The Last Airbender Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated July 2nd, 2010 at 11:13 am,

the last airbender review The Last Airbender Review
Screen Rant’s Rob Keyes reviews The Last Airbender

The path was set for writer/director M. Night Shyamalan to return to glory with his adaptation of the hit animated Nickeloden television series, The Last Airbender. The movie is meant to be the first of a potential trilogy of films about the fantasy epic, which mixed anime action with Eastern philosophy.

I’m very familiar with the Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon series – and with M. Night doing something different by taking on a big-budget film that wasn’t based on one of his original ideas, I was very interested and hopeful that this could be the game-changer for his career (which has been on something of a downward spiral in recent years).

So much for that hope.

The Last Airbender is a poorly constructed film with no sense of plot, character or emotion – and aside from the visuals, there are little to no redeeming qualities in this wasted opportunity of a fantastic property, which was ripe for a film adaptation.

The movie (which stars Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone and Dev Patel) retells the main story arc of the first of three seasons (or “books,” as they’re known by fans) of the American cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender (see our review of Avatar: The Last Airbender Book 1 Collector’s Edition). In a spiritual world divided into four cultures, each Nation has a few people who have the ability to master the art of bending their respective elements: Air, Water, Earth and Fire. “The Avatar” is the one person in this world who is able to master all four elements – and this special person is reincarnated every generation into a member of one of the four cultures, following a specified cycle. It is the Avatar, the embodiment of the world’s spirits, who maintains peace and balance in the world.

the last airbender review aang The Last Airbender Review

The story begins with the discovery of Aang, who is quickly revealed to be the last of his people, the Air Nomads (hence the title, Last Airbender). The evil Fire Nation wiped out the Air Nomads a century prior in hopes of breaking the cycle and preventing the next Avatar from being born. This would pave the way for the Fire Nation’s attempts to take over the world. Needless to say, when members of the Fire Nation learn of Aang’s existence, they want him and set out in hot pursuit. Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), the exiled son of the Fire Nation ruler, needs to capture the Avatar to regain his honor and rightful place within the Fire Nation kingdom.

This simplified summary of the story behind The Last Airbender is shared with the audience, and while Shyamalan promised the movie would be true to the source, it is not.

The film includes a heavy load of shot-for-shot recreations of set piece moments from the cartoon series, as well as designs and locations lifted from memorable parts of the first season of the show (just to claim it’s “true” to the source). The filmmakers don’t use any of this borrowed material correctly. Much of what’s included is there for the sole reason of filling in for the audience important scenes and moments from the cartoon – however, in the movie, these elements end up serving no purpose and throw the direction off to the point where many scenes are completely meaningless and borderline incomprehensible. For example: including a six-legged, beaver-tailed flying CGI bison named Appa in the movie doesn’t automatically make it true to the source material – it’s how we feel about the big lovable creature that matters. The cartoon was able to solicit love for its big flying bison – the movie, not so much.

the last airbender review appa The Last Airbender Review

The story Shyamalan was trying to tell is meant to be that of an epic journey of discovery and companionship (with healthy doses of action and comedy), all packaged with a lot of heart. And this is where Shyamalan fails most of all. There are no reasons to get attached to any of the “characters” in The Last Airbender and even less reason to care about what happens to them. Most of the key character-defining moments or story arcs from the cartoon are not even shown in the movie, but are instead told through an awkward overload of exposition. As a result, we couldn’t care less about Appa (or other characters) based on the way they’re handled. Most of the “borrowed” scenes included in the film have no reason to be there (other than to be able to say they’re from the cartoon) – and worse, how the characters get from one location to the next as they journey across the world is never shown, removing the actual sense of journey that defines the tale.

For a movie based in world full of beautiful scenery and unique locales, we are not shown much of anything. We are given a bunch of set pieces constructed to replicate memorable visuals from the Airbender cartoon, but again, there’s no reason to care about them and more often than not, there is no reason for many of these scenes to even be in the movie. The set pieces should have expanded upon the story (which was lacking) and heightened the visual meaning of the film, but totally fail in that endeavor.

thelastairbender27 570x308 The Last Airbender Review

Our three protagonists, Aang, along with his Southern Water Tribe friends, Sokka and Katara, are mere empty shells of the characters the film hints at them being – and there’s no way the audience is able to become attached to them. The characters aren’t even shown getting attached to each other, as we’re not treated to much in the way of development between them. Aang is supposed to be the young, innocent, fun-loving kid who needs to learn to take on the responsibilities of becoming the Avatar, but he is replaced with a character containing no personality whatsoever.

Aside from the horrible dialogue, acting and cinematography (mostly in the first half), M. Night Shyamalan stripped away what made any of characters special or charming. The introduction to the movie and its characters is weak and how they introduce Aang as the Avatar to the rest of the world is uneventful. Most of the movie lacked excitement and those few times there’s a hint at seeing something cool or special, it’s just another letdown – especially when it comes to the action sequences, which could have become the film’s defining trait.

Continue reading our Last Airbender review…

Our Rating:

1.5 out of 5
(Poor, A Few Good Parts)

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  1. I’ve unfortunately bought the movie, thinking that it would be good. Boy was I wrong! I love the tv show to death. I have the complete box sets and me and some friends have “Avatar” nights where we watch the series. This “movie” is the worst it could have possibly been, and then some!
    1. The names! Why oh why, are the names being mispronounced? I don’t care if they were trying to make them culturally correct. The point is, they should have remained true to the series in order for fans to know who’s who.
    2. The characters, or lack of that is. There is NO emotion in this film. The characters are so bland with no depth at all. All they do is stare off into space, deliver lines that were way too dramatic and then stare off into space again! The characters in the show were amazing! I wanted to be them, where in the movie, I want to leave their sorry butts behind and go on the journey myself! The right way!
    3. The story. Where is the plot?!!! I only understood why they were traveling because I’m obsessed with the show! And even then it was difficult! Spend more time on plot development rather than set development!
    4. The bending! The most important aspect of the show, and the movie misses completely! Why are they doing an elaborate martial arts form and THEN the element reacts? Last I checked (last night) the benders movements affect the element immediately! They move together to create the reaction! The bending is a direct connection to the bender’s chi! Ask the writers!
    5. Zhoa going to the fire nation every other scene. How the heck do they expect a man, who’s suppose to be traveling north, following the Avatar, to come back to the Fire Nation (in the south) every few days to give the fire lord an update? REALLY??? Did the script writers even remember that the fire lord isn’t even revealed until book 3?
    In conclusion. Come on! Get it right the first time, and then MAYBE people will like it! I know for a fact, that everyone I know who watches the series, hates, and I mean HATES the movie. The only people who semi-enjoy the movie are those who have never seen the awesomeness of the show “Avatar: the Last Airbender” and even they have difficulty. If there is to be a sequel, (please not until this poor excuse is remade the right way) it is going to take a lot of convincing to get fans of the series to go see it.

    • Watch the Nostalgia Critic’s review of this movie and you’ll feel a lot better.

  2. The movie sucks, reasons have already been mentioned, and I agree completely…

    I’m a fierce fan of the TV show, I loved it, I couldn’t wait for the next episode to come out…

    It really annoys me that they totally “killed” my favorite character, which is Zuko grrr, I couldn’t watch the whole movie (I didn’t go to the cinema, as the trailer itself dissapointed me tremendously)…

    Anyways, I really hope they don’t make it a trilogy before they fix the plot, or at least create one.

  3. I’ve never seen the show, and even I hated this terrible excuse for a movie epic. At least hire a decent director. Anyone but Shyamalan would’ve made this a great movie.

  4. I loved the movie.

  5. Here years late because I caught Unbreakable on TV, and kept clicking links.

    Pretty much everything was bad, but the worst part to me is how a professional TEAM can take an established story, where its all been said to us before, and INTENTIONALLY MISPRONOUNCE THE MAIN CHARACTER’S NAME(and other things).

    The source material was spoken. There is no question as to pronunciation. The assumption that “no, no, we know better” alienates and insults the audience.

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