Shyamalan and Paramount Pictures tried to cover the story arc of a full season of the Airbender cartoon in about ninety minutes of movie. With this cast and the special effects, it’s hard to fathom that they spent $150 million dollars making it. There’s an hour of missing movie out there somewhere, one that explains these characters and their story in full. I just know it.
What we do get are multiple occasions where instead of traveling with the characters, building their relationships and giving us something we can attach to, instead we’re just thrown into new scenes in completely different locales, with either a subtitle explaining to us where we are now, and/or narration saying a certain amount of time has passed and that stuff has happened. Then, before we experience much of anything with the characters we’re supposed to be attached to, in the new locale we’ve been thrown into, we’re quickly thrown into another poorly set up scene – which quickly takes us to yet another location/locale without any purpose or sense of direction.
The hardest part about accepting The Last Airbender for what it is (not), is that there are no redeeming qualities to it. From the trailers and other marketing, you’d expect at least the action sequences and special effects involved would provide some entertainment – and while there are some cool action bits, even that aspect of the film falls short.
During the few scenes involving hand-to-hand combat, in a movie heavily focused on martial arts styles (each corresponding to a different bending ability), most of the time the fight scenes didn’t come off as cool or enjoyable. And in scenes where they could have really showcased wildly entertaining bending fights, they instead opted to repeatedly show a lengthy martial arts dance routine, just to employ one basic bending assault – whereas in the cartoon series, there were many intense action scenes where each punch and kick from Prince Zuko would launch fireballs at his opponent.
There is one bright spot in the film: Fan-favorite character Uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub) is the standout character of the movie, cool and lovable as he was in the cartoon. Uncle Iroh is Prince Zuko’s mentor and while being a calm and often comedic character, he is a powerful Firebender, good-natured in contrast to the ill-tempered young Zuko.
Unfortunately for moviegoers and fans of the cartoon, The Last Airbender does almost everything wrong and it certainly isn’t helped by the tacked-on 3D, which doesn’t add much to the film (at best) and saddles it with muted colors and flat depth (at worst). This is a movie unintentionally aimed strictly at children and the youngest segment of the cartoon’s fanbase. If your kids love flashy things and big animals, then they’ll probably like this – unless they start trying to understand the plot. In my opinion, you’d be better off taking them to see fireworks this weekend – it will probably be more entertaining.
In the end, I just hope this movie doesn’t hurt people’s interest in watching the amazing cartoon series which spawned it. That would truly be unforgivable.