Saturday, August 7, 2010

This Movie is Awful: A Review of The Last Airbender

"Why did you have to ruin my childhood,
Mr. Shyamalan?"
The Last Airbender is a perfect example of just about everything wrong with moviemaking in today’s age. Director M. Night Shyamalan could have created an epic, exciting, and dramatic adaption of the beloved Nickelodeon television show, but unfortunately, and really to no one’s surprise, he instead created this atrocity, which fails to deliver on every level.

Starting with the aesthetics, The Last Airbender is dull and ugly. Every scene is shot with a bland color scheme that seems to blend everything together. This isn’t helped by the camera work and editing, which are shoddy at best. It would not at all be an exaggeration to say that there are YouTube videos with more visual savvy than this movie. Even the action sequences, which with some work and in the hands of someone with serious talent might have been incredible to behold, are downright silly. It's almost impressive that Mr. Shyamalan manages to make miniature tornadoes launching from a character’s hand look about as powerful as a leaf blower, or have fireballs appear bland and uninteresting.

Character-wise, this movie is even more awful. Some movies are criticized for having cardboard cutouts or two-dimensional characters. Frankly, most cardboard cutouts have much more personality and energy than the figures that populate the four kingdoms of this movie’s fictional land and would indeed be preferable. Calling these figures soulless or lifeless would be an understatement. Take the protagonist Aang for instance. The animated version of Aang is lighthearted, childlike, fun, and a little goofy. As the Avatar he is the embodiment of the reluctant hero, overwhelmed with the quest he must take up, which is to learn the four mystical elements of air, water, earth, and fire, in order to defeat the villainous tyrant, Lord Ozai. Throughout that storyline, Aang’s confidence, character, and skills are built up until he finally is physically and mentally ready to take on the world’s greatest foe. In the movie version, literally none of these traits, characteristics or development are present. Instead, what we have is an Aang who doesn’t know how to enjoy himself but is sullen, unenthusiastic, and even somewhat stern most of the time, assuming he actually feels anything at all. Sullen, unenthusiastic and stern could describe almost everyone in the cast of The Last Airbender, which is equal parts annoying and depressing. Sure, there are a few small exceptions; Dev Patel as one of the main antagonists, Prince Zuko, does a passable job. Though, the funny thing is, part of the reason that this is possible is because Prince Zuko’s personality, generally speaking for the first and second seasons of the television show, is the same as the three aforementioned descriptive words and thus he is supposed to act that way . . . unlike his various counterparts. It’s sort of pathetic too that Prince Zuko can only barely be distinguished from character Aang’s traveling companions Sokka and Katara (who should be portrayed as a wisecracking comedic relief and as the compassionate, motherly, and optimistic love interest respectively but aren’t). Everyone else in this film seems to drag, forcing themselves to say lines without ever coming close to demonstrating a strong emotion or holding a believable conviction or motive. With better acting many of these problems could perhaps have been avoided or reduced in scale. Alas, it is not to be.

Last but not least, the story is botched in The Last Airbender. Incredibly clunky and tedious exposition is most of the movie, and it fails both in the sense that it doesn’t clearly explain the plot, and also that it doesn’t give the audience any strong reason to care about this particular plot in the first place. Viewers who have not seen this movie’s television predecessor are likely to respond to this with thoughts such as “Bending elements, huh… what?” or “Spirit Kingdom…..that’s….weird.” Fans of the predecessor…well, the only response that you’ll get from them are a varied and unsettling assortment of moans, groans, and yelling. Between the bits of nauseating dialogue, the film shows the characters as they travel arbitrarily from land to land doing totally arbitrary things until they all eventually meet at an unsatisfactory final showdown.

You know a movie is bad when a host from NPR declares it to be “career assassination” for that movie’s director. You know a movie is bad when it gets worse average reviews than The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. You then should know that The Last Airbender is without a doubt the worst movie of 2010.

Official YAMB Grade: Dislike

Nate S Grade:
Aesthetics: C-
Acting: D+
Characters: F
Story: C
Overall Grade: D+

“You Sack of Wine!”
-Nate S

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