Apr 29, 2018
The Last Airbender (2010) (part 3 of 10)
Back on the ship, Eeroh puts samples of fire, water, and earth in front of Ong, and the samples all react to him. So, no matter where he goes, the elements all react to the Ah-vatar like this? That must be annoying as hell. Not that this was ever shown before, or will be shown again. We do have memories longer than a few seconds, you know.
Eeroh apologizes, because he assumed that Ong would fail the test, but now that he’s passed, he’s their prisoner. Ong reacts by jumping over them and plowing through the soldiers outside with some airbending. No, he wasn’t even in handcuffs, which we’ll later see do exist in this world. Apparently, Zuko thought just telling Ong not to try to escape would be enough. I’m very quickly running out of any characters to empathize with here.
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Ong gets out on deck, where he pulls out a staff and extends it into a glider. So Zuko apparently didn’t think of taking that away from him, despite it being literally the only thing he has on him besides the clothes on his back. Ong flies up, where he meets up with Katara and Soak-a, who have just arrived with Appa. And this turns out to be their only contribution to the escape, despite the big deal that was just made about their needing to help him.
Ong tells Soak-a and Katara that he has to go back home and find out what happened. Rather than clue him in themselves, they insist on going with him, for no apparent reason other than that vague destiny stuff their grandmother told them about. And for no real plot-related reason either, I might add.
The film already reduced Soak-a and Katara’s role in Ong’s escape to almost nothing, and from now on they’ll pretty much be dead weight on him, playing no real role in the story. I know you have to cut things out in an adaptation like this, but if you’re going to reduce a character’s role to nothing, you might as well just cut them out entirely and give yourself that much more room for other things.
Katara narrates how Ong told them he was from the Southern Air Temple, which is where they arrive next. And get used to that; about half the film is basically just the story on tape. And Katara also uses Ong’s name in this narration; just keep that in mind.
Ong walks around the temple, insisting the other monks must be playing a joke on him. Then he tells the other two his name. Okay, point the first: during the whole journey here, there wasn’t one convenient moment to ask his name? Point the second: as I just said, we already heard Katara using his name in the narration, so we now have another obvious revision that Shyamalan missed.
Point the third: what the hell was the purpose of not mentioning his name before now? The show didn’t try to make any kind of mystery out of it, and it adds nothing here either, besides pissing off the fans by making them wait to hear the name, only for it to be pronounced wrong. It’s like mysteries worked so well for Shyamalan in his previous movies that he’s now compelled to shove them in everywhere he can, regardless of how little sense they make.
But now it’s time for another introduction: Momo the flying lemur! Or just “a lemur”, since he isn’t named in the film, and never does anything besides occasionally fly around in the background, to the point where you wonder why he’s included at all. There was real poignancy to his introduction in the show, because it led to Aang realizing that he, Appa, and Momo are all that’s left of his culture. Here, it’s just a cheap laugh that’s quickly forgotten.
God, every few seconds this movie finds a new way to send me off on another rant!
Ong runs to another area, where he finds the skeletons of all the monks. Katara takes this opportunity to finally clue him in, rendering a scene that might have had real natural emotion into something just plain infuriating, since she didn’t think to tell him this until now, even though it was pretty clear when they arrived what the situation was.
This scene also includes this turn of a phrase: “The Fire Nation knew the Ah-vatar would be born into the Air Nomads, so they exterminated all the Air Nomads.” And sad to say, that’s far from the worst trip this movie will take to the Department of Redundancy Department.
Ong steps on a bone, producing the cleanest, straightest break you’ll ever see. And he recognizes a necklace on one of the bodies, having given it to his mentor Gyatso. Which is followed by a flashback to that happening, because out of every event we’ve only heard about so far, apparently this is the one we just couldn’t go without seeing.
And this flashback introduces more racial discomfort, because Gyatso is played by a black actor, despite our later seeing Asians as all the other Air Nomads. And he’s the only black actor in the entire film, too. This is definitely one of the more bizarre casting choices, making it seem like Night was just that desperate to not have an Asian as a named character.
These memories cause Ong to go into the Avatar state, basically hulking out due to increased emotion, though experienced Avatars can enter this state at will. And I have to explain that, because the movie never does. Throwing in little nods just for the fans is fine, but would it have killed them to give the newbies some of the information they actually need?
On the show, the equivalent moment was followed by Katara bringing Aang back under control with a moving speech about how they’re a family now. But Shyamalan can’t have a girl doing anything important, so instead Soak-a just tells Katara to stay away as Ong enters the Spirit World.
And this Spirit World is one of the laziest otherworldly fantasy realms in recent memory. It’s literally just the temple set with a blue filter, and the occasional double exposure or lens flare. Well, it’s more effort than having the wind as a villain, I guess.
Ong enters a cave, where a dragon appears and asks where he’s been. At least I think it’s a dragon; we never get a good look at the thing, so it could just as easily be a horse skull. But before Ong can respond, he returns to the real world, with Katara giving a very watered down and useless version of her inspiring speech from the show. Way, way too little too late here.