Saturday, July 3, 2010

REVIEW: The Last Airbender

Coming into this weekend, you had two films that ran the spectrum of expectations.

First, there was The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, which looked like a dreadful fang covered soap opera of a melodrama, and didn’t have much, outside of a great soundtrack and David Slade as a director, going for it. Then there was The Last Airbender. Based off of what I, and many, consider one of this generations most stunning television shows, the film looked visually striking, but coming from one M. Night Shyamalan, had all of us walking on eggshells going into the film.

Well I’ll be damned, expectations can really be a bitch some times, and this is exactly one of them, because I would never had expected the outcomes to be so vastly different than one could have expected. Never have I would have thought that a film could be so utterly disappointing as the one featuring the bald kid with the power of air, earth, water and fire.

The Last Airbender follows the story of Aang, the latest in a long line of people known as Avatars. These rare and special breed of people, all reborn from the same soul, are able to bend the four essential elements, of water, earth, air and fire. The Fire Nation is on the hunt, and enslaving any that get in their way in hopes of completely ruling the world. This is the story of Aang, and his two friends, Sokka and Katara, who will help him on his quest. However, it’s a story that has already been told, and this is definitely not a welcome addition to the series.

Personally, expectations were high for this film. First, I utterly adore Shyamalan and much of his work, particularly Unbreakable, Signs, Sixth Sense, and if drunk off my rocker, The Happening. Second, and more importantly, this story is based off of what I think may quite be the best animated television series ever put to television. It’s a basic heroes journey, but the sheer scale, style, and magnitude of the story, makes this a show that is not only a must see, but watchable like none other.

However, here, we get a horribly written, poorly paced, and thematically obnoxious piece of cinema that offers very few reasons to watch.

While many people have been calling this the worst film of the year, as it’s now the worst reviewed film of the year on Rotten Tomatoes, I do have to disagree. The film isn’t nearly as disgustingly vile as a horrible and utterly dreadful film like Grown Ups, or as boring and eventless as a film like Dear John, as this does have some solid aspects.

First and foremost, the film looks fantastic. Shyamalan is a master behind the camera, particularly in engrossing the viewer cinematically into either the world in and of itself, or a particular fight scene. The fight’s are visually impressive, ILM is doing fantastic stuff effects wise, and while the costumes are laughably cartoonish, almost Street Fighter-esque, I do believe, visually, that this world exists. Also, while the score is cliché and completely rehashed from previous adventure films, it does work for the film. It’s not the most original thing Howard Shore has done, but it isn’t anything dreadful. Just completely serviceable, which may be a bigger sin than if it were off, but I’ll let it slide.

That my friends, is where the positives stop, and they stop with a thud.

To me, the film’s major sin is something that Shyamalan has gone on record saying is a dream of his. Within the original series, the great thing about it was that it’s themes, while apparent, weren’t punching you in the jaw every moment. However, here you get lines like “I want to show the Fire Nation that we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs.” Not only that, but the themes as a whole are continually thrust into your face, which no matter if I agree with it or not, would be hard to take in. While I don’t believe in the overtly Christian themes that Shyamalan is verbally happy to give us, I would be fine with it, if it were far less obvious and hamfisted. It is simply too jarring that completely takes you out of what is best described as a classic hero’s tale.

Now, there has been much talk behind the changing of the lead character’s races, in the case of Zuko, Katara and Sokka. With Zuko being of seemingly Caucasian background, and Katara and Sokka of Inuit (apparently the ethnicity of the village in the film) or Middle Eastern decent, the races have been completely switched here, making it a story of good ole’ Caucasians being attacked by extremists of Middle Eastern decent. Sure, that in and of itself is horrible and really jarring when in Katara and Sokka’s village, but what is even worse, is that the three just don’t work.

Noah Ringer is fine here as Aang, however, both Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone are really poor here. Peltz is as wooden as one could imagine, and Rathbone lacks any of the charm, comedic timing, or true character features that made Sokka such a watchable and loveable figure. Patel is menacing as Zuko, but also lacks any of the darker undertones that really made the character a powerful and dark figure within the original series. Appa is pretty much a none character here, which is a real shame, because as a fan of the series, some of the show’s best aspects come between Aang and his trusty six legged flying whatever-he-is.

Overall, while the film is definitely not the worst of the year, actually, it’s not even close, it is indeed one of the year’s biggest disappointments. It doesn’t fail on every level, but it also excels in very few, making this one of the year’s most underwhelming and mediocre films. It’s not challenging, not offensive, not fun, not dreadful, and it’s not inspiring. It’s simply a film that you will see, and then never remember the next day. It’s like that boring party that you simply go to for a free night of binge drinking. You won’t remember it the next day, and after you go through it, you’ll feel empty and used.


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