Noah Ringer in The Last Airbender (2010)


(director/writer: M. Night Shyamalan; screenwriter: based on the animation series Avatar by: Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko; cinematographer: Andrew Lesnie; editor: Conrad Buff; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Noah Ringer (Aang), Dev Patel (Prince Zuko), Nicola Peltz (Katara), Jackson Rathbone (Sokka), Shaun Toub (Uncle Iroh), Aasif Mandvi (Commander Zhao), Cliff Curtis (Fire Lord Ozai), Seychelle Gabriel (Princess Yue), Katharine Houghton (Katara’s Grandma); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: M. Night Shyamalan/Sam Mercer/Frank Marshall; Paramount Pictures; 2010)

It’s a stinker that takes itself so seriously, but might bring about unintentional laughter to those who can view this rubbish as merely a goof.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A 2-D movie with an unnecessary 3-D attachment (adds nothing to the viewing pleasure) is the latest sci-fi flop directed by once upon a time hot new director M. Night Shyamalan (“Signs”/”The Village”/”The Happening”), whose career has come crashing down with the speed of an earthbound meteor.This bogus attempt to create a franchise from familiar fantasy-action material, is adapted from a popular Nickelodeon cartoon series by Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko and featuring the first season of the cartoon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Meant to be anime, Shyamalan unsuccessfully resorts to live-action, mistakenly has white actors in the lead replace Asians (thereby losing credibility for this Eastern story), the performances are wooden, and a banal screenplay plus a stilted presentation of a muddled story line results in a film of poor quality that only second-rate directors turn out. It’s a stinker that takes itself so seriously, but might bring about unintentional laughter to those who can view this rubbish as merely a goof. But for the sake of all movie fans, let’s hope it ends with this failure–the public is already inundated with too many bad films to have this crappy one turn into a franchise.

Set sometime in the future, when the Earth is a ruined planet and survives only because a few beings with magical powers over the elements of air (Tibetans), earth (Japanese), water (Eskimos) and fire (Indians) exist. The world is at war, divided by the four element factions, now made into nations, with the warlike Firebenders setting out to control the world and show they’re the dominant force by attacking the other element nations. In the peaceful kingdom of Air, a child named by the Buddhist monks Aang (Noah Ringer) is recognized from the prophecy and through a ritual test as the Avatar (a messianic figure who can save the world by bringing people together in harmony), but the child gets frightened when told by the monks he can’t lead a normal life (like marry), a sacrifice for his birth-given power to influence the air by bending it into different shapes. The frightened youngster runs away before being taught how to influence the other elements and learning from the monks other lessons to make him a wise person.

Teenage siblings, Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her older protective brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), out hunting in the frozen tundra, discover Aang frozen in the ice and free him. They quickly recognize that the kid, stuck in the glacier for 100 years, has powers that can save the world from the attacking enemy Firebenders and go on a journey with the Avatar to the other nations so he can learn from them how to use their bending powers.

The evil Firebender chief, Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis), has banished his disgraced son Prince Zuko (Dev Patel, star of Slumdog Millionaire) for being a coward and will welcome him back only if he brings him the Avatar alive. The young adult Zuko, always grumpy, is accompanied by his wise Uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub), as they travel across the earth searching for the Avatar. The angry prince is mentored by his uncle, as he obsessively tries to redeem himself to his dad by going all out to capture the Avatar and fails to take heed of his mentor’s sound advice.

We learn that Aang is the last Airbender, as his village is destroyed by the invading Firebender army led by the scheming Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi). As the Good vs. Evil struggle picks up steam, it has the heroic teenager siblings and the child Avator Aang fend off dangers from all their enemies as they try to save the world in a peaceful way.

None of it is convincing, as the actors deliver their lines as if reading off cue cards, the special effects are less than special in their CGI treatment, the combat scenes are boring, the strong source material is diluted by the director’s inability to make any headway with the film’s questionable mystic mythology and there’s a sense that none of the actors, who seemed so stiff, believed in the project as much as Shyamalan(a true believer who goes down with the ship when he can’t stop this absurd mess and Bend it in another direction). Yet there are a few beautiful images of seemingly otherworldly landscapes and colorful scenes of children doing tai chi that caught my attention, but that was far too little and of minor importance to salvage such an embarrassingly awkward film.