This week, I decided to see a movie so you wouldn’t have to. My wife and I got up early, because it’s cheaper, and headed to the local cinema. By the time I actually uttered the words, “Two for The Last Airbender,” I was well beyond second, third and fourth guessing this decision. Based on the American animated series that blends elements of Japanese and American styles of animation, the first installment of the planned trilogy lacks the heart of the source material.
Okay, just in case you that have never seen the animated show, here are a few things that may or may not help.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Bender – a special person that has the ability to manipulate one of the four classic elements (Earth, Air, Fire or Water, but not heart. More on that later) using martial arts movements.
Avatar – a powerful bender that has the ability to manipulate all of the elements. There is only one Avatar at any time. Each Avatar is a reincarnation of the previous one. They are born into one of the four tribes of humans according to a cycle that relates to the seasons. The Avatar is responsible for maintaining balance between the four tribes of the world.
The human tribes – Human culture is divided into four tribes, according to the elements. The tribe’s element is the center of its culture. Occasionally there are people born into a tribe with the power to control or bend the element of their tribe.
Aang (played by found-on-the-internet-martial-arts-phenom Noah Ringer), an airbender, finds out that he is the Avatar, or the spirit of the planet, manifest in human form (not a giant, blue, cat-reptile-thing from Pandora). This is too much for young Aang to take, so he decides to run away with his flying bison, Appa. The two are caught in a storm that activates a self-triggering defense mechanism called the Avatar State, freezing Aang and Appa in a state of suspended animation within a huge sphere of ice. One hundred years later, the movie begins.
The Last Airbender, follows season 1 (Book 1: Water) of the animated series. Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother, Sokka (Twilight’s Jackson Rathbone), of the Inuit-like Southern Water Tribe, stumble upon the previously mentioned huge sphere of ice while hunting. Katara and Sokka free Aang from the ice sphere and claim responsibility for him, for some reason, and take him to their village. This is where we are fed the entire back story, by a village elder. The elder makes a point to mention the heart of a warrior. [I was unable to keep myself from shouting “By your powers combined!”] Upon returning to their village with Aang, he surrenders to Prince Zuko (played by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dov Patel), son of Fire Lord Ozai. Zuko was banished and the only way to regain his honor is to capture the Avatar. Zuko is accompanied by Uncle Iroh (Shaun Taub – Iron Man’s Yinsen), a powerful firebender and former crown prince of the fire nation.
Of course, Aang escapes using his Airbending ability and his trusty glider staff (I want one). This is probably the best shot scene in the entire film.
Aang decides to make a quick stop by the Southern Air temple and with the help of the spirits he realizes that he is… wait for it… The Last Airbender. All of the other members of the Air Nomads were killed off by the Fire Lord, shortly after Aang’s disappearance.
Since Aang ran away, he never learned to bend the other elements. To fulfill his destiny, he must learn the elements in the proper order, which apparently means that he must learn water next. The three journey to the Northern Water Tribe to find a teacher for Aang. Along the way, they make a few stops to help spread the word that the Avatar has returned.
There’s a bit about the Spirits that give the waterbenders their power, but they just looked like koi to me. Something about the evil firebenders power increasing in three years upon the arrival of a comet, but this one had long since lost my interest.
Confused? So was the audience. Shyamalan (How the hell do you pronounce that anyway?) decided that rather than explain it more clearly, he would just distract the audience. Plot holes? Look! I have some nice effects. What do you mean is doesn’t make sense? Heyyy, effects made by ILM! Pay no attention to the fact that my “stars” deliver performances that make the voice-overs from the animated series sound like the latest Daniel Day Lewis offering.
The Last Airbender cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million to make and had an advertising budget of around $130 million. After the lack of commercial success of The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening, I’m surprised that Shyamalan received backing for his Airbender project. I doubt anyone will make that mistake again. Remember studio executives, “The Power is Yours!”
Do yourself a favor, skip this one. If you love the animated series, spend your money on the DVDs. If want to see a family adventure film, Toy Story 3 is the way to go. If you feel that you need to watch a Shyamalan film, watch The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable or Signs again and think of a time when Shyamalan could make a decent film and we didn’t know how much of an asshole Mel Gibson was.
How much would I pay to see this one again? Out of $10, $1 if I can’t sleep, or $2 if I’m having friends over, just so we can rip it apart.