Feb 20, 2020
The Last Airbender (2010) (part 1 of 10)
The Cast of Characters:
Aang/Ong (Noah Ringer). A sullen little piss-ant with a cross on his back who’s destined to save the world, but won’t do it if he can’t have sex.
Zuko (Dev Patel). An exiled prince with a barely noticeable scar, who randomly shouts half his lines.
Katara (Nicola Peltz). A girl who knows waterbending, and cries a lot. Seriously, that’s all I’ve got.
Sokka/Soak-a (Jackson Rathbone). Katara’s disturbingly pale brother, who can’t bend anything, and is therefore even more useless than her.
Iroh/Eeroh (Shaun Toub). Zuko’s uncle, who can make fire from nothing, which is a big deal for extremely stupid reasons.
Zhao (Aasif Mandvi). Supposedly our villain, though he never really gets around to doing much except tossing out random insults.
I’ll warn everybody right now, this is going to be an angry one. I’ve already gone into great detail about how much I love the show Avatar: The Last Airbender, so I won’t bore you with all that again. Instead, let’s talk about the man who’s responsible for the atrocity I’ll be looking at today: M. Night Shyamalan.
I actually kept my faith in Shyamalan longer than most. On paper, the guy’s got a great story: he was bitten by the filmmaking bug early in life, and as a kid he made several short films with his friends in lots of different genres. And after a few early professional works that didn’t get much attention, he hit the big time with The Sixth Sense, a film which still stands as an expertly crafted supernatural thriller, with some of the best use of foreshadowing I’ve ever seen.
Then came Unbreakable, which to me is his true masterpiece. It’s a fascinating real-world take on the superhero genre, and is also somehow the only one of his films whose big twist ending hasn’t reached Soylent Green levels of public awareness. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it; just try to forget the films that came after.
Because by that point, the ride was over, and every subsequent Shyamalan film received worse and worse reviews. I still held out hope, since those first two movies had impressed me so much. It wasn’t until The Happening that I went into one of Shyamalan’s films with real skepticism. The sheer egotism he demonstrated in Lady in the Water had finally broken me, and it’s probably not a coincidence that this was also when he stopped his endearing habit of including scenes from his childhood homemade movies as bonus features on his DVDs, along with introductions bemoaning how bad they were.
Which brings us to The Last Airbender. Early signs were promising: there were articles about how Shyamalan was introduced to the cartoon when his daughter wanted to dress up as Katara for Halloween, which led to it becoming appointment television for his whole family. We were assured that this film would be made by One Of Us, a person who understood what made the show work, and would do his best to translate it faithfully to the big screen.
That’s really what hurts the most about this movie: the sense of personal betrayal. Despite how low I’d seen Shyamalan sink, I still allowed myself to believe that we would get a respectful and worthy adaptation of a great show. That didn’t last long, as reports from the set only grew worse. Finally, I accepted the inevitable, and reserved the duty of writing this very recap several months before the film was released. This has been a long time coming, and I can already feel a huge weight lifting off me.
I should also mention that the film was hastily converted to 3D, because nothing makes a movie better than occasionally feeling like you’re getting poked in the eye. I refuse to see any 3D movies on principle, but I’ve heard that the conversion job done on Last Airbender was a particularly rushed and sloppy one. I wish I could say I’m surprised.
One more thing before I get started: I’m going to try my absolute best not to sound like a whiny fanboy, only complaining because something isn’t exactly the same as the source material. If I do complain about any changes, it’ll be because they’re significantly worse than what the show did perfectly well. And with all that out of the way, let’s dive into the worst M. Night Shyamalan movie yet. And damn, is that saying something.