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.