Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Last Airbender

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.
2010. Rated PG, 103 minutes.
Noah Ringer
Dev Patel
Nicola Peltz
Jackson Rathbone
Shaun Toub
Aasif Mandvi
Cliff Curtis
Seychelle Gabriel

Each of the world’s four nations is built around one of four elements: fire, air, water and earth. Within each nation there are “benders,” people who can control whichever element their nation is named after. With all the body motion they have to use to do this, it seems they have advanced abilities in tai-chi. I’ll never look at those old folks in the park quite the same.

The Fire Nation is a militaristic bunch determined to rule everyone and everything. They’ve already imprisoned all of the earthbenders and wiped out the Air Nation. The Southern Water Nation only has one bender, who isn’t that good and the Northern Water Nation live in an impenetrable fort which they never leave. I get that. Why bother with the rest of these clowns if they don’t have to? Anyhoo, to complete their world domination the Fire Nation has to do two things. They have to figure out a way to gain control of the Northern Water Nation and they have to find and capture The Avatar should he be resurrect…er…born aga…I mean…reincarnated. You know The Avatar, big blue guy, long hair that connects to the trees, controlled by a guy in a wheelchair. Wait…what? Right, not that Avatar. In this case, The Avatar is the only person with the power to bend all four elements. It’s up to him to restore a little law and order around this place. There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Reggie Hammond! Huh? Oh yeah, not that movie, either. Our hero, is actually a little boy named Aang (Ringer). This is not a spoiler in any way. We figure out he’s The Avatar in about 10 seconds and are told as much about 10 seconds later. If you've watched the cartoon, you already knew. That reminds me, it should be noted for children’s-television-impaired, this is based on a Nickelodeon cartoon that came out a few years before the overhyped James Cameron flick. And if you’re too young or just not cinematically versed enough to understand the Reggie Hammond reference, google it, then go watch that movie. Now. Right now. Well, after you finish reading this review, of course.

Back to this movie. It’s been some time since I watched the tv show. If memory serves, this is a pretty faithful adaptation. I don’t notice anything markedly different. Sure, the dialogue is of the comic-book, post-Yoda, faux-spiritual variety and it gets kind of hokey. Both of these things are true of its source material. The action scenes and special fx work and create a nice sense of adventure. If there is a difference, it is in tone. In typical M. Night fashion, TLA takes itself too seriously. The cartoon has a sense of humor. For the most part, this does not.

There is some deserved backlash for the casting. Basically, Aang’s two sidekicks and a few others are obviously miscast. This has to do with their race. In the cartoon, each nation is made up people who share an ethnicity. This is not quite the case, here. The Fire and Earth nations are fairly consistent, but the two Water nations are not. In short, the two sidekicks are in the wrong nation.

Still, I just don’t get all the hate this film receives. This is hard for me to say because I generally despise this director’s work. I am a member of the “M. Night Shyamalan (and Tyler Perry) Must Be Stopped” committee. I’ve heard nothing but disparaging remarks about it. I’m even a guy who is sensitive to white actors being cast in roles clearly calling for non-white characters. I was fully prepared to hate this movie. I just don’t.

MY SCORE: 6/10

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