Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Last Airbender

THE LAST AIRBENDER (M. Night Shyamalan, 2010)

The world is in conflict in THE LAST AIRBENDER as the Fire Nation runs roughshod over the Air, Water, and Earth Nations. The only one capable of restoring harmony is the Avatar, who can bend all four elements. Trouble is, the Avatar has not been seen in one hundred years.

Brother and sister waterbenders Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz) just might have located this savior when they find and release a boy frozen in an icy bubble that was submerged deep in local waters. Twelve-year-old airbender Aang (Noah Ringer) soon attracts the unwanted attention of the Fire Nation’s Prince Zuko (Dev Patel). The exiled royal has been tasked with delivering the Avatar to his father, Fire Lord Orzai (Cliff Curtis), to restore his honor. As Aang’s exceptional skills are witnessed, speculations run high within the tribes that he is indeed the chosen one.

THE LAST AIRBENDER is swollen with portentous mumbo jumbo and realized in the most simplistic and mundane ways imaginable. From the outset writer-director M. Night Shyamalan piles on mythological gobbledygook that likely only makes sense to fans of the source material, the Nickelodeon animated series AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER. The film mistakes dense backstory for plot and character development and then tries to make it all coherent through terrible dialogue that is over-explanatory yet clear as fog. There’s a distinct George Lucas-like quality to the clunky verbiage and equally stilted performances.

Compounding all of these problems is the realization that THE LAST AIRBENDER is merely table-setting for a potential trilogy. Shyamalan’s stretch of four films beginning with THE SIXTH SENSE and lasting through THE VILLAGE marked him as a compelling artist in command of atmosphere and the twists and thrills of genre filmmaking. With the total bust that is THE LAST AIRBENDER and the hilariously awful THE HAPPENING, he’s making it tough for defenders to stand by his increasingly maligned work.

His strength with visuals remains in portions of THE LAST AIRBENDER yet is notably diminished overall, not the least of which is due to the retrofitted 3D conversion. The largest offense, though, is how exceptionally boring it all is. Who knew an epic martial arts fantasy-adventure could be this tedious?
Grade: D

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