The Last AirbenderBy Karen Wilson
MPAA Rating: PG for fantasy action violence
Genre: Action Adventure/Fantasy
Release Date: July 1, 2010
Running Time: 1 hour and 43 minutes
Plot Synopsis: One day when they're out hunting, the young water bender Katara and her brother Sokka discover a mysterious glowing orb underneath the ice. When they break the ice a boy and his flying bison emerge. The boy who calls himself Aang has a strange tattoo on his head and when Fire Nation soldiers appear in the village to take him away, Katara and Sokka realize he must be the long-missing avatar, the one person in their universe who has the ability to manipulate all four the elements—air, earth, fire and water—and their connection to the spirit world. Katara and Sokku set off to rescue Aang, and together the three plan to start a rebellion to thwart the Commander Zhao, the Prince Zuko, and his father Ozai, the lord of the Fire Nation, who wants to rule the world.
Sex/Nudity: A romance develops between Sokka and the princess of the Northern Water nation. They kiss just before she offers up her life to save the moon spirit that the Fire Nation commander has tried to kill.
Violence/Gore: The Fire Nation soldiers and Prince Zuko take Aang away but he escapes them by fighting them with his air bending powers. When Aang learns that his fellow Air Nomads have all been murdered he screams in pain. Both Prince Zuko and Commander Zhao are looking to find Aang to bring him to Ozai who wants him dead. At the Northern Air Temple, a caretaker turns Aang over to some Fire Nation soldiers who put him in shackles. A mysterious assassin (who is actually Zuko) frees Aang by cutting his chains with swords and they fight the Fire Nation soldiers holding him hostage. The Northern Water benders teach Aang their bending and they prepare for the Fire Nation to launch their attack. Prince Zuko and Katara fight and he knocks her out. Commander Zhao murders the moon spirit in the form of a fish. Zhao is frozen and then drowned by four of the water benders. Aang defeats the Fire Nation harnessing the power of the water.
Which Kids Will Like It? For hard-core fans of the animated series on Nickelodeon, it might be fun to see their favorite characters in a live action movie, but most other viewers will just be bewildered by the unexplained mythology and lame action sequences.
Will Parents Like It? For adults looking to see some of M. Night Shyamalan's signature sophisticated twisty plots, they will be sorely disappointed by his simplistic adaptation of this fantasy TV series for the big screen.
Kaboose Review: Originally M. Night Shymalan's newest movie was supposed to be titled Avatar: The Last Airbender, the same title as its source material a popular animated series on Nickelodeon, but in light of the success of James Cameron's blockbuster film Avatar, the producers decided to modify it to just The Last Airbender so audiences wouldn't be confused. While both are action adventure fantasies happening in exotic, alien universes, Avatar charmed audiences with its depiction of life among the Na'avi while the dull Last Airbender does little to immerse the viewer in Shymalan's version of the elemental world of tribes, monks, and benders.
His movie is intended to be one in a trilogy, with each film telling the stories of each season of the television show. But by jamming together a whole season's worth of episodes into an hour and forty some minutes, we lose the nuance and any of the interesting aspects of the show's mythology. The Last Airbender draws from rich source material; it cobbles together a variety of Asian religious traditions from the reincarnations of Bodhisattvas in Hinduism to the use of martial arts like Kung Fu and Tai Chi -- but without any explanation, these traditions appear hollow on screen.
The cast does boast some intriguing actors like Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel, the Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi, Jackson Rathbone from the Twilight Saga and Cliff Curtis who you may recall from The Whale Rider. But these strong actors are let down by inanity and sheer confusion in the script. In every scene, the characters speak emphatically to each other in jargon-filled mumbo jumbo and there are many fights over the fate of the universe but it's impossible to understand why we should care as much as they do. The battles seem to be about as dramatic as a giant game of rock-paper-scissors with each element trying to trump the other.
To add final insult to injury, The Last Airbender is one of the many family movies released this summer in 3-D, complete with 3-D glasses and 3-D prices. However the only portions of the movie that utilize this new technology are the opening credits. The rest of the images appear muddy and aren't nearly as dynamic as you'd expect plunking down the premium admission.
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Noah Ringer (Aang), Nicole Peltz (Katara), Jackson Rathbone (Sokka), Dev Patel (Zuko), Aasif Mandvi (Commander Zhao), Shaun Toub (Uncle Iroh), Cliff Curtis (Ozai)
Movie poster courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Karen Wilson is a freelance writer living in New York City.