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. the most disapoointing thing is that the fire nation is indian instead of asian and also the water nation isnt asian im not being racist but seriously it has to be like the show to be sucessful

  2. do use agree

  3. This movie was horrible not to be rascist but the actors are horrible name changes annoy me if this is supposed to be based off the series this is total bull!! It furiates me none of these actors can act like the ones off the series and try next time to get actors that do in fact resemble the ones off the show!

    • The way each actor pronounced eachothers name annoyed the hell out of me the whole movie!! Like how Aang is pronounced aung or ung..

  4. this movie could of been great, but they stuffed it up

  5. I watched the Nickolodian Avatar with my daughter and we fell in love with the cartoon series. When the movie came out, we didn’t see it on the big screen but now saw it on rental. I’m glad we didn’t waste our money watching it in movie theatre. If there’s another Avatar made by the same director, I will not take my daughter to see it because even at five years old, she didn’t like the cast or the way the director butchered the series. First of all, the director was completely clueless in his casting. It’s clearly from the cartoon series (which everyone fell in love with in the first place), the characters had Asian and Eskimo flavor. The director brought in caucasian and India characters? Granted the director is of Asian origin, but which part of Asian is he in favor of when he was casting for the movie? If the movie had all the Chinese and the Eskimo actors, it would’ve been more convincing, but we felt like we were blindsided by his casting. I think the pinacle of this director’s career was the Six Sense because this movie was bad in ALL area. PLEASE DO NOT FRANCHISE THIS AND BUTCHER THE SERIES NO MORE. MYSELF AND PLENTY OTHERS I’M SURE WILL NOT SEE IT!!!

    • i couldnt agree more with tony

  6. it just makes me so mad at M. Night Shyamalan to take a cartoon series so cool and vivid and make such a mess out of it. The acting, as most of you noticed is despicable. The actors(no offense to Dev Patel)seem to just do their work because they have to not because they want to. They make the film look so dull and lifeless. Next you have the script. I’m pretty sure that if someone sees this movie without first watching the entire cartoon series, they would walk out of the movie theater bored, confused and i wouldn’t blame them if they would want their money back. Last but definitely not least, the special effects of the film are just horrible. The film Terminator 2: Judgement Day’s special effects make The Last Airbender’s special effects look like they were made from a laptop. No offense to M. Night Shyamalan, but that’s his third strike. Your out of there, buddy! I highly doubt they will be giving him another film to direct; no correction, destroy.

  7. Only one thing to say about this one. IF they reboot it, it would be greatly in their interest to cast dante basco (the guy who actually voices prince zuko) AS PRINCE ZUKO! just his presence would have greatly improved this movie… but once m. night got his hands on it, it was doomed already. Basco is more than capable of performing this role on screen.

  8. God I don’t know where to begin;

    ok 1st up the char sucks because they have NO CHAR DEV’T & changes in the some of the char personality ITSELF. Sokka’s too serious & is white same w/ katara, zuko’s not bald & even though his scar is much worse in the show at least HE HAS ONE, zhao looks like a comedian & not scary enough, Iroh is not playing pai-sho (w/c is a Chekhov’s gun), aang is not expressing his happy-go-lucky side much and FIRE LORD OZAI is not showed EVEN ONCE sitting on his GLORIOUS THRONE while flames are spewing around him w/c is supposedly his signature (telling viewers that a person is really evil if his face is not seen even if the flames are *supposedly* illuminating.)

    2nd the story is either too bland w/c is too narrative (Shyamalan type go figure)or too intoxicated w/c will make you dizzy from grasping too soon too fast moment from those who haven’t watched the show. Also some of the places are pretty mixed up (did Shyamalan really watched the show?)like the S.A temple-N.A temple, the S.E kingdom was EXTREMELY RUSHED, Av Roku not showed, etc. And he turned it into a star wars clone w/c sokka is anakin & yue is padme. why wouldn’t they make a movie about 2 1/2-3 hrs long like in LOTR & HP movies ESPECIALLY if they knew that this was a show about 20 eps. bk.1

    3rd The effects at least were pretty decent earth, water & air. Fire was ok, but they changed it again that the only few can conjure up fire some only relied on an existing source.

    In conclusion, they should have been a BETTER director who directed this like in the lines of Peter J. or steven S. perhaps? They should have been prepared like investing MORE money if they want this movie to succeed.

    Anyways I HOPE that bk 2 will include battles in Omashu,toph’s tournament,”the drill”,. introduce char like Ty Lee,Mei,The Dai Li,Bumi. introduce IMPORTANT informations like “The Library” & “the guru”. I also HOPE that they have realized their mistakes in 1 & will make book 2 & 3 BETTER (but knowing shymalan’s films… I HIGHLY DOUBT IT)

  9. - I dont have as much to say about that disgrace of a movie.
    – The only thing that made watching that boring movie tolerable was that it was for free on a site and from all the reviews I was somewhat prepared for the acting, name changes, and lack of overall life in the story.
    -There have already been to many reviews, rants and comments so I wont bother saying much more.
    -I would like an asian cast with flawless american accents or atleast a director with a full intention of making a 2 1/2 hour long movie with better story structure, character development, and pretty much every thing else.
    -I didn’t mind the actors chosen for the roles in the movie and felt they didnt get the chance to prove themselves as they would have if they had better guidance and direction.
    – And by the way i’m not a M. night fan but i liked signs and the happening.

  10. Apart from Dev Patel everybody else falls flat

  11. This movie sucked. I am a big fan of the cartoon, so I was expecting the same big events as the cartoon. As for the pronunciation of the name, I don’t care if the cartoon’s pronounce them wrong, I was expecting the same names. Also, although the ending was exceptional, that is not the way it was suppose to happen. The water was supposed to form around Aang (not Ong) and create a creature made out of water. If there are plans to continue the Airbender chapters please fix your mistakes or I will not be spending my money on that mess and spread the word of this mockery.

  12. Plus the earth benders looked like peasants and not strong warriors

  13. I have to say that I watched the movie before I saw the cartoons (we don’t have cable t.v. in our house) so I wasn’t devastated by the movie when I saw it. I noticed the “rush” and some really corny dialogue, but I thought there were some very original concepts and neat graphics. I would never have watched the cartoon series if the DVD hadn’t come with the first volume. I started watching them and immediately purchased all of the books. I couldn’t believe the rich depth of character development, flawless plot, great action, and humor. There was just so much missed when they made the movie like the entire journey and how each character develops through the different events. Even if the movie had to miss a lot of the events, they should have at least had the characters personalities correct, there is just such a lack of development that you really don’t feel attached to them and if you didn’t know they were the “good guys” you could really care less about them. It is really a shame, the movie could have been fantastic if it had been done right. I think it has more to do with how it was directed then the actors, most of the scenes didn’t allow for any real personality to come through.

  14. This movie was terrible. To be blunt.

    Just the fact that it took the characters around 40 seconds to produce 10 seconds of bending was frustrating as well as the inability of the Firebenders to produce fire without a source (which became the role of Sozin’s Comet, not to give the firebenders extra power but to allow them to create their own fire)

    I also noticed that most, if not all, the characters had major holes in their personalities. Aang in the cartoon followed the monk’s principles of peace and only fought in self-defence (unless in the Avatar state), while Oong (what the hell, seriously is it that hard to pronounce his name?!?) in the movie fought dozens of Fire Nation soldiers with no remorse. Even Iroh, who was the highlight for the entire movie (for me at least), wasn’t his wise, but comical, self.

    The action scenes were too long and, considering M. Night tried to condense a potentially 2 1/2 to 3 hour movie into 90 minutes, were focused on waaaaay too much. Adding to this were the slow motion scenes which doing nothing to increase suspense or action in the film.

    To be blunt again…
    Cartoon = Epic journey with EMOTIONAL characters
    Film = shallow journey with characters

  15. I Am a H U G E avatar fan. and the movie is a complete disappointment!!! first thing I noticed was the chosen cast…no one but prince Zuko (hardly) reminds me of the actual cartoon. the pronunciation of aang and avatar irk me…the way the movie skips from one chapter of the cartoon to another is whack! the cast can hardly act! and aangs tattoos are soo off…the movie was off period. I hope someone ELSE will remake this movie and atleast do the cartoon better justice.

  16. Ember island players in a nutshell “that was terrible! Agreed. But the effects were decent.”

    • You’re so right! I read this comment and cracked up because that is so true! The creators of avatar just saw that coming, huh?.. But Ember Island Players was entertaining and funny. This… monstrosity.. made me die inside.

  17. I loved the animated series! This movie ws not anything like it. Mr Night tried to make it his own and with disasterous results. I understand there will be those who enjoyed the movies but I can guarantee that they have not seen the series! I

    The arrrogance shown by Mr Night to actually remove all that made the series great and lovable is staggering! He could have endeared legions of fans to this movie but instead alienated them!

    The movie was and is dull, listless and boring. I also see him saying to the Asian community so sorry but you are now Indian by culture. Funny how that happened! Oh ya He’s Indian but when he cast the rest well it is obviously no go for the Asians and hello the Indians.

    I am an older man who fell in love with the series and its characters and they deserved better treatment!

  18. I loved the animated series. The humour is what made it what it was. I only saw one funny scene in the movie, *spoiler* where Kotara accidentally freezes Saka *spoiler* but in the movie it fell flat because of the one-dimensional nature of the characters. Where was Saka’s over the top personality and sense of humour? What happened to Kotara’s passion and compassion? And Aang was way too serious. His name is Aang, not Ung!

  19. They need to reboot this movie. Cast Jackie Chan and Jet Li?

    • well, not really those two, dunno where to put them. Sammo Hung and Chow yun fat would’ve been great though.

  20. I agree, the movie was and is nothing like the series, everything was changed.

    In the movie, firebenders can only manipulate fire, they cannot produce it. In the series firebenders can produce fire, you see them throwing fireballs from their hands all the time. There’s only one scene in the whole movie where you can actually see a firebender producing fire, and that’s the scene where uncle Iroh gets really mad when the Moon spirit is killed.

    The characters in the movie look nothing like those in the series, for example, those with white skin in the series (Prince Zuko) have dark skin in the movie, and those with dark skin in the series (Sokka and Katara) have white skin in the movie. Sokka and Katara’s grandmother is an Indian lady in the series, but in the movie she looks nothing Indian. Even uncle Iroh is totally different in the movie, he looks nothing like the one you see in the series. In my opinion, the only one who looks fairly similar to the original character is Aang, played by Noah Ringer. He has the same big eyes and the same cheeks, but he’s not goofy in the movie like the original Aang is in the series. He’s goofy out of cameras though, how curious.

    I’m sure you all agree with me, everything was changed in the movie, but the visual effects were good, in my opinion. Even though this movie disappointed me I’m still interested in seeing the other two movies, if they’re made that is.

  21. Hubby & I finally watched The Last Airbender movie a few nights ago. We were SO disappointed & frustrated! The characters were mere shadows of themselves with NO personality & no character development, the graphics were slow & tacky, and the plot was mangled. AAAAAND on top of all that, the pronounciations of 99% of their names were changed! Get it together, people! I want my $1.09 back.

  22. I remember seeing the trailer of this movie many months ago, and just a glimpse of the cast-selection made me cover my face with my palm and think “please don’t make this…”.

    But I was wrong to judge a book by it’s cover – it was a hundred times WORSE than I could’ve imagined, Shyamalan gracefully butchered every aspect of everything I saw/enjoyed from the cartoon series.
    It was almost as if he was TRYING his best to piss on the fans with the horrific pronunciation of names, cast selection, dialogue delivery, acting, effects, plot, etc…I can’t fathom any other reason, not even pure stupidity cuts it.

    If Dragonball Evolution screwed over the fans, I don’t know what word to use for what The Last Airbender did to it’s fans.

    To make things worse, Shyamalan has tarnished the reputation of The Last Airbender. However much we all wish for a properly-done remake, the fact remains that no matter how good the remake is nobody is going to bother watching it. One taste of The Last Airbender was enough and even I, a loving Avatar fan, will REFUSE to see another attempt at The Last Airbender even if it was directed by a reputed director and given out for free. I simply cannot risk putting myself through another experience like that.

    I sincerely hope this was the last movie of Shyamalan’s career. He should drop any ideas he has about a sequel and simply walk away from movie making.

    As the review said, the original plot & ideas were PERFECT to make a fantastic movie – one that could’ve easily overtaken Avatar (the one with blue aliens, not Aang :P) and won multiple awards if only it had a decent director in charge.

  23. This movie did not seem like it was based on the cartoon, There were so many parts in the cartoon that were relevant to the full storyline of the whole series that were missing from this movie, Which just made this storyline confusing. This movie had some serious casting issues eg. the characters would pronounce aang as it was spelt ung.

  24. This cartoon lacked all the comedy in the series. M. night shyamalan had very specific failures in writing as it he missed out on alot of the features that made the TV series the great show it was. It would have been great to see the three of them go to omashu and to see aang face of against bumi. But if there’s another movie and they ad that it would be inaccurate as he faced of against bumi before they arrived at the northern water tribe.

    M. night shyamalan also failed in picking the right cast for the movie, as the characters in the movie looked absolutely nothing like the characters in the TV series. Noah ringer resembled Aang the most, Jackson rathebone was to pale for the role of Sokka who is meant to be tan, the same goes to Nicola peltz who played Katara, Dev patel on the other-hand is completely the opposite, his character zuko is meant to be pale, where as dev patel is actually dark, Shaun toub had no features the same as his character Uncle Iroh.

  25. Man talk about a total miss! The animated series was cool. The movie was not. I’m going to stop watching any Shyamalan movies from now on.

  26. I loved the cartoon series and still do. This movie will never ruin it for me. But I do have to admit, the movie was poor. I was sitting there, knowing what was going to happen, because I have seen every single episode in the cartoon. I didn’t think very highly of it. Of course, my boyfriend thought it was a fabuloua movie, because he said he has never seen one episode in the series.
    I agree very strongly with the fact that the characters had no personality whatsoever. I loved all the characters in the series. They all had very cool personalities. He shouldn’t have tried to fit so much into one movie. Mr. Night should have spent more time focusing on character scripts and expression, then borrowing scenes from the cartoon. I loved Sakka’a humor, in the cartoon. I loved Aang’s child-like features. I loved how much Katara cared about Aang. And how much compassion she had for what she did. In the movie, Katara seemed to not even care when Aang got captured.
    The cartoon was so awesome because of the emphasis on the characters, the humor, and the awesomeness of the bending. In the movie, it all seemed fake. Almost like all he did for the script was copy and paste scenes and have the characters say what they needed to say.
    They didn’t explain the spirits at all in the movie. Only that they were needed, but not why.
    Another one of my favorite things from the series is the blind earth bender that traveled with them. She was one of my favorites. If they fail with her in the next movie, I will definitely have something to say to Mr. Night.
    But that is just my opinion.

  27. Before reading your review……… I was excited to watch, after reading your opinions I wholeheartedly agree with you. It is therefore impossible to translate countless hours of experience to a 99 minute flick. I choose not to watch it. Thank you for not allowing me to waste my time…..