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The Last Airbender (2010) zero stars

July 1, 2010


written by: M. Night Shyamalan (screenplay) and Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko (original story)
produced by: M. Night Shyamalan,
Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, Sam Mercer
& Scott Aversano
directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
rated PG-13 (for fantasy action violence)
103 min.
U.S. release date: July 1, 2010
In no way do I consider myself a cynic or skeptic when I sit down in a theater to take in a film. I want the best experience possible. I want the movie to be good, maybe even surprise me and be better than good. That being said, it really saddens me on many levels to report that the worst movie of the year (so far) is here. As if M. Night Shyamalan’s streak of recent flops and misfires weren’t enough, he had to go and make this mess. Now, I knew going in that Shyamalan had the odds stacked against him on this one. Which is a shame since I was among the few who still had an interest in his work. I hadn’t given up on this writer and director who had at least attempted in the past to deliver unique, interesting and thought-provoking films….until now.
Maybe he thought that putting off any original work and tackling a much beloved cult animated series would guarantee a sure thing. If that’s true, he’ll find out just how wrong that line of thinking is during opening weekend of this disaster. Brace yourself M. Night, this will be the worst weekend of your life.
If Shyamalan and the producers of this film had any respect for or inspiration from the source material, you just won’t find it in this big screen adaptation. The Nickelodeon series, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a colorful, charming and clever adventure series built like an ancient fable set in the future with an attractive fun and funny tone to it. Absolutely none of that can be found here. Instead, they give us a boring and bland movie that is both visually and thematically dark. No amount of fancy special effects here can ensure the fun and thrills that should come with it. When the actions sequences are not repetitive than they’re indecipherable.
Most of that has to do with the annoying 3D that was slapped on this 2D film in post-production. That should sound fmailiar. Shyamalan and Paramount clearly wanted to ride the slap-on 3D wave that earned box-office success for “Alice in Wonderland” and “Clash of the Titans” earlier this year. Like many of you, I often wind up lifted up the 3D glasses while watching the film to see just how different the screen is without the third dimension. Well, in this case, what I saw on-screen was brighter and more clear than it was with the glasses on. In fact, the colorful and vivid TV spots you see actually look cool, nothing like the dark and unidentifiable 3D that brings this beloved series to a live action blur. They might as well hand out night vision goggles at the theater instead.
Describing the story will might it sound more interesting that what you’ll witness on-screen. Four nations representing natural elements, Air, Water, Earth, Fire, are under attack by the evil Fire Nation. After centuries without their Avatar, a being that would bring peace and hope to the land. Two young siblings from the Southern Water Tribe, Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) happen upon a young boy frozen in an iceberg. Katara frees him and they soon learn his name is Aang (Noah Ringer) and his is a monk. They befriend the bewildered boy and learn he has amazing “bending” abilities, power to harness natural elements at will. All three discover he is the last Avatar that all have been waiting for and as Aang practices these powers, he discovers his purpose is to unite the four forces to get ready for the Fire Nation.
The Fire Nation has its own problems though with all their bickering and shouting, the least of which is banal dialogue. Led by Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) and enforced by Admiral Zhao (Aasif Mandvii of “The Daily Show”), who leads an armada of enormous steel battleships that have an indistinguishable purpose. It is unclear why Ozai’s perpetually angry son, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire”), is disgraced and feels that capturing Aang would restore his reputation. It’s also unclear what that reputation was to begin with. These three actors have proven themselves to be talented in previous work, but Shyalaman gives them one emotion to work with, anger, and provides them with a script with stiff exposition lines that no one can breathe live into. 
Zuko would do well to listen to his patient and wise uncle, Iroh (Shaun Toub), who acts as a surrogate father. In the animated series, this character injects lively humor balanced with sage wisdom. Here, he comes across like a hybrid of Gandalf and Mr. Miyagi (not the Jackie Chan version), helping out wherever he can. He’s yet another stock character in this film that feels like so many others we’ve seen before. 
Usually an actor can rise above vapid material or can stand out as the best part of an awful film. There’s no one lack that here as we see the entire ensemble cast caught up in Shyamalan’s net of incoherence. Amid the crude delivery of over-the-top intensity that steadily drag the film down are droning monologues and generic reactions that deliver dullness. As the Avatar, Ringer has a believable physical presence yet his work put me to sleep and made me hope that the film’s title is true. Jake Lloyd’s work in “The Phantom Menace” is like Daniel Day-Lewis compared to this kid. Why am I so harsh on a child actor? Well, he is the title character and if the title character doesn’t absorb or interest an audience than what hope does the movie have?  
“The Last Airbender” is finally proof that is Shyamalan is lost and creatively deflated. Up till now, viewers could pick up on the style of M. Night Shyamalan in his films. Here, the film centers so much on spastic acrobatics, rote dialogue and fuzzy visuals, that it really could’ve been directed by anyone. Shayamalan has jettisoned the appeal intact in the series, resulting in a boring waster of time.  It’s such a let down since the series is so much fun.
Shyamalan isn’t the only one to blame for this cinematic travesty. Producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy should have known better. After all, they were involved in such classics as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” as well as the Jason Bourne movies. Where were they in the making of this film? How could they even condone removing anything that is endearing and enjoyable in the series and give this lazy feature to fans. That’s insulting. But Shayamalan will take the fall for this failure. Although, he already has more films in the pipeline, I would be amazed if anyone showed even a slight interest in them. 
It’s hard to believe that the title was changed to distance itself from James Cameron’s last film. As if it would make any difference whatsoever. Cameron’s achievement seems like the greatest film ever compared to this. The final scene, hinting at a sequel that would adapt more of the series, is the final insult. Really, please….no more, just quit while your behind.



32 Comments leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    July 1, 2010 8:56 am

    I’m just angry. I realized when I heard that there was going to be a live-action version of Avatar, that I could be disappointed, because how do you take a whole season and put it into one movie?

    but this? Taking out all the elements that made The Avatar so good? All the humor? The color? The fun?

    I remember reading an interview Mr. Shaymalan did where he was talking about how his whole family got sucked into the series and how much they enjoyed it and how he just wanted to bring it to life. What happened between then and now?

    I really shouldn’t be as disappointed as I am….it’s just a movie, and after all, the whole series is still available to be watched and enjoyed. Sigh.

    I’m still ticked. From “The Sixth Sense” to this. How far he has fallen.

  2. windi permalink
    July 1, 2010 8:57 am

    Oh, and ZERO stars! Wow. Even in your most scathing reviews, I’ve never seen zero stars!

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      July 1, 2010 9:38 am

      Well, people say I’m too generous so this balances it all out, I suppose. I think the last film we gave one star to was “Legion” and at least we could laugh at that and have a little fun. This was the complete opposite of any of that.

  3. Francesca Carboni Perry permalink
    July 1, 2010 9:27 am

    I’ve avoided him since The Village which I thought was the stupidest film ever, glad to see he has topped it with this!

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      July 1, 2010 9:40 am

      I actually didn’t mind “The Village”, I saw it as a good Twilight Zone episode. It’s “The Happening” that REALLY soured me, which is (yes) now topped by this.

  4. Brian permalink
    July 1, 2010 11:21 am

    Well, I didn’t bother with The (nothing) Happening and haven’t really enjoyed one of his flicks since Signs and even with that one I thought the ending was contrived.

  5. Taylor permalink
    July 1, 2010 11:40 am

    So disappointed. I was really looking forward to this movie…I’m no avid fan of the cartoon, but I have found myself enjoying it once or twice. It’s good to know that I shouldn’t waste the $11.50 at AMC for this movie…thanks for warning me.

    As a side note, I didn’t hate The Happening as far as the story went, but more for the awful dialog and acting…but I’ll take your word for it for The Last Airbender.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      July 1, 2010 12:03 pm

      I agree with you on “The Happening”. The overall concept for the story was pretty cool. The trailers certainly grabbed me too. But boy how a movie can be ruined by a bad script and cast. Yeesh!

  6. mATtHEw gRAmITh permalink
    July 1, 2010 3:18 pm

    No, no, noooooooooooo!!!!! Say it ain’t so!

    What a shame! As you know, David, I’m a huge fan of the series. I really don’t want to, but I do believe you. Wish I didn’t. The biggest stinker of a movie that I’ve seen in the last 15 years was LADY IN THE WATER by Shyamalan. I thought it was absolutely horrible. It looked like the work of a total amateur. I’m surprised no one has mentioned that one yet.

    I actually liked THE HAPPENING. It wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it and it got me thinking. Any movie that works for me on both those levels will get my thumbs up every time.

    I loved THE VILLAGE. It’s my favorite Shyamalan film and one of my favorite hollywood films in the last decade. I saw it as almost a political thriller, and very timely. I felt it really captured the state-sponsored fear in our society during the height of the Bush years.

    THE SIXTH SENSE was pretty good. UNBREAKABLE had it’s moments and would have connected with audiences if it were directed as more of a blockbuster superhero origin story, which is what it was, but just didn’t look like one. SIGNS for me – utter garbage, an insult to thinking people – akin to LADY…

    If THE LAST AIR BENDER is really as bad as you say, then Shyamalan really, REALLY blew it! He could have had a LTR trilogy, and all the fame, glory, opportunities, and cash to go along with it, and all us fans would have loved him for it.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      July 1, 2010 4:09 pm

      Until now, every M. Night film had some great moments in them (to me, of course) but unfortunately had some lacking aspects throughout. I think “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” are my favorites. Until now, I continued to give him the benefit of the doubt asince I saw him as someone who was at least trying to tackle intriguing concepts in an original way. Not any longer. The more I think about it though, the more I realize this failure cannot completely rest on Shyamalan alone ….after all, it takes more than one person to make a movie….but, it will ruin him.

  7. Diane permalink
    July 1, 2010 6:50 pm

    Um…the movie posters look cool. (I’m trying to find something nice to say.) 🙁

  8. mATtHEw gRAmItH permalink
    July 9, 2010 7:57 pm

    I’ve been thinking about THE VILLAGE lately. I think it is so rich with symbolism, allegory, and meaning..and works for me both viscerally and intellectually. But many people who’s views I generally respect don’t like it at all. That film, perhaps more than any other I know, is an audience divider, even among film aficionados. People who don’t like it, really don’t like it!
    I worked at a video store when FARGO came out. That film divided audiences, like no other, and at first I was shocked when people returned it saying they hated it. After awhile though I started to be able to guess with a large degree of accuracy who would like it and who wouldn’t. Still, I can’t predict it with THE VILLAGE , and I’m actually glad! It’s a good reminder that film appreciation is subjective.
    Ha! This is EXACTLY what I’m sayin’. Could two people who’s film criticism I respect differ more? Check it:

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      July 10, 2010 11:44 am

      I don’t complain about “The Village” like everyone else seems to. I feel like it warrants repeat viewings and an open mind for a growing appreciation of the film. I’m at a loss as to those out there who can’t get into the greatess that is “Fargo”. Maybe it’s the violence? Could it be a lack of CGI or talking animals? Gah, who knows. Hmmm, I sense a future REEL CLASSIC coming! And yes, film appreciation, enthusiasm, is entirely subjective….how else could you explain my “Rocky Balboa”, right?

  9. mATtHEw gRAmITh permalink
    July 11, 2010 9:31 pm

    Right! I mean…er…um…


    I think that those who don’t like FARGO are generally people who haven’t developed an appreciation for Foreign (other than Animé, Kung Fu, Bollywood, and Horror) or Indie films. FARGO was, for lots of people, one of their first Independent-type film experiences. I think what’s odd for people is partially that the bad guys in FARGO were a little too well-developed for characters that amoral, similar to the way the bad guys in PULP FICTION were two years earlier (and RESERVOIR DOGS before it – though most people didn’t see RD’s until after PF came out). PF’s and RD’s bad guys, actually do have a morality though it’s waaaaay outside the mainstream – an honor among thieves, and which makes it all the more difficult for some audiences to find their footing. It’s like there’s this constant pulling of us into sympathizing with the characters, then when we do we aren’t rewarded for it. Hollywood-only movie goers have been trained, “Palov’s dog” style, to identify with the characters that will ultimately succeed. They are the ones that are well developed and who go through changes (and historically are physically attractive), not with the flat, obviously evil, typical villains who we know will eventually get their comeuppance. We really don’t want to identify with “bad guys” and in the above films there are opportunities to do that. Lot’s of films were playing with these themes at that time. It was a major component in the Independent film scene, which was really taking off at the time. How about DEAD MAN WALKING? That film is all about opening up our minds to sympathizing with “bad guys”. In the last 14 years, however,since FARGO was released, we have become more used to that (their were some great films in the 70’s that tried it, but couldn’t find an audience – like STRAIGHT TIME – actually written by RESERVOIR DOG’s Mr. Blue, and FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE with Robert Mitchum. There were others. TAXI DRIVER actually found an audience, and cemented Martin Scorsese’s reputation for making tough material accessible). In the case of FARGO, if one has to identify with a character, it would be with Marge, the very pregnant, homey, small northwoods town police chief. Giving the police chief all those attributes is partly what makes the film so unique and great, but many people aren’t comfortable identifying with her. She isn’t a typical “hero” at all. I loved her.

  10. mATtHEw gRAmITh permalink
    July 19, 2010 10:01 am

    Speaking of film appreciation being subjective, have you heard about all the fuss over David Edelstein’s review of INCEPTION? Here’s a good article on this very subject:

    • July 19, 2010 10:25 am

      If you want to hear what is sure to be a great show, listen to the guys on the /Filmcast ( host Armond White in this week’s discussion of INCEPTION!

  11. mATtHEw gRAmITh permalink
    July 19, 2010 12:36 pm

    Ooh! I’ll check it out. Roger Ebert has chimed in, too. Here’s his pitch-perfect take on the subject. I posted it with the INCEPTION review, too.

    • mATtHEw gRAmItH permalink
      November 20, 2010 12:56 am

      Ok…I had a promo code for a free Redbox movie, so I broke down and watched this one tonight.

      Really, really bad.

      Being a fan of the series, my wife and I were both particularly irritated by the changes in the pronunciation of the major characters names. I just read that Shyamalan’s reason was to be politically/ethnically correct. He wanted the names to be pronounced the way HE THINKS they would be pronounced in Asia. Bad move. Surely, anyone who took the time to watch the whole series, and came to love those characters would be annoyed by that. You talk about the “ripcord effect”, David. Yeah. How could Shyamalan not know that would happen? Why didn’t a producer or someone at the studio stop him? Someone should have known that wouldn’t fly with the fans. Sometimes Shyamalan’s instincts are just way off.

      As bad as it was, as a kid’s movie and kid’s movie only, it’s no worse than 80% of the Disney movies made in the 70’s and early 80’s. When I was a kid I couldn’t tell how bad those movies were and I bet most kids under 12 can’t tell this is a bad movie.

      The movie is a dud, but I still think that LADY IN THE WATER is worse. I guess that because this one is a kid’s movie it’s easier for me to be not quite so bothered about it’s failings. Yeah, it’s a bad movie, but lots of kid’s movies are bad.

      • David J. Fowlie permalink*
        November 20, 2010 1:17 am

        “….it’s no worse than 80% of the Disney movies made in the 70′s and early 80′s.”

        Oh, I dunno bout that. I would much rather watch “Pete’s Dragon”, “The Cat From Outer Space” or “Freaky Friday” (with Jodie Foster) over this banal drivel. And ya don’t mess with “The Black Hole”….Ernie Borgnine, Robert Forster, and Anthony Perkins in outer space with megalomaniacal Maximillian Schell. If I stood that up next to “The Last Airbender” it would get sucked into the titular void. That’s just 70’s Live-Action Disney flicks, the 80’s had some gems like Altman’s “Popeye”, “Dragonslayer” and “Tron”….that’s just up till 1982. I was 10 and I devoured all that junk. At that age, I knew when a movie was awful. I hated the “The Apple Dumpling Gang” and the “Herbie” movies as a kid. And this past summer, I heard from many children that adore the animated “Avatar” series that they were extremely disappointed in this film.

        You were fortunate not to have been subjected to the 3D, in the theater. Painful.

      • David J. Fowlie permalink*
        November 20, 2010 1:19 am

        Name one performance in this movie that you would prefer to watch over Paul Giamatti’s work in “The Lady in the Water”.

  12. mATtHEw gRAmITh permalink
    November 20, 2010 11:40 am

    Giamatti couldn’t save it. Giamatti + bad writing = not particularly fulfilling acting. The acting wasn’t so bad in this one. It just appeared bad because of the script, the timing of the editing, and the choice of shots. Any film can be shot and edited in such a way to make even great actors appear bad, which is a major reason why A-list actors chose to work with other A-list writers, directors, producers, editors, and cinematographers.

    Maybe because of his work on the Daily Show, I enjoyed watching Aasif Mandvii. I also enjoyed watching Jackson Rathbone. I can’t imagine a better choice for Sokka. Noah Ringer wasn’t so bad either. A better director could have pulled a very good performance out of him. For those of us that watched the whole series, Noah Ringer seems like the perfect choice for Aang.

    Yeahhhhhh…I will mess with it. THE BLACK HOLE is crap. Sorry. You loved it as a child. Your THE BLACK HOLE might be my ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD. We really want them to be decent movies. They aren’t, unless you’re a kid. For an even older generation, I bet those Jules Verne adaptations (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, A TRIP TO THE MOON, etc) are loved by the boys who watched them, back when there wasn’t anything better out there. None of those movies were good, but they were all COOL. All had very cool premises. For kids, often that’s all that matters. Some kids will grow up loving THE LAST AIRBENDER and stick up for it when they grow up too.

    As a kid, well 15 year old, I was COMPLETELY bored and unimpressed by POPEYE. I’m definitely not alone on that one. Altman was a hit or miss director. Lots of my favorite directors from the 70’s and early 80’s were. Nicholas Roeg, Werner Hertzog, even Spielberg did 1941 – ughhh. Great directors, back then, took chances. Studios don’t let anyone take chances anymore. Now every movie either shoots for the middle or for a can’t miss demographic. It used to be that even bad films had great moments, which ultimately made seeing them worthwhile. A touching moment or an epiphany or good old high-art can go a long way toward forgiving an otherwise boring movie. Luckily, in the 70’s, great movies that couldn’t find an audience at the theatres would pop up on cable TV, where back then, without so many channels to choose from, I’d watch amazing movies that I may not have completely understood, but still found things to like about them. So I’d go see over-simplistic Disney fluff like THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG (didn’t like) and THE WORLD’s GREATEST ATHLETE (loved) at the cinema, then at home watch movies like ZARDOZ, ROLLERBALL, and THE STEPFORD WIVES. Those films are amazing, well, I haven’t seen THE STEPFORD WIVES in awhile, but it really stayed with me as a kid and made me think. Sadly, though kid’s movies and TV has gotten better, children aren’t exposed to as much…I mean grown up movies, to make them reach. Sadder still, grownups aren’t being exposed to as much grownup fare. Sure, there’s foreign and independent films, and the odd Oscar-worthy film, and there’s great books; but on a whole society level, across all classes or however you group people, not so much. The really great films and the really great books, the kind that can actually tell us something about ourselves and help us to become not just kinder people, but people aware of the realities of today and tomorrow beyond our own noses, have a hard time finding an audience, thanks to our capitalist, market-place economy. A few slip through, if they are sugar coated with enough action, violence, sex, or sentimentality. THE MATRIX is to my mind, the best, most obvious example.

    AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER is such a great series and that is the big reason why this movie is so disappointing. I’m not normally a purist when it comes to adaptations, but this absolutely wonderful story was just butchered. Shame on the filmmakers.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      November 20, 2010 1:18 pm

      Yikes! At 15, I’d be bored with “Popeye” too. I will always watch the movies I grew up with through a forgiving glaze of nostalgia. It’s kinda hard not to. Grown-ups will always be exposed to wahtever they want. That’s how it’s always been. Good and Bad movies are always out there. Excellent and Painful (such as this one, on many levels) movies are rare but I suppose they balance everything out. And all all of these films prove there is an audience for everything. The one thing I will never subsribe to though is lowering my level of expectations. So many viewers say, “I didn’t expect much going in, so I parked my brain and had a good time”. That there is a sad statement. Thankfully, “The Last Airbender” will be the LAST time M. Night will touch this most beloved animated series.

      • mATtHEw gRAmItH permalink
        November 20, 2010 2:33 pm

        “Thankfully, “The Last Airbender” will be the LAST time M. Night will touch this most beloved animated series.”

        I hope so, but is that true? I tried to find out if he was going to make another one and all I came across was that the studio hadn’t “given him the green light, YET” Whachoo know that I don’t?

      • David J. Fowlie permalink*
        November 20, 2010 9:50 pm

        I seriously doubt they’d let him touch it again. All I know is that he’s on to a project with Jaden Smith now.


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