I’m all out of theories.
For a while, I liked to think of M. Night Shyamalan as a uniquely skilled director stuck, Siamese-twin -like, with a terrible writer. Unbreakable and Signs are dopey but beautifully helmed, and The Village might be the most exquisitely crafted stupid movie ever made. But there’s no excuse for the bungled compositions of The Happening , a film whose only redeeming value is that its awe-striking awfulness inspired SNL’s “Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals” sketch, and let’s just never mention Lady in the Water ever again, mmmkay?
I can’t even tell you what The Last Airbender is about. Based on an allegedly popular Nickelodeon cartoon—which I’ve never seen because I am a grown man —the movie already had me baffled during the opening Star Wars -like expository crawl. There’s something about nations named after stuff like fire and wind, and some bald kid who can’t act gets thawed out from a block of ice alongside Falcor from The Neverending Story . We’re repeatedly told, in flat deadening text, that he is “the Avatar” who can “bend all four elements” and save the world, but he just seems like an annoying little turd.
Unfortunately, our Avatar dropped out of monk school, so he needs to do a lot of Tai Chi in slow motion to catch up on his homework if the universe wants to be rescued. Meanwhile, the dreaded Fire Nation is out to capture or kill this whiny pipsqueak, and, for my money, the year’s most riotous miscasting comes from enlisting Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi to play a dastardly villain.
Working on his first blockbuster gig-for-hire, Shyamalan’s authorial signature shines through in the film’s commitment to solemn humorlessness and a stubborn decision to shoot entire action sequences in cramped single takes.
I avoided the controversial (and reportedly unwatchable) 3-D transfer, but was still shocked at what a drab, ugly film this is, even without the dimming effect of those damn glasses. How many more chances are we going to give this guy? ■
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely