The Last Airbender

Posted on November 16, 2010 at 10:34 am

I am truly sorry to say that this movie is a big, dumb, dull, dud and a failure in almost every category.
It is difficult to imagine how even writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, who seems to forget more about film-making with each successive production, thought that this cardboard claptrap could engage an audience. It is a disappointment to those of us who continued to hold out hope that Shyamalan could once again show us his genuine gift for cinematic story-telling, and it is an even bigger disappointment to fans of the popular animated television series who were hoping to see its spirit honored with a large-screen, live-action feature film.
I was hoping that Shyamalan’s creative energy would be sparked by working with stories and characters that were proven and created by others as the problem with his most recent films were a sagging sense of story and a disconnect from the audience. But instead of benefiting from the material here, he simply transferred the same problems. The story-telling is distant and chilly. The performances by the adult and child actors are stilted and wooden, with Shaun Toub as Uncle Iroh the only one who creates a character of any kind.
The screenplay is so exposition-heavy the characters sound like they are chewing on rocks. And then much of it gets repeated. It even has the ultimate cliche of a character, upon discovering a mass killing, screaming up to the sky. “Forget an air-bender,” I thought as I watched. “This movie needs a cinema-bender.” You know, an editor. For a movie with so much focus on responsibility, you would think Shyamalan would recognize some sense of obligation to the source material and its fans.
The story-line tracks the first season of the series, which was called “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” The world is divided into four nations: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. At one time, each nation produced “benders” who had special powers enabling them to control their elements and communicate with spirit guides, and they lived in harmony. There is a single avatar, the same spirit reincarnated over and over, who can master all four elements, speak to all the spirits, and maintain the balance of peace and harmony
But there has been no avatar for a hundred years as our movie begins, and the Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) is a cruel despot who will stop at nothing to control everyone. When he heard that the new avatar lived with the Air Nomad, he had them all killed.
But the young avatar, now the last of the airbenders, was not there. He is discovered inside an iceberg by Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (“Twilight’s” Jackson Rathbone) of the Water Tribe. Together, they must protect the avatar from Orzai’s son (“Slumdog Millionaire’s” Dev Patel as Prince Zuko) and his general (Aasif Mandvi as Commander Zhao).
Every single system is a #fail, from the murky cinematography to the murkier storyline. Appa the flying bison has no majesty — he looks like a cross between a woolly mammoth and Mr. Snuffleupagus. The dialog sounds like it has been translated from another language, badly, with weird juxtaposition of fantasy-film-talk and contemporary syntax, and even the heaviest, most portentous comments are delivered as though the characters are talking about a trip to the mall. The special effects might be impressive if they were not exceeded by the imagination of the original animated series — or if they were better integrated into some sort of engaging narrative. And it has to be the poorest use yet of 3D technology. The only thing that jumps out of the screen are the too-frequent titles telling us of yet another confusing location shift and reminding us that the rest of the movie has no dimension at all.

Parents should know that this film has a lot of fantasy violence including fire and martial arts. A character sacrifices her life to save the community. There are some graphic images of skeletons, and a reference to abusive family situations and we see a tender teen kiss.
Family discussion: Which element would you choose to be able to bend and why? Who makes sacrifices in this story and do you agree with their choices?
If you like this, try: “Avatar The Last Airbender,” the animated television series

Related Tags:


3D Action/Adventure Based on a television show Fantasy

41 Replies to “The Last Airbender”

  1. Seriously, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I don’t know what Shame-alon is worse at: Writing or Directing.

  2. Bummer. My family loved the animated series and was looking forward to this movie. Guess its time to break out the DVDs of the original for the long weekend!

  3. This film was an utter travesty. I was so heartbroken that this piece if garbage was made. The last airbender indeed.

  4. If you like this, try: “Avatar The Last Airbender,” the animated television series
    Considering how bad the movie is, maybe in this instance you should say, “if you don’t like this, try….” Because the series was fantastic. I still cry every time I watch Prince Yue’s lifeless body drop. We never had anything that heart-moving when I was a kid watching the Superfriends and Scooby Doo.
    BTW, Nickelodean should have hired whoever directed the film Forbidden Kingdom to do the Airbender movies. The Forbidden Kingdom had the same charm, humor, and action that the Airbender series had.

  5. My wife and I, both in middle age, fell in love with the Avatar series on Nickelodeon when our kids turned us onto it. It was a beautiful story that was perfectly told and like many stories gave us the growing pains that children find in their lives trying to find acceptance with their parents, their friends, and ultimately each other.
    My favorite part of the series is the growth that Prince Zuko goes through, through all three seasons, ultimately becoming friends with the Avatar. Redemption of a misguided child who was only looking for respect from his father but realized his uncle was more a father to him than his own father.
    The movie on the other hand. Horrible. All over the place. The effects were dark and murky. The acting was bland. And what happened to using Asian actors in the lead roles for an Asian influenced storyline.
    I would recommend going and watching the original series on DVD.

  6. Thanks so much for these wonderful comments, Airbender fans! And yes, by all means, watch the original series, which had scope and depth and coherence and heart, all missing from this slapdash, big-budget dud.

  7. Thank you for your excellent review. I’m so disappointed, as will be my 2nd-grader. He enjoys the animated series on TV and has been looking forward to the release of the movie; it’s a shame that poor production choices have robbed him of what could have been a delightful experience.

  8. you are practicly telling everyone what to think thats your own opinion so maybe you should stop wrighting these reviews your just wasting youre time and life is just passing you by

  9. Kill Kill — a movie review is an opinion by definition, as is your comment. But that doesn’t mean that either of us is trying to tell anyone what to think, does it?
    Just a suggestion, though — good grammar and spelling do a lot to establish the maturity and merit of your views. But what is most important in being persuasive is refraining from insult and making some actual points in response to the argument you are trying to rebut. Did you see the movie? Do you disagree with anything I said? Why? Be careful, or anyone reading your comment will assume that anyone who takes your side is careless and rude and thus not trustworthy. If you admire the heroism, resolve, and integrity of the characters in this film, show that you have learned something from them. And if you have particular questions or criticisms of what I wrote, let me know and I will respond.

  10. This movie is such a staggering disappointment I can’t comprehend how it got released in its current form. I was a fan of the Animated Series and I must say that this movie is a pathetic insult to its source material. M. Night Shyamalan has burned through $150 Million and produced a amateurish, disjoint, ambiguous, soulless piece of celluloid excreta. The movie is like a cry for help from a writer director who has clearly lost his way. This movie should never have been released.

  11. We just saw the film as a family and were also hugely dissapointed. Not only my wife and I, but also our three daughters. In contrast, the series on Nickelodeon was much, much better. We bought that DVD set for Christmas and enjoyed watching the series over the winter months. So my advice is to skip the movie, and skip the dissapointment. If you do go to see it, go with low expectations so as to minimize the dissapointment.

  12. Thank you, Family. I’m sorry you were disappointed, but appreciate your comment, which will be of great help in guiding families who want to know whether they should see the film.

  13. Wow. My son will be so disappointed. He’s 12 and has been eagerly awaiting the release of this movie. I’ll still take him, but I’ll let him know what he’s in for first.
    Maybe “Despicable Me” will perk him up?

  14. I’m sorry, CStanley, but I suppose I’d rather have him disappointed before seeing it than after. And “Despicable Me” is GREAT! Be sure to stay through the end because the 3D effects in the credit sequence are amazing.

  15. My 16 year old son and I saw this movie and we were unbelievably disappointed as well. About 20 minutes into the movie, I turned to my son to whisper, “This is an AWFUL movie” and see that he has turned his ball cap over his face to mask his shame and suggesting this stinker.
    It was not available in 3D at our theater, which sounds like it was fine, but the movie was poorly written, badly directed, confusingly shot and woodenly acted. The costumes were okay but the sets left a lot to be desired. Don’t waste your money.

  16. Thanks, Jill. The other critics and I looked at each other dumbfounded. We could not believe a film with this kind of budget and talent could be such an across-the-board failure. I wonder if they will go ahead with the plans for the second one.

  17. It seems I have a tendency to enjoy movies that everyone else hates (The Phantom Menace being one example), so I’ll probably love this one and then argue with people forever about how good it (probably) is. However, the fact that you gave this film a D and you gave Twilight (Worst. Movie. EVER.) a B makes me wonder…

  18. In a previous post you said you weren’t going to see Twilight, Vince. Did you change your mind?
    I try to rate films based on how well they meet the expectations of their intended audience. On that basis, “Twilight” gets a B and “Airbender” gets a D. If you see “Airbender,” I’d love to know what you think, and if you disagree with my review, why.
    Thanks for writing! Always a pleasure to hear from you.

  19. Vince, Don’t do it! I am a huge fan of the animated series along with my 4 kids (17-2 years). THIS is the worst movie ever! The “director” (a robot would have delivered a movie with more heart) confessed to enjoying the series with his own children but couldn’t even get the characters NAMES right! Appalling! Go buy the three seasons on DVD. You’ll watch them again and again. This movie is like a car wreck. You didn’t see it coming but now you’ll live with the scars for the rest of your life and the memories will fade but never go away. Seriously, don’t go!

  20. I don’t even know WHERE to begin with this train wreck, and to be honest I don’t even think I need to start!
    It was like I went to the fire nation and watched a production put on by the Ember Island Players themselves, but at least “the effects were decent” (the last line said by Sokka in this episode).
    Where do I start? To have a UNIVERSE of ideas and creativity to pull such inspiration from, this movie falls downright FLAT in its own attempts to be anything more then a run-on narrative. Were these actors directed to act that bad? Sorry, random question, but I have no words to describe how emotionless and vague all three of the main characters were throughout this thing called a “movie”. Did I mention how much it stung whenever you hear Avatar, Aang, Sokka or Iroh mispronounced? Sure M. Night, maybe people mispronounced your name different when you were a kid but what does that have to do with these guys? Not to mention I am livid that M. Night didn’t even have the creators of the original show on board to help produce the movie, can you say idiot?
    Murky, Dark, and laughable are the words that come to mind regarding the cinematography. Roger Ebert pretty much has me covered on every other aspect of this film, what a good guy.
    I think James Cameron or Peter Jackson could have done wonders with this material visually and emotionally. There was so much wrong with it (too much that I don’t even want to start) and I really hope it doesn’t end up like “The Golden Compass”.
    P.S. The Ember Island Players is a hilarious episode from the television series Avatar: The Last Airbender. It recounts, with utmost hilarity, the trials and tribulations the main characters faced throughout seasons 1-3 of the show right BEFORE the season finale. Sadly, I enjoyed that episode a lot more than this movie.

  21. Thank you so much, Rama and Eli! I am particularly glad to hear from fans of the television series who were as disappointed as I was. I am sorry you suffered through this awful movie, but grateful to you for supporting my recommendation that viewers stay as far away as possible!

  22. Hi Nell! I believe you made a few typoes in your second to last paragraph? There is a # sign next to “fail” and “reminding us that the rest of the movie as no dimension at all.” “as” is “has”?
    Anyways, I enjoyed your review! I just watched this movie yesterday (having snuck in with a few friends after a much better Despicable Me). We discovered that it was a 3D showing, but I was able to watch most of it because, as you said, not much of the screen actually popped out. Even after hearing about all the savage reviews, I wasn’t prepared for the heartbreak from being a huge fan of the animated series, and I was squirming in my seat because at times the awfulness wasn’t even laughable.
    Do you expect a sequel in a year or two? That’s giving me chills. The damage M Night Shyamalan has done to the story seems irreparable, even with a new director. Thanks for your time, Nell!

  23. Thanks, Chee! You are right about as/has and I have made the correction. Ten corrections and you get a free copy of my book, so you only have nine more to go. The #fail though was not a typo — it was a hashtag and a reference to one of the ways that people express themselves on Twitter and other shorthand forms of communication.
    And yes, you are right about the heartbreak and awfulness. #fail indeed.

  24. Oh, come on! It wasn’t that bad! I went to see it with some friends, and while I agree that it could have been better, give it a break! This was Noah Ringer’s (Aang) First time in a major motioon picture, so he was a bit awkward, but cut them some slack.
    Also, how on earth could you give Eclipse a B and this a D? Eclipse is way worse in terms of just about everything except visuals!
    @ Rama: Actually, I must point out that the names were correct. Shymalan used the Japanese pronunciation, giving us Aang as Ong, Sokka as Soak-uh and Iroh as Ee-roh.

  25. [EDIT] On my last post, sorry about the typos. Motioon should eb motion, and First should be first. *facepalm*

  26. I’m glad that you enjoyed the film, Cassidy! Good to hear from someone who is willing to defend it. And you can’t really compare it to “Eclipse” because they are very different. I look at each movie in relation to its intended audience. From that perspective, “Eclipse” came a lot closer than “Airbender.”

  27. My adult son, teenage nephew and I went to see it last night and we all enjoyed it. The 3 D was not the greatest but otherwise I didn’t see it as a horrible movie. I have never seen the series though so maybe that avoided a negative comparison.

  28. I enjoyed this film greatly, as I thought I would. It occured to me about 20 minutes in, though, that Shyamalan didn’t write a live action film. He wrote an animated film and then filmed it in live action. Dialogue and plotting that would be perfectly fine in a cartoon might seem a bit off in live action and I think that this is the reason some people don’t like it. If this had been animated instead of live action, I think the critics might have been a little kinder because the different mediums have different expectations. I, for one, really really hope they’re able to complete the trilogy because, even though the entire series is available on DVD, it would really stink if the people who saw the movie first had to shell out $60 minimum to find out how the story ends.

  29. My grand kids LOVED it.. I’m off to buy it for them right now.. Where could I find the series off Nick.. The kids would love them all.. I have to say they have to explain a lot of it to me..

  30. Sorry, but I completely disagree with you Ms Minow. We just had a get-together this evening to view this film…and everyone LOVED it, including all the adults AND kids. Set aside a few moments where the dialogue seemed a bit forced and off-tone (completely not apparant to anyone but myself, as I am a huge film buff), it was a great couple of hours to lose ourselves in this storyline. Fantastic special effects, good movement in storyline and a good cast of actors. We can only hope (GREATLY) that they finish out the film sequence to conclude the story. I HIGHLY recommend this film for family viewing.

  31. Thanks, NavyMom — I am always delighted when someone sees more in a movie than I do and your comments will be very helpful to those deciding whether to see the film. Much appreciated!

  32. Most folks despised the film as much as you did … and yet it did pretty well at the box office. The first weekend’s haul should be mostly immune to sour word of mouth, but it’s hard to believe people kept going back to it week after week. Depressing.

  33. I completely agree with this review. For someone who has watched the series, this movie is painful to watch. I did not enjoy it at all, and it’s obvious that the horrible post production 3D was added to make a few extra dollars. The worst part is that the names were changed. Anyway, I would only recommend this to people who have never seen the original series.

  34. I watched the movie when I was about three quarters of the way through the first season, which to some extent meant I was unable to fully appreciate the stupidity of the last act. Though this did not stop me from literally facepalming when Yue delivered her last words to Sokka.

    The absolute worst scene though has gotta be the characters breaking the Earthbenders out of the prison camp. There’s something mindboggling about how little thought was put into that, considering the impeccable logic of the equivalent episode, “Imprisoned”.

    I finished watching Season 2 this afternoon, and I think we can all be grateful that Shyamalan will never get to do to Toph and Suki what he did to Katara (though there’s some debate on what he would have done with Azula).

  35. “the Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) is a cruel despot who will stop at nothing to control everyone. When he heard that the new avatar lived with the Air Nomad, he had them all killed.”

    Actually, it was his grandfather Sozin who killed the Air Nomads.

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