Review: The Last Airbender
There are reasons each of us are born. we have to find those reasons
Oh Shyamalan, what were you thinking?
It seemed as if he went in with the best of intentions, understood what was required from the film and respected the source material. There were still doubts after the successive disappointments of The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening. The Last Airbender was a chance to recover some of his credibility and the film he churned out is so very disappointing.
The cartoon it’s based on is fantastic, the humour, action and story were very well done for an animation primarily aimed at kids. It felt like a fully realised world that took itself seriously enough but was also willing to laugh. It was a cartoon that could be enjoyed by just about anyone.
The first major fault with Shyamalan’s telling of the story is that he aims it straight at kids. The dialogue is horrendously simple and expository; the voice-over suffers from the same fate. The story itself could be considered as clichéd but the setting is ripe for some good fantasy storytelling. It’s a shame that there is none, or at least that it’s buried underneath some underwhelming direction.
What made the cartoon great is the strength of the central storyline, Aang as the avatar coming back to a world he’s disappeared from, and trying to live up to the expectation of the person he needs to become. What makes this all the more interesting is that Aang is about twelve years old, so the weight of expectation that he needs to master all four elements and become this godlike deity is hard for him to fathom.
Shyamalan takes everything far too seriously with barely any sense of fun. The film is deadly earnest, with characters looking po-faced whether they’re learning the elements or saying dialogue. Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) is far from the fun, comedic character seen in the cartoon and aside of Iroh (Shaun Toub), the acting is an eyesore.
Dev Patel’s Zuko captures the character, it’s a shame that they picked the most annoying aspects of his character and didn’t bother to improve on it. His performance, like many others is one note and shallow, any depth is skipped over very quickly as the film gets back to boring the audience.
Shyamalan doesn’t help matters with his positioning of the camera which strikes me as being very odd at times. There is one scene in particular that is just plain awful in the how Shyamalan handles it.
It comes across as patronising and trite with Shyamalan thinking (I assume) that the audience is not intelligent enough to understand what’s happening or doesn’t have enough faith in the audience’s ability to retain information lest they become confused.
In his defence it doesn’t help that he tried to condense the whole first season into 90 minutes. It’s slow, uninteresting and filled with pedestrian action sequences as Shyamalan elects for long steady takes. This is a film that lacks tempo, pace or urgency and at the same time rushes from one scene to the next.
The Last Airbender is watchable in some places, the visuals by ILM and score by James Newton Howard help to elevate. However, it squanders its potential. It’s dull and vapid.
If we get a second film, Shyamalan needs to buck up his ideas because if he learns nothing from this experience they’ll be no hope for him. He’s becoming a laughing stock and I don’t know how many more lives Shyamalan has but he’s running out.