[Review] The Last Airbender

Movie adaptions rarely live up to the epicness of their source material. The X-Men, Super Mario Bros., and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies are some examples of this, while the Lord of the Rings trilogy is something that has lived up to the source material. How does The Last Airbender fare — does it blow you away, or is it just hot air?

M. Night Shyamalan was signed to direct a trilogy of movies, based on the 2005-2008 animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender (TLA). This movie is based on the first season (or Book One) of the animated series, though the “Avatar” had to be dropped from the movie’s title to avoid confusion with James Cameron’s Avatar. The movie is about 4 nations (each representing an element: Earth, Fire, Air, and Water) and a war that has been going on for almost 100 years. The only person that can help save the world from the wrath of the Fire Nation is the Avatar.

The central umbrella of discipline in the world of TLA is called Bending, the ability to manipulate an element. There are 4 main types of bending: Airbending, Earthbending, Waterbending and Firebending, each based on a specific real-world martial art. Much like anything else, bending can be used for good or evil — Firebenders can warm cold tea, or they can burn down a village, Earthbenders can dig ditches, or they can create small earthquakes, etc.

The film’s story itself felt very rushed, to the point where it felt like I was just learning the story and then the climax occurred. This is because they tried to cram 500 minutes of story into 103 minutes. By doing so, Shyamalan effectively lost the spirit of the series. Quite a few key points from Book One were also absent from the movie. For instance, the Kyoshi Warriors that play a major role later on in the animated series were left almost completely out. Some people feel that the adaptation should have been in the form of a television series portrayed by real live people.

Myself and many other “fans” of the animated series do not agree with the changes that were made. One of the changes that’s really grated on everyone’s nerves is the pronunciation of a lot of the characters names. It’s so far off. For example, the main character’s name should be pronounced “Ang”, not “Ahng” like it is in the movie.

The other change that really bothered me is that the Firebenders needed pre-existing fire to bend it. This change makes sense as water, air and earth are everywhere, but fire is not. You cannot control something that isn’t there, so in order to control fire, you need to already have it. However, this isn’t true to the source material. In the animated series, Firebenders can create fire from their movements, without needing a pre-existing fire.

The bending motions in the film were every bit as intense as martial arts should be, although they did tend to take too long, specifically Earth. There were a few times where I saw prolonged motions without any Bending. I was like “Uh, guys, what are you doing?”

Casting was pretty good, as was the dialogue, aside from pronunciation. Mind you, this was the first time that I had seen any of the castmembers’ work. Noah Ringer (Aang), Dev Patel (Zuko), and Jackson Rathbone (Sokka) all portrayed their characters well. Rathbone in particular played Sokka well: funny, sarcastic, and a bit of a goof. But in my opinion, the best performance would have to be that of Shaun Toub. He really nailed the role of Uncle Iroh, very knowledgeable but extremely easy-going and friendly. The worst is Nicola Peltz, who played Katara, she wasn’t anything like her animated counterpart! She completely butchered the outgoing, cautious, and stubborn character from the animated series.

Locations and costumes were very true to the series. From the Air Temples to the Northern Water Tribe. The only thing I would change is that Zuko’s burn needed to be more defined, although I’m not sure if that’s even possible, given Patel’s complexion in the movie.

As a fan of the series, I wasn’t all that impressed with The Last Airbender. It missed some major points in the story that needed to be delved into, rather than just mentioned in passing. About the only thing the film is good for is a children’s action movie. You do not want to see this film if you have any shred of respect for the animated series. Several people that I know have gone on and on about how the movie could’ve been done so much better. Let’s hope that if and when they do another movie, that they kick M. Night Shyamalan in the balls with a nice fat paycheck and tell him to leave “his life’s work” alone.

The Last Airbender was produced, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. It is based on Avatar: The Last Airbender, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The film stars Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone and Dev Patel, and was distributed by Paramount Pictures. Released on 2010.07.01 in North America. The film was watched to completion.

Andrew Monkelban

Andrew Monkelban is an avid gamer and writer, who has been featured in Second Skin, and on Wired's GameLife and The Escapist. He is also really into the Japanese entertainment scene. Even though he has Cerebral Palsy, he does not let it stop him from doing what he loves, although he's always on the look-out for technology that would help him with difficult tasks. He came to PopTen in the Summer of 2009, where he's now able to combine his passions.

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2 Responses

  1. Caitirin says:

    Not to mention the HUGELY racist nature of the casting and the absolutely innapropriate responses of the studios to the concerns about the white washing of the film.


    The New York post had this to say: “This fiasco has deservedly generated advance criticism for hiring Caucasian actors to play leads that were portrayed as Asians in the TV show and pitting them against darker-skinned bad guys.

    and in the Huffington post: “. Frankly, the casting has an accidental (?) racial undertone, as the good guys of the Water Nation are all white and/or British while the villainous Fire Nation people generally all portrayed by Indian or Middle Eastern actors”

  1. July 9, 2010

    […] Andrew actually reviewed The Last Airbender, and he’s the first person I’ve seen not to use wide metaphors to describe how terrible […]

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