance, there is a satisfying beginning, middle, and end for the main character. It’s a sign of absolute hubris or desperation when filmmakers end a movie with the promise to make sequels when there is no guarantee that they’ll actually get that chance. But when they fail to tell an actual story during the one movie in the series they know they’re going to make, that’s just ineptitude.
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- Released: 2010
- Rating: PG
- Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s films are known for pulling the rug out from underneath audiences in their closing minutes, and viewers should be aware that The Last Airbender actually breaks the mold in that regard. Sadly, that’s because it’s nothing more than part… (more)