The Last Airbender

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 16 | Posted Jul. 6, 2010

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Wide release

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? ■

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Comments 1 - 16 of 16
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1. mattmchugh said... on Jul 7, 2010 at 09:29AM

“Do yourself a favor and check out the original cartoon version. Yes, it's targeted at kids (I'm in my 40's BTW), but it's so consistently well-done -- smart, exciting, funny, beautifully drawn, great story, engaging characters, fascinating mythology -- that I found it to be the best show I've seen in years (sorry, "Lost" ... but you lost me somewhere around season 4).

For a great intro, check out the Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1 Essentials collection on iTunes. It takes the best 8 episodes (skipping some of the more kid-oriented one-offs) and provides a perfect summary of the story arc. Heck, if they'd simply released that in theaters, it probably would have beat the box office take of has-been Shyamalan's amateurish hack-job.

-- mm

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2. Alex said... on Jul 7, 2010 at 11:29AM

“I think it's Shyamalan's comeback, box office-wise as well as artistically. I found nothing to complain about in the acting, and the story easy to follow and exciting. I can't wait for the sequel! I hope it has the same team.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jul 7, 2010 at 12:07PM

“Hey grown man, I would be willing to bet that in a contest of who is manlier, I would beat you out. Unless you are just really freaking manly.

The series, "Avatar: The Last Airbender." is in my opinion the best television of my 32 years of living.”

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4. Antonio Demarco said... on Jul 8, 2010 at 01:29AM

“You don't have to be a Grown as man to understand moral values and a good storyline. I agree with you though, I wouldn't have heard of it unless it was mentioned to me, because I'm not tuning into Nickelodeon anymore...because, I'm a grown ass man. I'm involved in animation and throughout the years friends of mine will tell me to check something out and they usually have good opinions about creative work so I listen. Avatar the Last Airbender is an excellent show displaying artistic quality and sound values for Kids!!!! as well as adults. I stress for kids because most cartoons I've seen throughout the beginning of the 2000's have been targeted at being crazy and insane without any thought, just shit placed on television. Kids take in whatever they see and Avatar is something that they should take in to perspective. The values of Hard work, moral compromise and Zen type knowledge gives and breeds an understanding for youngin's to adapt and utilize or just to have in ones memory bank.”

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5. Antonio Demarco said... on Jul 8, 2010 at 01:38AM

“M. Night Shalayman...or however is spelled at least gets the credit for allowing people's interest in checking out the actual storyline of Avatar. I haven't liked a M. night movie ever since The Village came out, The Village would have been good if it was advertised differently, people came into the theater expecting something scary, cool or something not what it was!!!! Fucking, M. Night!!! What a trickster, I still want my money back from that garbage.

I knew Avatar the movie was going to be crap, especially after I heard who was directing it, but the Last Airbender storyline gets praise for being Awesome. Check it out, It will not hurt your ego Mr. Sean Burns if you take a don't be a bitch. All it is is a little time out of your day or days to peak at more cinema...something you do anyway!

M. Night will have to win back critics somehow, maybe if he does something not only involved in money making trickster pranks, but developing an artistic goal for a storyline.”

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6. jackattack said... on Jul 15, 2010 at 02:27PM

“@alex: i can't believe paramount still has their "damage control" team out posting that nonsense. are you still getting paid or are you related to shamalamadipshit?”

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7. AVATAR said... on Jul 19, 2010 at 05:27PM


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8. Robert said... on Jul 23, 2010 at 07:27PM

“OK so here's the thing. i am also a grown man and also a HUGE die-hard fan of the series on which the film is based and I am actually willing to throw Shamashit a bone on a couple of things. First, if you've watched Book One of the series than you know it's actually the slowest and most difficult to get through of the three books. It's not until Book 2 that plot development begins to deepen and we get what are some of (in my opinion) the best characters ever created (Toph, Azula, Mai, Ty Lee to name but a few). Also in Book 2 is when we see the character development for Zuko really get more complex and he becomes vastly more interesting and likeable. So considering the source material it's not hard to understand why the first movie was not that great.”

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9. Meh said... on Jul 24, 2010 at 01:49PM

“This movie was absolutly flawless and brilliant in excecution. I actually found myself enjoying this much much more than The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. The dialog was smart and very clever writen, the story was amazing and the characters were remarkable. I can't wait till the 2nd Airbender film to be released.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jul 25, 2010 at 09:02AM

“Honestly, some of the dialogue in the series I could not stand... Some cheesy.... but the series as a whole was pretty good. Just because it's animated doesn't mean it can't have any depth. Plenty of anime out there that gets you thinking and has meaning too. Besides, there are just some things we can't do in LIVE ACTION. Example: making a live action film of the last airbender.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Jul 26, 2010 at 02:50PM

“@meh REALLY?? Have you watched the series? Its a hundred times better than the movie, the script sucks like shit. If i wasnt a die hard fan i would curse this last airbender crap (but i am, so i wont :D) All the depth and meaning has been replaced by passable CGI. shamalamadipshit.. f*** him”

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12. Christina Reviews said... on Jul 28, 2010 at 05:09PM

“Avatar the last airbender the show was brilliant and exciting, it was unique for all ages. I think this movie ruined it, it was not at all the same feeling you got in the show. this was just not even one star it shouldnt even be half or a quarter of a star. But book two earth is better than any book for me but i think this movie series will flop and not be able to shot book 2 or 3. it reminds me of the golden compass because the other golden compass books were brilliant but the first movie stunk... I am just saying

Christina Reviews”

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13. Anonymous said... on Aug 16, 2010 at 03:43AM

“I have seen the animation and it is an epic cartoon, the movie should have been a slam dunk for any director but M night completely fucked it if there is a sequel I can bet he won't be doing it.

A million monkeys with a million typewriters could not make a movie as abysmal as the last airbender.

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14. marc said... on Sep 19, 2010 at 10:57AM

“Ah, now I can see the hole you've fallen into here. Fans of the series are looking at your review to see if the show they love has turned into a good film. If you'd stuck to talking about the film you'd have been in the clear but surely you can see that making snide remarks about the cartoon is going to make these people think your an idiot? right?”

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15. Tino said... on Oct 3, 2010 at 10:29AM

“haha! marc is right should have stayed off the tv show, because it was brilliant and filled with asian culture.

NOW to the movie. the writing sucked. the kung fu sucked. yes its all supposed to be different kung fu: water= tai chi; earth= hung gar which is where karate comes from, sorry japan didnt make it, but dont worry kung fu wasnt the original either; wind is pa kua; and fire = long fist kung fu, typically northern with a splash of mantis style, when they do lighting.

the leading kid, terrible actor. sokka, who, in my opinion was the best character in the series, was a bland fish with no seasoning. princess yue was hot, she was the best part of the film. and then she died. sigh.

sorry. the fight scenes never amounted to anything, the choreography was boring. and the pacing was... so... slow...........


Battlefied Earth was better. Enough said.”

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16. Tino said... on Oct 3, 2010 at 10:36AM

“o yah. one thing on shamalanee. i dont think he is a bad director. for his own stuff, hes good. he can build suspense and even though in his last few movies he has sucked, hard, he can give me good, theatrical moments by using his style.

but this is an action film. no need to build up suspense. blow up a fire nation boat, top it over with a huge freakin tidal wave! bring avatar roku out and make some volcanoes blast off! anything, but what he did”


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