M. Night Shymalan’s ‘The Last Airbender’ is finally out and chances are you’ve already formed your opinion regardless of whether you’ve seen the movie or not. Maybe it’s the casting controversy, maybe it’s your opinion of Shymalan himself, or maybe it’s the flood of negative reviews that have been pouring in.
Now that I’ve seen the movie I can honestly say this:
I do not hate this movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love it either. Far from it. But though I can’t realistically call this movie ‘good,’ it’s nowhere near being the epic disaster that some critics are implying.
At best I can say that this movie is ‘below average,’ and even then I’m probably being nice. All the things that are good are just that, good. The effects are good, the score is good, some of the acting is good. And all the things that are bad are really bad.
Shymalan’s ultimate weakness as a writer is that he only seems to know how to make one movie, but what he does is he adapts that movie to different genres, be it superheroes(Unbreakable), alien invasion (Signs), Disaster movies (The Happening), or period romance (The Village). And I’m saying this as a Shymalan fan; I enjoy all his movies, including the bad ones. But here Night is not only working with a concept that isn’t his, but a rich mythology that in no way can be applied to that one movie.
While Shymalan does succeed in including a number of characters, plot points, and references from ‘Avatar, the Last Airbender,’ that fans like me love, in his effort to cut, condense, and streamline down twenty episodes worth of material, Shymalan forgot WHY we love them.
Characters defining traits such as Katara’s struggles as a bender, Sokka’s desire to prove himself as a warrior, Iroh’s fatherly nature, Aang’s happy go lucky attitude, are all missing. Not only does the movie seem to be lacking in any character development at all, it’s actually at the point that Aang, the HERO, feels almost like a non-factor in his own movie.
Casting controversy aside, I can’t really hold anything against the cast. Shymalan is not an actor’s director; he just had the fortune of working with really awesome actors early on. Here the actors either lack the experience or the skill to go above what’s asked of them, or the ones who do have the skill are given too little to work with.
Throughout the movie Shymalan breaks the most basic rule of filmmaking, “show, don’t tell.” So much dialogue is dedicated to some of the most forced exposition I have ever heard. Not only that, said exposition get’s repeated constantly. On two occasions Zuko’s backstroy is explained, and at least three times Zhao talks about how he raided a secret library to find a scroll that shows the location of the moon spirit.
I could go on about the poor pacing, the lousy editing, the lazy directing, or the fact that this movie is lacking in any drama, tension or susopense whatsoever, but the thing that ultimately kills me about “The Last Airbender,” the thing that drags this movie down below the likes of even TRANSFORMERS 2 and DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION, is the level of disappointment I’m feeling. For those who haven’t seen it, “Avatar, the Last Airbender” is an incredible series, on par with any mythology in print or on the screen. And while he’s not perfect, Shymalan is a good filmmaker. A very good filmmaker. He’s knows what good movies look like, he’s made good movies at least twice.
I don’t hate this movie, but it deserved so much better than this. And the fact that someone with Shymalan’s talent could look at this and consider it satisfactory astounds me.
Now do I wish to see Shymalan continue the series? No. Not if this going to set the tone for it. If I had any saying, Paramount should pull it from theaters and shelve it. Let it go the way of Corman’s Fantastic Four and let it become a cult item for future film geeks. Let the franchise sit for a years, and if we have too, reboot it under the title, “The Legend of Aang.”