Movie Review: The Last Airbender
By Matthew Huntley
July 8, 2010
After The Village, Lady in the Water, The Happening and now The Last Airbender, I think a documentary should be made titled "Whatever Happened to M. Night Shyamalan?" It could chronicle and examine this once very talented filmmaker and offer theories as to why he went from being one of the most respected and anticipated of writer-directors to one of the most-maligned and heavily criticized. Even with Village, Lady and Happening under his belt, as awful as they were, I still believed Shyamalan to be an ambitious filmmaker. At least these movies were intriguingly bad. But with Airbender, he’s crossed a line and it’s like he doesn’t have a clue. What happened? I guess that would be for the documentary to find out.
I’m afraid the terrible reviews aren’t exaggerated. The Last Airbender is one bad movie. Forget filmmaking; Shyamalan seems to have forgotten the basic fundamentals of storytelling itself. There’s no establishment of a time and place; we don’t know where the characters or locations are in relation to anything else; the screenplay is overloaded with expository dialogue that nobody - real or imaginary - would ever speak; and we are told, via a narrator, just about everything we can see on-screen for ourselves. After The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan might have convinced us he wrote the book on filmmaking and the idea of trusting your audience’s instincts, but if ever there was a movie that went against that principle, Airbender is it.
The movie is based on the well-received Nickelodeon TV series called Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the feature version was supposed to share the same title until a little-known movie called Avatar came long and stole the limelight. Like the show, the movie takes place in a world (it’s never established if it’s Earth, but we assume it is) where certain members of the Four Nations - Air, Water, Earth and Fire - are able to manipulate their respective element. A lone Avatar is destined to maintain peace and harmony between each nation because he is the only one with the ability to bend all four elements. He is their savior.
In this first installment, subtitled Book One: Water, we learn the Avatar is a little boy named Aang (Noah Ringer), who has been frozen in suspended animation for the last 100 years. Born an Airbender and aware of his own destiny, Aang fled his monastery because he feared the responsibility bestowed upon him. He cries that his prestigious position would prevent him from having a family of his own. Here’s my first question: Aang is approximately 10-12-years-old, right? Would a 10-12-year-old really be concerned about not having a family later in life? Do they even think about that kind of stuff?
Anyway, in the time since Aang disappeared, the greedy Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) wreaks havoc on the other nations as a means to dominate the world. Okay, second question: how is he able to do this, especially when the other nation-members could simply manipulate their own element and fight back? For instance, on the Earth nation, the Earth people are enslaved by the Fire people. Why don’t the Earthbenders just raise some soil and knock them off the land? Why do they just stand around and take it?