Movie Review: The Last Airbender - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Movie Review: The Last Airbender

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Scene from "The Last Airbender" Scene from "The Last Airbender"
According to Rotten Tomatoes, this film is the worst-reviewed movie that M. Night Shyamalan has ever made. Despite every major critic hating it, I have to say that I don't think this is Shyamalan's worst movie. Yes, it has its problems, but it didn't feel as horrible to me as it apparently did to all the critics.
 
In fact, to me, this film is no worse than any of the Harry Potter films. I didn't enjoy those either, but at least in this film I thought the magic and all the spirituality were more interesting. Like with the Harry Potter movies, this movie was conceived as a series of which this is episode one. My problem with the Harry Potter films is that often they never felt incomplete. If I have one major beef against The Last Airbender, it would be that it feels even less so.
 
The question becomes how do I judge a work that's incomplete. I always reserve judgement until I've seen the whole thing, but movies are stand-alone entities for the most part. Like with a series, each part has got to be so compelling that it makes the audience want to see the next installment or the following episode. I'm not so sure that Shyamalan achieves that. Perhaps, if you were a hardcore fan of the animated TV show on which this movie is based, then maybe you would want to see the next one, but regular movie-goers might not be convinced.
 
The Last Airbender is like Karate Kid but when the Airbender fights, he never actually touches anybody. He just passes gas and that's apparently enough to knock men down. The Airbender must have eaten a whole lot of really bad burritos.

It was difficult for me to take the villain of this movie seriously being that he's the Indian guy from The Daily Show. Aasif Mandvi makes me laugh with his ridiculous and satirical commentary on his TV program. Here, he plays Commander Zhao, the sinister right hand to the Fire Lord who wants to capture and ultimately kill the Airbender.

The Fire Lord, played by Cliff Curtis, thinks the Airbender could be the Avatar. The Avatar is a person who can control all of the Earth's four elements: air, water, earth and fire. If you remember the cartoon Captain Planet and the Planeteers, then that's basically who the Avatar is. The Avatar is Captain Planet just without the blue-skin, green hair and red tights.

According to legend, the Avatar is supposed to be born as an Airbender. The Fire Lord therefore decides to have all the Airbenders killed similar to what Herod did in the Bible. Except, Avatars are reincarnated souls like in Buddhism. The Fire Lord's desire to take control and eliminate this religious-like figure is comparable to what Communist China did to the Dalai Lama in the 1950s. With all these references, one wonders if this movie is a metaphor for religious intolerance.

Unfortunately, Shyamalan doesn't make a strong case for it. Unlike with Shymalan's previous movies, this one really is a children's tale. Not only does it star children, but Shyamalan writes the script as if he were a child himself. His screenplay and direction seem so infantile.

I suppose the difficulty comes from Shyamalan's attempts to condense an entire TV season into one movie. He rushes through plot points like a child doing a first or second-grade book report.

I was slightly impressed with Shyamalan's staging of some of the fight scenes. For a couple of them, Shyamalan has the camera constantly circling the Airbender, as if carried by the wind. A lot of it was right out of The Matrix, but it wasn't dizzying or too frenetic. They're somewhat memorable.

What isn't memorable is the acting performances from the film's young stars. I don't blame the young actors. Shyamalan only gives these kids line readings of plot exposition. The kids aren't given much in the way of personality. There's also seemingly no character development.

Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) plays the son of the Fire Lord and is the eldest of the young actors and is able to break out of the expository box, somewhat. Patel's character has a lot of daddy issues. Patel throughout the whole movie has a restrained look of anger on his face. Either he's that or he's simply stoic. He almost expresses another emotion at one point, when he shows sadness over being banished, but it's immediately dashed.

Two Stars out of Five
Rated PG for fantasy action violence
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins
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