I took in The Last Airbender on Thursday and really had to give it a few days to sink in. My first impressions walking out of the theatre were… that was pretty damn good. Keep in mind though, I haven’t seen the cartoons… at least not all of them. The critics over the last few days have been brutal on this film, some even calling it the worst in a long time. I found some merit in what some critics had to say, but honestly, there’s a lot of anime fanboys out there who are talking out of their ass. The Last Airbender wasn’t half as bad as they would have you believe, although it’s far from a perfect film to be sure.
The world is divided into four kingdoms, each represented by the element they harness, and peace has lasted throughout the realms of Water, Air, Earth, and Fire under the supervision of the Avatar, a link to the spirit world and the only being capable of mastering the use of all four elements. When young Avatar Aang disappears, the Fire Nation launches an attack to eradicate all members of the Air Nomads to prevent interference in their future plans for world domination. 100 years pass and current Fire Lord Ozai continues to conquer and imprison anyone with elemental “bending” abilities in the Earth and Water Kingdoms, while siblings Katara and Sokka from a Southern Water Tribe find a mysterious boy trapped beneath the ice outside their village. Upon rescuing him, he reveals himself to be Aang, Avatar and last of the Air Nomads. Swearing to protect the Avatar, Katara and Sokka journey with him to the Northern Water Kingdom in his quest to master “Waterbending” and eventually fulfill his destiny of once again restoring peace to the world. But as they inch nearer to their goal, the group must evade Prince Zuko, the exiled son of Lord Ozai, Commander Zhao, the Fire Nation’s military leader, and the tyrannical onslaught of the evil Fire Lord himself.
What went wrong? To start, the acting was a mixed bag, with key characters delivering mediocre performances at best. The editing didn’t flow as nicely as it could have, which could have been the result of its quick pacing, ambitious coverage (20 episodes cut down to under 2 hours), and bad writing. Character development was weak, just giving us enough to know who’s who. There could have been so much more in regards to the characters, giving us more to hold onto in the end. Unfortunately though, the strength of the cast and the limited running time made this almost impossible.
What it does right… Well the fight choreography is fantastic. The visual effects are top notch, and the score is pretty awesome at points. With the pacing of the film, the acting pitfalls can easily be overlooked, as I felt the look of the characters was fine. Fanboys really have to get over all the race issues they’re having with the film. Also, one has to take into account the target audience… kids. Some of the dialogue may be hard to listen to, but honestly, kids aren’t gonna catch it. Unfortunately for Shyamalan, the dialogue issues should have and would have been picked up by a good editor, instead it just sounds sloppy to mature ears. Bottom line, there are scenes that really work, and actually have me hoping that the series gets a second chance. Shyamalans’ directing was not the issue here… it was totally in his writing. Better writing with stronger performances on the second part, and I’m sure the series will survive to a third.
I can’t strongly recommend The Last Airbender, but I honestly believe it doesn’t deserve half the negative press it’s been getting. And if you wanna see it get to the second film… you’re gonna have to show it some support. If you’re unfamiliar with the series and/or can accept the fact that the source material wasn’t treated as gospel, you might actually like the film a bit more than others. Pre-teen boys will love it though! Also keep in mind that this film is only” Book One”, which leaves a lot of unresolved issues by the credit role…. and is meant as a stepping stone to “Book Two”.