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. That’s really too bad. I followed the cartoon closely and was getting ready to buy tix to the midnight showing tonight. Think I might take a pass for a while and let it come out on dvd. Really disappointed.

  2. Man, 1.5 stars dude. That is wicked. You busted my bubble Rob, now I’m walking into the theater with “I don’t know what to expect except crap” on my face :-(

  3. I wonder what Vic has to say about this?

  4. This is why I read multiple reviews. Ive heard the exact opposite on every subject you mentioned.

    • You made my hopes a little higher for this movie with what you said and that’s true in a way.

    • Aaron,

      You’re joking. WHERE are you finding good reviews of this movie? Out of all the movie reviewers I know only one of them found this to be even halfway decent.


      • Now you busted my high hopes bubble Vic….. again.

      • Various posts on IMDB linking to them, but after further research there are many, many, MANY more negative reiviews now. Sad day, I will still have to see it though.

        • Aaron, I’m very curious what sites you’re reading these reviews on. Submit the links on our contact form so I can see.

          It’s currently at 76 negative reviews and only 5 positives on Rotten Tomatoes.

          Worse, it’s averaging 2.9/10… averaging 29% from all reviews collected so far… how bad is that?

          On Metacritic, it’s even worse with an average of 25%.

          Just so everyone knows that we’re not the one site harping on this film. It’s actually that bad and I’m as disappointed as you.

    • haha have fun watching it… you’ll find this review is spot on.

      • Im honestly prepared now lol. I loved the series so I have to see the movie, but I am not expecting much now.

  5. Thanks, Rob. If its really that bad… so much for MNS’s career.

  6. That’s pretty much how I expected this to turn out. I personally hated the cartoon but even if I liked it you can’t expect M.Night to make it good the guy has made one good movie in a long list of failures.

    • you DIDN’T like the cartoon..
      wow.. that’s a first.

  7. Darren,

    I was planning on giving it 2 stars, so not much more than Rob. Not being familiar with the source material I wasn’t going to be quite as rough on it – but really, this is for kids only. Acting and dialog were awful except for Shaun Toub (Professor Yinsen from Iron Man). Basically it feels like a made-for-cable Nickelodeon movie, but with a monster budget.


    • Well Vic, I can’t argue with you there, I gotta see it first to do so :-D. But I know I can count on you for honest results, I wouldn’t doubt you.

      • Darren, have ye no faith in I my friend? lol

  8. I went to the premier last night, and that was the biggest let-down of my life. I love the show, I re-watched Book 1 just so nothing would take me by suprise. I can find something good about ANY movie I watch. Except this one. It was so bad I curled up in my seat and went to sleep for the last 20 minutes. The people beside me got up and left. The only people who even stayed somewhat true to their characters were Iroh and Sokka. This movie should not have been made, not by Shymalamalamaman. Peter Jackson, maybe. If you want something to waste your time that ou don’t have to think about and that won’t elicit any emotional responses… Go for it. Otherwise, just go see Eclipse.

  9. 6% on rotten tomatoes. Ouch. So is this the end of his career? 3 bad movies straight?

    • BTW, reviews for the 3 before on RT are:
      43% – The Village
      24% – The Lady in the Water
      18% – The Happening

      Average rating is down to 44%. I know RT isn’t the be all, end all of reviews, but many use it.

      • SteveE,

        Yeah, it’s like he started out at the top of his game and every subsequent film got worse and worse (I’m a fan of Unbreakable, though).


        • ive said the same thing in the past vic, M.Night i feel needs to take a step back and lok back and what made the first two films of his work(the sixth sense, unbreakable)thos eare the only two movies of his i can still watch to this day.

  10. I knew the movie would not do well off the bat, because in the previews he failed to show the one thing that everyone knew about Aang. His loving and childlike personality. I was being hopeful. He seemed way to serious in the previews/trailers. I’m still wondering why Nickelodeon didn’t step in and take over. I even got my wife watching the animated series. She likes it so much that she even started watching book one again. My wife hates anime… Dude you really let us down…

  11. rottentomatoes is really slamming this movie as well. Looks like M. Night Shamalot has definitely lost it. Was really hoping this was going to be epic. Twilight wins this weekend I guess.

  12. My whole theater bood at the end of the movie… I went to see the midnight premiere and wanted to fall asleep… it was a big let down.

  13. Oh gross. I guess this movie does suck. I got no more bubbles now :-(

  14. I am 20-years old and sad to say my younger sister and i attended the midnight showing last night. After waiting an entire year for this film to come out, we were completely shocked to find out the results. We both agree that the movie is no match for the cartoon series. Huge fans filled the theaters 4 hours prier to the movie starting. Teenagers from 14-19 dressed up in excitement in there favorite characters: Aang, Azula, Zuko and Kyoshi Warriors, who were let down as well. It was ridiculous how they left out the main characters and changed names, along with everything in the article. True fans BOOOOOED the movie at the end… Don’t bother, its a RedBox movie… :[

    • I just finally watched it… from Redbox… I want my $1.09 back.

    • i dressed up as toph and my friends as sokka, katara, aang, and zuko. ALL that preparation for NOTHING. I booed at the end.

  15. Wow…. how spectacular in the ability, of someone who is supposedly a good director, to ruin such agreat story. I just can’t explain my utter dissapointment. I can understand liberty with some concepts, but changing the way you prnounce a character’s name, to lack of connection to character, humorless humor, fight scenes without any elements structure, to the worst dialague, to really bad acting, and on and on I can go. I feel such anger at “Sammla” (mispronouce his name) that I wish for his career to be undoubtfully ruined for life. Never direct, write, or produce, think that you can, be able, be allowed, ever again. He honestly has no idea how to make something that is handed to you. why did the creators allow him to go foreward with this. They had some stake in it to. Now you can say that a possible 4th season of the toon series is out of the question. Who would support it now after this debacle.

  16. More like 4 bad movies in a row.

  17. I will not support this movie with my money, I had a really bad feeling about it anyway, as a huge fan of the series, along with my kids.

    They should never have allowed Night to touch this property.

  18. I hate M Night and hated this cartoon but I really wanted this to be a success to sort of put a dent in twilights opening but that’s not happening. Oh well at least I can look forward to twilights 75 percent drop next weekend.

      you obviously aren’t watching the right one.

  19. Yea Vic unbreakable is the only one I like at all.

    • I really dug Unbreakable but I also liked Signs and The Sixth Sense quite a bit, especially when watching with a group.

      Unbreakable was probably the overall best of his work for me (not much to choose from though…)

  20. Not to be the bad news bear, but Avatar, the last airbender, was the all time WORST attempt at making a movie out of the miniseries EVER. but the movie would have been totally fine if you just wore a blind fold and ear plugs the whole time.

  21. Talk about your token black guy. It was just stupid how Monk-Ki-Otso was black…. all the air nomads were pale skinned kids. It’s just beyond me of why he was a middle aged black man. He should of been at least OLDER!

  22. I don’t expect anything from Night S’ movies as they are alway slow and look like TV movies with an overblown budget. His movies are overhyped and always fail to deliver any excitements, twists or surprises like SIGN or THE VILLAGE. If this movie succeeds, it’s better to choose different director and writer as well.

  23. Hey, where’s that commenter that gave us grief when we said the acting in the trailers made the movie look awful – saying you can’t judge the acting in a movie just from a trailer?



  24. This Movie was so bad i walked out.
    Im a true Avatar fan and M. Night failed miserably.
    I was pissed about the actors not being asian when characters in the show was clearly asian in a clearly asian world.
    But i decided to watch it because im a huge fan.


  25. Not even going to waste my money after these reviews, talk about a let down. Guess I’ll have to save it for a boring night alone rental lol.

  26. Wow. I was hoping this movie would be a good gateway movie into the series. I’ve been wanting to see the series, but haven’t yet. So let down.

    My sister’s a huge fan of the series and she was planning to watch the movie tomorrow. She STILL wants to, despite the backlash and the bad reviews, insisting that M.Night movies are an acquired taste (but then she’s turning 29 and LIKES Twlight, if that’s any indication). I said, well okay, her birthday and her money.

  27. Why Shamalyabdghdkdn Why? Ive seen a lot reviews on this movies and it was terrible. My top 3 reviews that I see are screenrant, and rotten tomatoes. And now that I see all these comments I know I wont be going to see this movie. Im not going to waste 90 minutes of my life watching something that I am going to be highly disaapointed about. What a letdown. Now I have to wait a whole two weeks for Inception to come out. Guess Knight’s career is over.

  28. I’m hoping that someone new comes in and does the next movie… ugh. sickness

    • i personally hope he never directs again, unless its an Unbreakable sequel LOL

      • tell me about it, or at least I will be standing CLEAR!

    • there better NOT be a next movie.

  29. I generally like most of this director’s stuff (I even liked “Lady in the Water” although I haven’t seen “The Happening” yet) and even I’m going to stay as far away from this as possible. This does not look good and the reviews were much more negative than I thought they’d be

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