M. Night Shyamalan (director of “The Sixth Sense,” “Signs” and, more recently, “The Happening”) is back with another movie that he wrote, produced and directed. With the past few films he made being publicly and critically panned, his new movie “The Last Airbender” needed to be great. Will it be a much-needed comeback or just another failed attempt to please the masses?
“Avatar: The Last Airbender” was a highly-popular cartoon series that aired on Nickelodeon for three seasons from February 2005 until July 2008. This American show used an anime style of drawing, with heavy influences of Chinese culture, symbols and lore. The show painted a picture of an alternate world where the Earth is divided into four nations — Air, Water, Earth and Fire — and is inhabited by humans, mystical creatures and spirits. In the story, there are a select few in each nation or tribe that have the power to manipulate and bend a particular element. The four nations lived in peace and one of the reasons why is because every generation a new avatar is born. The avatar is one that has the ability to harness all four elemental powers, can also communicate with the spirit world and is charged with protecting the harmonious balance of nature. When the newly-appointed avatar disappears, the Fire nation uses this time to start a war and start taking over different nations, exterminating or imprisoning the majority of the benders from each tribe in order to guarantee their success of world domination.
A hundred years go by and when things are starting to look very bleak for the fate of the world, two siblings from an arctic water tribe — Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz) — stumble across something stuck in the ice. It turns out to be Aang (Noah Ringer, of 2011’s “Cowboys and Aliens”), who very well could be the last airbender and the long-lost avatar. Taking responsibility for him, Katara and Sokka decide they must help Aang in his quest to find out what happened to his people, and help him learn all he must to become the all powerful avatar the world very much needs. Hot on their tails is the disgraced and banished Prince Zuko (Dev Patel of 2008’s breakout hit “Slumdog Millionaire”) of the Fire nation with his mentor and uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub). When Zuko was banished, he was told not to return without the avatar, so he must do whatever it takes to capture him and win back his honor. It won’t be easy because there are others who are seeking to capture the avatar once they have heard of his return.
When I heard they were making this film, I got intrigued and rented the entire series. Not being a fan of traditional anime, I was surprised at how much fun the story was. That got me really excited to see this film. I will tell you right now “The Last Airbender” is just the first movie in a planned trilogy that is supposed to follow the same outline of the three seasons of the show. So don’t expect the story to wrap up by the end of this movie. Also, I noticed many changes were made from the original cartoon for this movie, some I liked and others I hated.
M. Night Shyamalan didn’t capture the true essence of the show. This movie was in a state of elevated drama the entire time — it was so serious and everyone seemed to have the same seriousness in their characters. One of the good parts of the show is the wackiness and jokes from a few of the main characters and I will say that there was next to no jokes in this movie. Sokka, who is a non-stop jokester in the show, was just super serious in the movie and Aang who is young, playful and pretty much ignorant of the evils in the world at the beginning of the show, was just really reserved and also serious in this movie. Uncle Iroh, another source of jokes typically, was very calm and composed almost the entire time. Another major aspect that bothered me was that they pronounced all of the names differently then they did in the show — I’m not quite sure why they did that.
A few changes I did like were some changes to characters like Uncle Iroh, who was younger and stronger in the movie, compared to being an old lazy man in the cartoon. I liked the effects of the elements when they were bending them to their will and the cool slow motion during some intense battle scenes. The best thing M. Night Shyamalan did in this film was casting young Noah Ringer as the main character and hero — he was excellent in the role of Aang. He is a trained martial artist and is knowledgeable well beyond his years. As far as I could find, this was Noah’s first feature film and he was great in it. Additionally, some good supporting actors in this movie who deserve a mention are: Aasif Mandvi as Commander Zhao, Cliff Curtis as Fire Lord Ozai and Seychelle Gabriel as Princess Yue.
On the downside, the 3D conversion of this film failed; if it was shot using 3D cameras and not converted later on, it would have been a complement to this story instead of an unnecessary effect. The type of 3D used here adds little to nothing to the overall enjoyment of the movie.
So, in summary, I will say that this is not the long-awaited comeback to M. Night Shyamalan’s career and I wish he would go back to his roots of suspense thrillers, where he has been great. However, I hope that this movie does well enough for them to green-light the second and third films because I do want to see the journey of Aang come to fruition, just not with Shyamalan at the helm.
In the end, fellow fans of the cartoon show might be disappointed in this movie, but newcomers to this franchise will probably be amused by the special effects used in this film.
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