Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Movie Review - The Last Airbender

Updated with more review info at the bottom (explains how M Night ended up with their Airbender actor, Noah Ringer and how Noah has improved his acting in Cowboys and Aliens). Originally posted on 2/23/11.

by Alex Popp

Four Nations. One Destiny.

The world is divided into four kingdoms, each represented by the element they harness, and peace has lasted throughout the realms of Water, Air, Earth, and Fire under the supervision of the Avatar in "The Last Airbender," directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the director of "The Sixth Sense." When young Avatar Aang disappears, the Fire Nation launches an attack to eradicate all members of the Air Nomads to prevent interference in their future plans for world domination. 100 years pass and current Fire Lord Ozai continues to conquer and imprison anyone with elemental "bending" abilities in the Earth and Water Kingdoms, while siblings Katara and Sokka from a Southern Water Tribe find a mysterious boy trapped beneath the ice outside their village. Upon rescuing him, he reveals himself to be Aang, Avatar and last of the Air Nomads. Swearing to protect the Avatar, Katara and Sokka journey with him to the Northern Water Kingdom in his quest to master "Waterbending" and eventually fulfill his destiny of once again restoring peace to the world. But as they inch nearer to their goal, the group must evade Prince Zuko (played by Dev Patel from the Best Picture winning "Slumdog Millionaire"), the exiled son of Lord Ozai, Commander Zhao, the Fire Nation's military leader, and the tyrannical onslaught of the evil Fire Lord himself.

The film was originally going to be titled, "Avatar: The Last Airbender," because that was the name of the TV series on which it's based. However, the word "Avatar" was dropped to avoid confusion with James Cameron's "Avatar." And this is most certainly not to be confused with the brilliant majesty of "Avatar."

I never watched any episodes from the cartoon, but others who had were disappointed. And I hated the movie enough without seeing the series. The whole premise is based on Buddhist theology, but that wasn't the main thing that brought down the quality. Some may not think about the effects at all, but if you really compare them with the background, you can tell that it's all fake. On top of that, the script is so juvenile, blending well with the terrible acting. To me, the movie was just flat out boring. I probably would have liked it more if Jesse McCartney had gotten the role of Zuko which he was originally given.

Some consider M. Night Shyamalan to be the master of twist endings, but the only twist in the ending of this film is that it tells you there's going to be a sequel. Great.

Don't ask me how M. Night Shyamalan made a movie as good as "The Sixth Sense" and then turned around and made this.

Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action.

One and a half stars (out of four) for "The Last Airbender," proof that not every movie from 2010 was good.

Review by Alex Popp for The Animation Empire blog.

And now here's a review from The Emperor...

I think this review might be a bit too harsh. The Avatar actor (playing Aang) is obviously inexperienced, and so his acting is a little wooden. The northern tribe water nation princess is also a little wooden, but her charm, character, and story arc make all that easily forgiven and forgotten.

The overall story of this film is exciting and interesting, and there is more than enough drama and special effects to hold your interest, especially at the end. So I think if anything, the faults lie (1) in the Avatar boy's acting (and selecting him in the first place) and (2) that (like all M. Night films) it takes some time to get it going. M. Night certainly bombards you with activity and effects at the beginning, but you don't enjoy the characters until later in the film.

The actor, Noah Ringer, was cast as Aang because he's a martial artist (first-degree black belt rank with the American Taekwondo Association). He painted the arrow on his bald head and submitted his tape of him doing all the martial arts. His friends had even already nicknamed him Airbender (based on the fact that he looked and acted like the cartoon character).

However, M Night and crew overestimated their abilities to train a new young actor and to direct a new young actor (two major skillsets, and they depend on the actor's ability to learn). M Night has picked great child actors in the past (Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), but he picked them based on acting, not on martial arts and how much they look like the character (big difference).

Despite Noah's poor acting as Aang (and despite Night's poor directing his actors to... well... act), Noah was able to train some more and follow it up with a much better performance in Cowboys and Aliens (he was in two films, and both were intended to be hits). So he's off to a good start in his career (despite the acting hickup in Airbender and the poor performance of Cowboys).

I think M. Night needs to be produced well in order to make a hit film, and he got that oversight and attention with his first four commercial films at Touchstone/Disney (Sixth Since, Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village). Then he left Disney, and his films stopped being as big commercial successes (Lady in the Water from WB, The Happening from Fox, The Devil, and The Last Airbender from Paramount).

That said, Airbender was still a success. While it lost 19 million in the US (cost $150 million and made $131 million) it was a success still because it made $187 million overseas, which typically happens when a movie is cool and packed with effects and action, but is weak on story and characters.

Prince Zuko has a great arc that is only just beginning to form in this film (and the actory nailed the character incredibly well; he starts out as the #1 villain and then slowly moves his way down the villainous charts and into your hearts). Katara (Avatar's friend) is a good actress, though not perfect (I think it might be the directing a little though, because sometimes she nails it).

And I loved the story of Sokka (Katara's brother) and the northern princess, which was only beginning to unfold at the end of the film when it tragically stopped. So the problem partially lies with the source material as well. It's a good story, but he probably needed to rip apart the source material even more to make it more interesting earlier in the film. It's definitely a slow burner.

Overall, they'll probably make another sequel (since it made $319 million, worldwide), but either M. Night will do it if he thinks he can step up the game a notch (especially in the story and characters) or they'll give it to a new director. Either way, they need to teach that Avatar kid how to act. (Based on his performance in Cowboys and Aliens, he has definitely improved; too bad the film tanked.)

Currently M. Night is following it up with "One Thousand A.D." with Jaden Smith. Jaden is fresh off of Karate Kid, so this is a good idea (especially with Will Smith producing).

I give it three stars out of five, or 2 1/2 stars out of 4.

- The Emperor


  1. I watched the Last Airbender and I have to say, being a geek girl,...this movie left me in such a state of disappointment. I immediately went to the DVD collection and pulled the animated series out. I am actually working on my blog, searching the net for news on upcoming movies, and watching Sucker Punch online all at the same time with my employee DISHONLINE.COM access. This is available to everyone with their subscription to DISH Network. For more information on how your subscription stacks up to DISH Network travel over to

  2. The movie had great editing but a poor story. It really is a bust compared to the series. But I have to admit, the effects are majestic. My sister was even scared upon seeing the water bend and the fireballs. LOL! Still, it's better to watch it before you judge it.


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