The Last Airbender: Review

I watched the movie, “The Last Airbender.” It was terrible. Don’t watch it. “The Last Airbender” is a movie by M. Night Shyamalan based on a TV show called, “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” They retitled the movie to avoid confusion with the James Cameron movie. It’s a shame that of all of the shows to adapt, they chose one with a rich landscape, vivid characters, and gripping plot, and then botched it. Can you imagine if they botched Harry Potter? There would be rioting in the streets.


The number one, Willis Tower sized problem with the movie, is that it was too ambitious. For whatever reason,  Shyamalan decided to squeeze several complete episodes of the TV show into one 100 minute film. It was a foolhardy plan. Each episode of the TV show had its own plot and character arcs. Movies can only handle one or two arcs. This leads to problem number two.


THERE WAS SO MUCH EXPOSITION! If I were the spanish inquisition, I wouldn’t murder you for putting some exposition into your movie. “The Matrix” and “Inception” are both exposition heavy movies, but it’s forgivable since the information is on a need to know basis. The information comes either immediately before, or immediately after. They struck a happy medium between the story being confusing and it being laden with exposition. Even as much exposition as they crammed in, there are still parts that don’t make sense. I sympathize with Shyamalan because as a writer. I too worry that the audience won’t understand. When I write, “The man woke up and went to work.” I worry that my audience will wonder, “Is he even wearing pants?” One trick to squeeze in more exposition is to make the neophyte character ask questions (Neo to Morpheus and Ariadne to Cobb). Shymalan decided to give one character a constant stream of consciousness voice over throughout the entire movie. It was grating.


It’s all one big snowball effect. Because there was too much squeezed in, there had to be more explained, which meant less dialog and character development. There was no time to talk, so there was no time for the characters to show emotion for each other, so there was no time for me to get invested in them, so there were no stakes if one of them died.


What little dialogue there was, there was little emotion shown. There was hardly any smiling, crying, or yelling. The theme was “The Fire Nation is attacking. Just another day at the office.”


In Star Wars #7, we know from the very beginning that the girl and the boy are going to have to confront each other, one of them was going to switch sides, which would determine the fate of the universe. In “The Last Airbender,” because the movie tried to capture several episodes, there wasn’t a build up to the climax. It was unclear what the main conflict was, until the end of the movie. Then, in a shocking Shmalan twist, there was no twist! The main character solves the problem by fighting. There’s some message about controlling your emotions, or not controlling them? I’m not sure. Then the final scene is confusing because earlier in the movie, there is a scene where his peers bow to the main character as a sign of acceptance of him as their Avatar (savior). The main character isn’t ready for the task, and he flees; which is what sets the whole story in motion. The final scene is the city bowing to him, just as before. You would think that now that the main character has just defeated the bad guy, he’d have accepted his role. Nope. When the city bows to him, he looks worried. The end. Cut to black. Roll credits. We were this close to seeing character growth.


I was disappointed by the lack of effects. There was hardly any magic. In fact, there were a decent number of scenes where they were doing their tai chi moves to manipulate water, but the visual effects were never added.


One of the great strengths of the TV show is how the characters contrast with each other. Aang is fun loving, Kotarah is cautious. Prince Zuko has a quick temper, his Uncle Iroh is reserved. In the movie, virtually any character (or actor for that matter) could have been swapped for any other character. There was nothing unique about them.


As a movie, it was lackluster. As an adaptation, it was surprisingly faithful. There were scenes in the movie that I recognized as being exact copies from the show. That impressed me. The fight scenes were badass (slow sometimes, but still cool). There were some characters that were well cast.


I have a few suggestions. The first is to go the exact opposite direction. Instead of trying to cram a whole season of TV episodes into one movie, make a movie based on the back story. The world inside the TV show is huge. There are numerous cities, each with complete political structures and ruling families. I would love to tell the story of how the Fire Nation attacked the Southern Water Tribe and reduced it to a small village. How about that time General Iroh, Dragon of the West, laid siege to the city Ba Sing Se for 600 days and failed to take it down, and lost his son in the process? How did Bumi, a ruffian goofball kid and childhood friend of the main character, become King Bumi (and how did he live to be 112 years old)? If I really had to adapt one episode into a movie, I would choose the season finale episode of season 1. The main character has to learn how to manipulate water, karate kid style, before the fire nation attacks. He’s frustrated by his lack of progress and the high stakes. He has to learn how to deal with pressure. Boom easy peasy. Tone back the scope and let the characters drive the plot.


Don’t bother watching the movie. Just watch the TV show.

What do you think? Right? Wrong? Pure poppycock?