I’ll start off with what you might be thinking: Yes, I know I am the millionth person to talk about how bad this movie is. It’s beating a horse that was dead for 10 years, might not make that many new points about it at all and, frankly, I don’t care. This is more a place for me to let out my anger and disgust, and if anyone else reads it, that’s simply a bonus.
Also, spoiler alert for a movie that is a decade old and is absolutely terrible. Here we go.
You probably know who this movie was directed by, but in case, that man is Mr. M. Night Shyamalan, director of some very good things, but also some very bad things. The cast includes a bunch of white kids and Dev Patel, and the story is the first book of the show this is based on: the masterpiece known as “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
I usually like to start these off with the positives before going into the bad, so I will attempt to do that here. Princess Yue looks accurate to the show. Patel and Shaun Toub, who play Prince Zuko and General Iroh, are fine. Uhhhh, some of the effects are decent. Uhhhhhhhhhhh, some of the names are pronounced right?
That is about it, with every single other thing about the film falling flat on its face upon delivery.
Where shall we start? Let’s start at the top. Shyamalan, coming off the red-hot successes of “Lady in the Water” and “The Happening” (just kidding those are crap), turned this beloved series filled with charm, drama and impeccable development, into a lifeless slog with no real energy, whether it be from the action set pieces or the characters.
This starts out right at the beginning, with painful exposition coming from each piece of dialogue instead of letting it come naturally through the film. Believe me, I know there is a lot that these first 20 episodes cover, I get that, but to try to get through the key bits by just force feeding information is both lazy and bad entertainment.
Then there’s the problem with pacing. The first hour of this movie is basically the first 18 episodes of the first season, and oh man does it feel like a lot. These characters are flying through little moments in the show with reckless abandon, and we get excitement almost strictly from wooden dialogue.
After that, when the treadmill is at max speed, we move at less than walking speed for the final 40 minutes of the movie, which is basically used for the last two episodes. I don’t necessarily have a problem with making the fight in the Northern Water Tribe a long one, but at least make it freaking interesting, which Shyamalan, who both wrote and directed this garbage, never does.
Look, I know you have to separate your movie depiction from the show in some way, but the way that Shyamalan decides to is just so stupid. First off, it is an unbelievably ridiculous decision to purposely have character’s names mispronounced like Aang’s (Ahng) or Sokka’s (Soh-kah) or Iroh’s (Hero) because it just immediately annoys anyone who has watched the show.
Another brilliant idea was to make all the benders significantly weaker than they were in the show. Need to move a tiny rock? It takes about 15 earth benders to do it. Need to air bend? Make about 86 hand movements to push a gust of wind. Fire bend? You are required to have a torch nearby to do anything unless you are a general. Water bend? Use all your force to splash someone with a puddle.
Unless it was a budget thing, which at $150 million already might be the case, but still, I do not understand the need to make all the bending that was so cool in the show into such a bland, uninspired ability that barely seems threatening.
I saved the acting for last because I don’t know how much to blame these child actors for it. Do they suck in this movie? Absolutely they do, but I am not sure anyone could have breathed life into this wonky ass dialogue. Still, the casting for Aang — Noah Ringer, who was in one movie after this and then never in a movie again — was wrong, and they should have picked someone a little older and a little more charismatic for the lead.
The same could be said for Jackson Rathborne as Sokka, who is an absolute brick wall and misses out on all the goofiness and comedic chops that the animated version brought in, and Nicola Peltz of “Transformers: Age of Extinction” fame, who doesn’t bring the heart and drive that Katara possesses, even in the first book.
Quickly I will discuss that it feels super weird to have the antagonists all played by minorities and the protagonists as white kids when the whole show feels like it can be a primarily Asian cast, but even subtle racism feels like it is only a chunk of the endless amounts of disasters that this movie has.
I think that “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a show that can be adapted, and doing it one book at a time is the right step. Other right steps would be focusing heavily on the characters, bringing in comedic elements along with the drama and the plot and by staying faithful to things like names and bending while going a little more free with the events, none of which this movie does.
“The Last Airbender” is a car crash that is hard to look away from, mostly because there is something new and specifically terrible to find with each passing minute. Even my seven-year-old sister could not fathom changing the names of the beloved characters and stopped watching by the second act, which I could not blame her for.
Rating this movie would be giving in to the fact that it is a film worthy of a score, even 10 years later, and that is something I will not allow. Don’t watch this movie, but don’t give up on an adaptation in the future, like what Netflix is trying to do, possibly being successful.