I am truly sorry to say that this movie is a big, dumb, dull, dud and a failure in almost every category.
It is difficult to imagine how even writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, who seems to forget more about film-making with each successive production, thought that this cardboard claptrap could engage an audience. It is a disappointment to those of us who continued to hold out hope that Shyamalan could once again show us his genuine gift for cinematic story-telling, and it is an even bigger disappointment to fans of the popular animated television series who were hoping to see its spirit honored with a large-screen, live-action feature film.
I was hoping that Shyamalan’s creative energy would be sparked by working with stories and characters that were proven and created by others as the problem with his most recent films were a sagging sense of story and a disconnect from the audience. But instead of benefiting from the material here, he simply transferred the same problems. The story-telling is distant and chilly. The performances by the adult and child actors are stilted and wooden, with Shaun Toub as Uncle Iroh the only one who creates a character of any kind.
The screenplay is so exposition-heavy the characters sound like they are chewing on rocks. And then much of it gets repeated. It even has the ultimate cliche of a character, upon discovering a mass killing, screaming up to the sky. “Forget an air-bender,” I thought as I watched. “This movie needs a cinema-bender.” You know, an editor. For a movie with so much focus on responsibility, you would think Shyamalan would recognize some sense of obligation to the source material and its fans.
The story-line tracks the first season of the series, which was called “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” The world is divided into four nations: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. At one time, each nation produced “benders” who had special powers enabling them to control their elements and communicate with spirit guides, and they lived in harmony. There is a single avatar, the same spirit reincarnated over and over, who can master all four elements, speak to all the spirits, and maintain the balance of peace and harmony
But there has been no avatar for a hundred years as our movie begins, and the Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) is a cruel despot who will stop at nothing to control everyone. When he heard that the new avatar lived with the Air Nomad, he had them all killed.
But the young avatar, now the last of the airbenders, was not there. He is discovered inside an iceberg by Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (“Twilight’s” Jackson Rathbone) of the Water Tribe. Together, they must protect the avatar from Orzai’s son (“Slumdog Millionaire’s” Dev Patel as Prince Zuko) and his general (Aasif Mandvi as Commander Zhao).
Every single system is a #fail, from the murky cinematography to the murkier storyline. Appa the flying bison has no majesty — he looks like a cross between a woolly mammoth and Mr. Snuffleupagus. The dialog sounds like it has been translated from another language, badly, with weird juxtaposition of fantasy-film-talk and contemporary syntax, and even the heaviest, most portentous comments are delivered as though the characters are talking about a trip to the mall. The special effects might be impressive if they were not exceeded by the imagination of the original animated series — or if they were better integrated into some sort of engaging narrative. And it has to be the poorest use yet of 3D technology. The only thing that jumps out of the screen are the too-frequent titles telling us of yet another confusing location shift and reminding us that the rest of the movie has no dimension at all.
Parents should know that this film has a lot of fantasy violence including fire and martial arts. A character sacrifices her life to save the community. There are some graphic images of skeletons, and a reference to abusive family situations and we see a tender teen kiss.
Family discussion: Which element would you choose to be able to bend and why? Who makes sacrifices in this story and do you agree with their choices?
If you like this, try: “Avatar The Last Airbender,” the animated television series