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THE LAST AIRBENDER


STARRING: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel, Jessica Jade Andres, Aasif Mandvi, Shaun Toub, Cliff Curtis, Keong Sim

2010, 103 Minutes, Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan


After a trio of missteps (The Village, The Happening and Lady in the Water), Sixth Sense writer / director M. Night Shyamalan tackles an adaptation of someone else's work for the first time in his career. The Last Airbender, a hokey live-action retelling of the animated television show, continues Shyamalan's slide toward total irrelevance.

Full of lazy dialogue, unconvincing performances, and lackluster action sequences (made nearly incomprehensible if you have the misfortune to see the movie in its 3-D version, inarguably the worst conversion to stereoscopic imaging since the trend began anew), The Last Airbender is an unintentional laugh riot.

After explaining the history of the movie's fictional world in an opening text crawl (redundantly recited by the blasé narrator), the movie then continues to tells us the main points. Basically, the world is made of four nations based on the four elements: fire, earth, water, and air. Some members of the tribes can manipulate their respective element, and they are dubbed "benders." They do this by moving their bodies in ways that are not connected in any way to the movement of the element in question but that look impressive.

The Fire Nation is waging a war against the others for dominance and suppressing anyone who can bend any element other than fire.

There's also a spiritual world, which, well, contains spirits for things like the moon and the ocean, while a giant spirit dragon represents a giant spirit dragon. It gets a bit hazy here.

"A new low point in Shyamalan's crumbling career . . ."

Bringing balance to the world is the reincarnated form of the Avatar, a master of all four elements, who has been missing for a century. Brother and sister Katara (a bland Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) from the Water Nation stumble upon a boy named Aang (Noah Ringer, either looking Zen or concerned) trapped in the ice with a giant, flying bison-like creature. As it turns out, he is the Avatar, who shirked his responsibilities because it would involve too much sacrifice but quickly changes his mind to live up to his title now that he's had a hundred years of frozen unconsciousness to think about it.

Shyamalan presents a travelogue of this New Age world, showing us such locales as Northern Water Kingdom and Southern Air Temple, all of which serve primarily as pretty digital paintings in wide shots before heading back to the repetitive storyline. Aang never had the chance to learn how to influence any other element than air, so now he must take things one step at a time, learning water-bending from Katara and a hippie teacher who kicks water globules around like hacky sacks. Meanwhile, he avoids the Fire Nation's disgraced son Prince Zuko (a hammy Dev Patel), who wants to capture the Avatar before Commander Zhao (a whiny Aasif Mandvi).

The script offers a lot of roundabout dialogue, primarily composed of characters asking questions to which they should already know the answer. Why, when Aang and his bending friends control air, water, or earth, do the fire-benders ask what is happening? They live in a world in which people—themselves included—can do such things; it's not an issue to them.

The most circular of these scenes takes place between Zhao and Zuko's uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub). Before invading the Water Kingdom, Iroh tells Zhao that the army will have to worry about moon power, to which Zhao responds that they don't have to worry about moon power, to which Iroh wonders why they don't have to worry about moon power. Then Zhao explains why moon power isn't an issue, and yes, they do say "moon power" that often. In fact, they say it more than that.

Other scenes are simply pointless, restating key points of the plot that have been firmly established. The most obvious example of this comes when Zhao tells Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) that his son attempted to kidnap Aang from imprisonment, even though everyone knows Zuko's goal is to capture the Avatar for his own ends (which, by the way, are never actually clarified). After repeating what Zhao has already said with a few pauses in between, Ozai receives an emphatic assertion of what both have now firmly stated in a "yes" that somehow makes the word three syllables long.

At least The Last Airbender is funny in its overblown, underperformed, substandard, and superficial way. It is a new low point in Shyamalan's crumbling career.
 


 



 

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