This movie was based on the popular cartoon called “Avatar: The Last Airbender”. I’m sure that if the movie “Avatar” had not been thought up by James Cameron then the Last Airbender movie would have been called “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Issues about the name aside, the movie was directed by M. Night Shyamalan and that alone should have sounded alarm bells in many people. “Oh, he’s a famous movie director!” exclaimed many, but with his recent films tanking, I was worried. There’s also the fact that it was suddenly announced it would be 3D, which I’m sure only came about as a result of Avatar’s (the one with blue aliens) success. A movie that was supposed to be 2D, suddenly turning 3D… hmmmm. Weighing heavily on my mind was the controversy surrounding the casting of this film as well. They completely changed the race of certain characters, in some cases entire nations, from the original. It had left many feeling angry as the movie wasn’t being loyal to the original. People went as far as to say the casting was discriminatory and racist and backed up sites such as Racebending. With so much stuff already going sour for the film before hitting theatres, I wasn’t sure what to expect. So, when I went to watch it, I thought “Okay, let’s forget about everything people were saying about the film, any rumours and/or controversies surrounding it, and let’s go in with an open mind.” And so I did.
I have a feeling that most of the film’s money was spent on hiring the company that made Avatar 3D than for actual film and production. In terms of production and filming quality, its average… on the lower end of average. While it could have wonderous quality like Lord of the Rings, since the storyline certainly promised it, it fell short. The settings certainly had a feel of a set up area and props… looked like props. To explain further, in movies like Lord of the Rings, the settings felt natural and props felt like real actual things that were not made for the sole purpose of being there, but felt like they’ve always been there. Sets give off a feeling not being made and constructed for a movie set. Examples include the Earth village (as well as the area where Earth benders were held captive), the Fire Nation stronghold that Aang escaped from, and the Koi pond area. They felt like typical movie sets. Though I must admit, the circular practice area with movable tablets was a nice place to hold a fight scene. The Last Airbender’s universe should have given the audience a glimpse into a world that should have felt foreign from ours yet still retain certain qualities of our world at the same time. The cartoon had shown us vast cities and landscapes, but the movie fails at his. Only coming close to the very end with the Northern Water Tribe city. Also, the Ocean spirit didn’t make an appearance. I thought it was awesome in the cartoon how the Water benders just stopped fighting and bowed to the spirit.
The story of the movie follows the same basic story of the cartoon. However, it quickly becomes obvious that the cartoon has the upper hand in the way it can show the plot due to the amount of time it spans. The movie’s short length just wasn’t enough to cram in a whole book. It could perhaps succeeded in showing half of a book, but instead it shows us the whole book 1. The story feels rushed. Katara ends up narrating areas that the movie just had to skip because it had no extra time. It’s unfortunate that the little bits the movie skipped were the little stories that shaped the gang’s morals and goals. I know it can’t be helped, but there were certain times they skipped major plotlines. By only showing part of Aang’s escape from his tribe, the movie doesn’t succeed in making the audience more sympathetic towards the mistake Aang has committed (The Storm episode). It also felt extremely rushed at the end. The development of the gang’s time in the Northern Water Tribe was simply narrated by Katara. Suddenly, she states that her brother and Suki became “close”. Ohhhhh…. Can you be more obvious that you’re skipping steps Shyamalan? There’s also major changes to the storyline. Roku doesn’t guide Aang, instead its a dragon. Which is a shame, because I felt Roku could have made a better guide. Jet doesn’t appear either.
Half of the main characters were new faces to me, so I expected fairly amateur acting. I’m talking about Noah Ringer (Aang) and Nicola Peltz (Katara). Noah Ringer was quite bad though and Nicola Peltz was plain cheesy, but her character was Katara so that was to be expected. Dev Patel did a good job in portraying a betrayed-so-now-out-for-vengence Zuko. Jackson Rathbone was out of character. I don’t know whether to blame him or the director. Sokka was supposed to be comedic relief, instead we got a moody Sokka, which was disappointing. Shaun Toub’s Uncle Iroh was okay. He wasn’t as big and jolly like the cartoon Iroh, but he’s still the same old soul full of wisdom and care for this nephew. Okay, now to discuss the controversy about the casting. I personally would have preferred it if they had stayed true the ethnicities the cartoon showed (Chinese, Korean, Native American). At the same time I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they’re racist for choosing to change certain ethnicities. I mean some people were complaining about how only white actors were getting the roles, but the entire Fire Nation cast are of Indian nationality. The character playing Aang, while not a good actor, looks a lot like the cartoon Aang so I don’t think his race should come into the controversy either. The one point I will poke a finger at was the Southern Water Tribe. The whole tribe looked like of Native American nationality except for Sokka and Katara. Now that I felt was a bit off. Why couldn’t they have looked for actors of the same nationality to play the main characters. Why do they have to be Caucasian when their entire tribe obviously wasn’t. Even GranGran who was supposed to come from the Northern Tribe looks like Native American, not Caucasian like the Northern Tribes do. That part was the only thing I’m having a problem with. That aside, the acting was a mix for me. Some were good, some were bad.
A week before watching this movie, I happened to watch the Karate Kid. Now, after seeing that movie, I’m pretty pumped about actions scenes. I’m expecting fight scenes of the same caliber. We’re talking about The Last Airbender here people. The fight scenes in the cartoon were some of the best coordinated fight scenes I’ve seen to hit TV, cartoon or not. It fell short of my expectations. They were okay, not lousy, but I expected better of this franchise. They could have incorporated so much more creativity. The Paku versus Katara fight was what I was most stoked about and I felt it didn’t show how awesome Katara could kick butt.
Most awesome part of this movie. It’s had a similar feel to the cartoon’s soundtrack. The heavy drum beats were awesome. If only the scenes they accompanied rose to the occasion, it would have made an awesome combo (example: scene when imprisoned Earth Benders decided to fight back).
Is it fair to compare this movie to the original cartoon, which I have been doing throughout this review? YES. If you’re going to base a movie on something, I would expect minor changes, cuts to minor parts of the plot. Those are okay, but making huge cuts to major plotlines, making big changes (like cutting out Roku), and making it obvious you cut out big plotlines… now that’s just wrong. Try to at least live up to the original.
Pros: Wonderful musical score accompaniment.
Cons: Rushed the story and sub-par acting from some main characters fails to deliver a well constructed story already laid out for them.
Most Memorable Moment: Aang using airbending to back away from Zuko (I don’t know, that part looked cool).
Final Input: At least it wasn’t as bad as the Dragon Ball movie *cringe*