Looking Back at 2010s Films: The Last Airbender (2010)

24 Oct


By Tanner Smith

I’ve been spending too much time these past few months talking about films that I really like from this decade. Obviously, there are a few films that came out in the past 9 years and 9 months that I’ve disliked or flat-out hated.

“The Gallows.” “Movie 43.” “Fant4stic.” “Just Go With It.” “Jack and Jill.” “The Cobbler.” “Fifty Shades of Grey.” “Bachelorette.” “A Good Day to Die Hard.” “Left Behind.” “VHS: Viral.” “Contracted: Phase II.”

But there’s one……….one film that just aggravates me to my core with the very notion that it even exists…..

It’s “Movie 43.”

But “The Last Airbender” is a VERY close second!

Seriously, I hate this movie. I hate it SO much.

And the funny thing is, when I saw “The Last Airbender” on TV (I missed it in theaters–Roger Ebert’s scathing review kept me away from it…so instead, I saw “Twilight: Eclipse” that summer), I just saw it as a standard bad wannabe fantasy epic and reviewed it as such (1 star out of 4). I wasn’t as “offended” by it as many of my friends were….and then, I saw the TV show it was based on–“Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” is an incredible show. Imaginative, fun, amusing, creative, awesome, thought-provoking, great storytelling, epic conclusion, all-around fantastic show! I LOVE it!

And then when I saw the film again, which is a live-action adaptation of the first season, that’s when I felt dirty. Like, I felt sick. And to make matters worse, it felt like it was subliminally giving me the finger while I was watching it.

Those who know me know my least favorite movie is “Freddy Got Fingered,” but I can at least give it some credit that it’s so surreal that I can understand its audience. But “The Last Airbender”…I just can’t….I can’t, and I don’t want to.

Where do I begin? Maybe with the obvious problem–it’s a 90-minute recap of the first season of the series. 90 minutes!! How much room does that leave for emotion and character development when you’re trying to unload 20 22-minute episodes into one movie? Very little. The only semblance of heart in this movie comes from the relationship between our antagonist Zuko (Dev Patel) and his uncle General Iroh (Shaun Toub). It’s brief but it is there.

You remember Zuko, right? One of the most complex characters in all of children’s entertainment? Started out as a simple villain but continued as something far more interesting and compelling? The guy you felt the utmost sympathy for by the middle of season 2? The guy who had his whole world shattered when he realized the truth about what he was fighting for and why?

Well, here, we just have some lazy exposition…lots and lots of lazy exposition that’s supposed to make us care for his cinematic counterpart.

That’s really what this movie consists of: explaining the universe and the characters’ journeys without making us get a genuine feel for it all. There is NOTHING in this film that makes me care in the slightest about what ANYBODY is doing in this movie.

The acting isn’t very strong either. I could tell Noah Ringer possessed SOME qualities of our quirky, charismatic, naive protagonist Aang–if only the first takes weren’t always used (I’m just guessing). Nicola Peltz is not Katara nor is Jackson Rathbone Sokka…I don’t care for who they are instead, either.

Actually, looking up the casting for the film, I found out that Peltz was actually cast first and that her billionaire father was a potential investor in the film’s budget (and her audition was “subpar,” according to a crew member), and so they had to base the casting of Sokka on which actor could play her brother. And apparently, Rathbone did well capturing Sokka’s fun, cocky persona in his audition and that’s why he got the part….CAN’T HAVE THAT, NOW, CAN WE??? Yes, it turns out producers felt the humor took away from the story and thus, Sokka was turned into a stiff, humorless jerk. What a crock.

So, great–I don’t care about the story or the characters, and I don’t think the writers, producers, or actors cared about it either. This is terrible. Especially for a fantasy film. Can you imagine if “Star Wars” didn’t balance out its mythos with its humor or its quiet moments or its chilling scene of Luke discovering his aunt and uncle’s charred bodies and realizing what he has to do? You wouldn’t care because there wouldn’t be any heart put into all the hocus-pocus! And that’s “The Last Airbender.”

…But the soundtrack is nice. It’s James Newton Howard–his scores are usually first-rate when the films they accompany aren’t so good. I’ll give the film its soundtrack.

I can’t place all the blame on M. Night Shyamalan…though I am glad we can move on from this horrid experience and recognize him as a good filmmaker again, thanks to movies like The Visit and Split which would come out much later. But at the time, this was the death sentence for Shyamalan–the time when no one wanted to stick up for him for this mess.

You’re still cool, Shyamalan…but never, EVER do this again.

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