This is an interesting review for this site, my friends. This is the first review on Reel Reactions of a movie that does not actually exist. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. Alas, the hopes of an entire fan base cannot change the facts: in 2010, M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed The Last Airbender, a live-action adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. And as all fans of the show will tell you, this movie is awful, not only as an adaptation, but also as a stand-alone film. With Shyamalan’s The Visit hitting theaters this month, it seems only fitting to look back on some of his triumphs and failures, but in this review, I’ll tackle one of his biggest failures, since it’s more cathartic. So, without further ado, this is my review of the aptly named The Last Airbender.
The film follows the same storyline as the first season of the TV show, but for those of you who aren’t familiar, here it is: in a mystical world divided into four nations, people known as benders can control one of the four classical elements, either water, earth, fire, or air, depending on which nation they’re born in. Every generation has one person, the Avatar, who can bend all four elements. During his or her lifetime, it is the Avatar’s duty to maintain balance between the four nations. However, the Fire Nation, wanting to expand its empire, declares war on the rest of the world. One hundred years after the war begins, two siblings from the South Pole, Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), discover Aang (Noah Ringer), the long-lost Avatar and eponymous Last Airbender. While evading the scarred Fire Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), this trio must work together to bring balance to the world.
Sounds like a great premise, right? Well, it was … for the show. For the movie, it’s a different story. The only thing that this movie does for fans of the show is give them something so bad that they have to watch the show all over again to wash the taste of bad adaptation out of their mouths. But the film’s butchering of the source material is not even its biggest problem: The Last Airbender failed mostly because of its inability to grasp one of the key elements (no pun intended) of the show: balance. The show has a balance between action, adventure, comedy, drama, and life lessons that makes it timeless and beloved by people of all ages. The movie, on the other hand, is advertised more as an epic thriller, and sucks away all the fun of the source material. The main actors, from Noah Ringer to Nicola Peltz, are not interesting and are simply vessels for badly written dialogue. Moreover, Shyamalan has claimed that one of the biggest problems that he had with making this movie was cutting down the first season of the show (nearly 10 hours of entertainment) into a 2-hour film; fair enough, it’s a lot of material to get through. But his solution was to simply have Katara provide off-screen narration of events from the show that the movie didn’t have time to cover, such as Sokka’s relationship with the Water Tribe Princess Yue (Seychelle Gabriel) or how Aang ended up spending one hundred years trapped in an iceberg. The result is the film feeling more like an exposition dump than an actual movie; on the spectrum of “show and tell,” The Last Airbender tells its audience about its story way more frequently than it shows it.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing of value in this movie: as people have said in the past, Dev Patel as Prince Zuko and Shaun Toub as Iroh are the only two actors who have genuinely good moments in terms of acting. In a better movie, Patel and Toub would be fine in their respective roles. Some of the shots of various landscapes look good, and the costumes are a good representation of what they were in the show. The music is also pretty good; I remember having a couple of tracks from the film’s soundtrack on my iPod back in the day, and while it can’t hold a candle to the original show’s soundtrack, the music is fittingly epic. Finally, and this is going to be controversial, there was one scene in which Noah Ringer was okay as Aang. It’s a scene that shows Aang practicing waterbending, remembering the skeletal remains of his people, and then panicking and letting the water go. It shows the audience how powerful the Avatar can be and how guilty Aang feels about the loss of his people. True, it was handled a lot better in the show, but for the film, it’s decent.
Beyond problems with the movie itself, what I take issue with the most is M. Night Shyamalan’s insistence that the blame for the film’s poor quality does not fall on him, but the fans who watched it. In an interview a few months ago, Shyamalan said that he had two options when making the movie: “make it for the same audience, which is what I did, for nine and 10-year-olds – or you could do the Transformers version and have Megan Fox.” I have one word that sums up that logic: idiotic. Those could not have been the only ways to adapt Avatar: The Last Airbender into a film. The show was made in such a way that children and adults could enjoy it together; that is the mark of a good show, and should always be the aim of a good family movie, even if it’s made “just for kids.” Remember, most movies made for kids have to be watched by parents as well, so they should at least be halfway decent. Also, how was The Last Airbender made for “nine and 10-year-olds”? It was jumbled, unpleasant, and, above all else, boring. I can say, with 99 percent certainty, that if I had seen The Last Airbender as a 10-year-old, I would have reached the same conclusion as I do now: wow, this movie sucks.
The Last Airbender is a complete and utter mess, and it completely drowns in the muck and mire that comes with live-action adaptations of animated properties. While the costumes, sets, and some of the actors were passable, it just doesn’t help save this movie. There’s a reason why this film’s title is appropriate: after the mess that was this movie, The Last Airbender was, is, and should remain the last. If you want to know what Avatar: The Last Airbender is all about, watch the original TV series; after watching this abysmal attempt at a movie again, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Written by Joey Sack