|The Last Airbender|
Transformers. Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Dragonball Evolution. It seems like every year I have to come see a big screen adaptation of a beloved franchise that destroys everything I believe in. How is it that so many people can poor so much talent and money into good source material and come up with garbage? In Transformers‘ case, the director ignored the original show to make the movie he wanted; normally a noble maneuver, but probably a mistake when it’s Michael Bay. The Clone Wars, in the hope of appealing to children dumbed itself way too far down (kids, by the way, always liked the Star War). Dragonball Evolution felt like a movie that didn’t want to have anything to do with Dragonball. The Last Airebender, this year’s entry, actually makes an effort to adapt the show for the big screen, but ultimately succumbs to the curse of Shyamalan diminishing returns.
Avatar: The Last Airbender was a remarkable show. It had a colorful, fluid animation style that brought the cast to life and made its take on martial arts very compelling. The show was three seasons, or “books,” long. Set in a world divided into four kingdoms with inhabitants that could wield the elements, the first book showed how two eskimos, Katara and Sokka found the long last Avatar, Aang. The Avatar is the only one who wields all four elements, but he had been missing for 100 years. In his absence, the Fire Nation launched a war against the other three nations. Aang, Katara, Sokka, along with their animal companions Momo and Appa, grow close to each other as they travel north and deal with the assaults of banished prince Zuko and his jolly Uncle Iroh. In the exciting conclusion, Katara grows into a master water bender, Sokka loses his first great love, Zuko begins to doubt his loyalty the the Fire Nation, and Aang loses control, unleashing a shocking Miyazaki-esque assault on a massive Fire Nation armada.
The Last Airbender is a terrible movie. It is set in a bleak, somewhat desaturated world. People certainly can wield the elements, but the martial arts are slow and hardly and intuitive and dynamic as in the cartoon. It’s a lot of laborious tai chi poses with middling results. The film is set in a tiny little world, where characters can travel from glaciers to forests in a moment’s notice. Seriously, if you didn’t already kind of know the geography from the show, you’d have no idea what was going on. In this version, Katara and So-ka, now white kids, kind of stumble into this little kid and instinctively decide to help the boy without ever talking to him. That was a good call, since it turns out the kid is an airbender… Whatever that means. They go on some silly adventures, omitting major characters from the show and literally traveling across the world like it’s no big deal. There are some animals too, but who cares. It not like they were a big deal in the show or anything. They just had entire episodes dedicated to them. Anyway, now the Fire Nation is India, I guess, and Aasif Mandvi is a bad guy. In a boring conclusion, instead of fighting off the armada, Aang just lifts up a wave and everybody bows to him.
If you never saw Avatar before, sitting through The Last Airbender would be a miserable experience. The pacing is absolutely terrible, you’ll have no clue how long it’s been between seen, how far the characters have gone, or why they are acting like they do. Everybody’s totally flat. Instead of being full of life and fun, Aang is just boring and depressed. Sokka, the show’s sense of humor, is harder to watch than Anakin in Attack of the Clones. The only one who is bringing anything to the show is Mandvi, who comes off like he knew well in advance the movie would be terrible. The special effects are fine, but they’re not particularly exciting. For the non-fan, this is a boring, tedious experience.
For an Avatar fan, this certainly is in the running for worst movie ever made. First of all, if you’re making a movie of an American show, don’t change how to pronounce the names. God damn it. Did you even see this show before you made the movie, Shyamalan? Iroh doesn’t even talk about tea. The entire tone of the show is gone, and everything that worked has been bastardized. It feels like someone gave you a basic plot line and you had to guess you’re way through it. Here’s a tip: write more than exposition. That way the characters feel like more than plot devices.
This is a movie that just reeks of stupidity. In their very first mission together, Team Avatar liberate earthbenders who are being held in a metal prison at sea. This makes sense, those guys can’t bend anything, so they are at the mercy of the Fire Nation soldiers. In the movie, the earthbenders are being held in what looked like a village. Despite having greater numbers and being surrounded by dirt and rocks. They needed Aang to show up and give a stupid speech for them to try to fight back. That doesn’t make any sense. What were they thinking?
Honestly, the most mortifying thing is that Shyamalan is probably gonna get a crack at The Last Airbender 2. This is a cartoon that anyone could enjoy, and has the potential to translate to a great live action feature. But under the presumably drunk hands of M. Night, I fear we can only expect disaster once again in 2012.