THE LAST AIRBENDER – Movie Review by Movie Diva Monique

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It’s probably a good thing that I waited until the hate-spree died down before seeing this film. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to let up on spreading the hate.

The plot of this film is, roughly, the same from the show–in a world where nations are divided by the elements (earth, fire, and water) and where people know how to utilize said elements in a martial-arts form, a special boy, the last of all the air nomadic monks, has the power to control all of the elements and must restore the balance, which has been taken over by the ruthless Fire Nation.

That’s about all that is the same, though. Really, I’m not going to waste too much time on reviewing this movie; the film itself really doesn’t have anything worth talking about, which is a shame, considering what television series it came from (one of the few animated series in the league of such greats as Samurai Jack, The Justice League, Batman: The Animated Series, Hayao Miyazaki films and Grave of Fireflies in my and other people’s opinions). I’m tired from watching this film, so I’ll just run through the main points:

1) Exposition and narration was horrible. The way it was inserted into the film was also choppy and inconsistent with the dialogue. Sometimes, the dialogue would reiterate what the narration (led by Katara, played by Nicola Peltz) had just told the audience.

2) The action sequences were way too slow and too orderly for action sequences. All of them were shot in slow motion, making the movie seem even slower, not to mention the horrible special effects.

3) The acting, for the most part, was atrocious. Peltz and Jackson Rathbone as Katara’s brother Sokka were more than wooden; they were basically trees. Poor Noah Ringer, his first time in a big-budget movie, reeked of “acting noobie” throughout the entire movie. The Fire Nation, comprised of main characters Dev Patel (Zuko) Aasif Mandvi (Commander Zhao) and Cliff Curtis (Fire Lord Ozai, Zuko and Azula’s father), Summer Bishil (Azula, Zuko’s maniac sister), and Shaun Toub (Zuko’s uncle Iroh) actually had the best acting in the whole movie, and out of that group of people, Patel, Bishil, and Curtis were the cream of the crop–and Bishil only had one line! I do think, however, that a lot of the blame for the drab acting lies squarely on the shoulders of Shyamalan himself–as a director, he should know what he wants out of his actors and how to make the audience like them, especially if the characters his actors are portraying are already popular characters with already popular traits.

4) The pronunciations in this movie throw fans of the show out of whack. “Aang” is pronounced “Ahng”, “Sokka” is pronounced “Souka”, etc. It’s pretty moronic to do that to characters who are known by the Americanized pronunciations of their names. I know that he was trying to make stuff seem true to certain cultures by doing this, but really? This is the area you want to make true to certain cultures? Which leads me to one of the craziest things about this whole crazy movie:

5) Racebending. It’s one thing to have all of your main “good” characters be white, even down to Sokka and Katara’s grandmother (Katharine Houghton) with an English accent! But it’s also a completely different thing to have said white characters be surrounded by a sea of INUIT PEOPLE! Every extra in the Southern Water Tribe is ethnic, just like how in the ’40s and ’50s, every extra in a movie set in an exotic locale were locals while the main characters were white. I’m not making this an issue just to have something to gripe about. The level of misunderstanding the importance of race in entertainment, especially movies, is beyond me. Shyamalan is a student of old-school film. He loves Hitchcock, so he knows the method for making gripping movies. He should also know how whitewashing is apparent in film history.

Along with changing the main good characters, the “bad guys” are all Indians (except for Taub, who’s Persian, and Curtis, who’s a Kiwi). I don’t know what that means to Shyamalan (who says that Zuko is the actual star of the movie–that is debatable, to be sure), but to me, it seems like he’s reiterating what a lot of people think about dark-skinned people in film history, which is, if you’re dark, you’re automatically evil.

But aside from that, Shyamalan included ethnicities that aren’t even in the original series. While I appreciate his thought to put an African tribe in the film and cast Monk Gyatso as a black man (Damon Gupton, to be exact), it doesn’t make sense in the realm of the series. The series is based in Asian and Inuit culture. Not Caucasian culture, not a culture from one of the many African countries–it’s strictly Asian culture and Asian philosophy. The point is this–he could’ve cast a full Asian cast to respect the series, but even still, we’d have the other parts of this film I’ve already mentioned to contend with.

Overall, this film was a real letdown. As a fan of the series, it was a double whammy. I was angry over being bored, then I was depressed because the action and storytelling was much better in the series and how I’d rather watch any one of those seasons again than watch this movie. After a while, my brain shut down, as if it was protecting itself from the awfulness of this film. Watch it if you really want to experience the brute force of this movie, but in all honesty, you’ll end up like me–tired, bitter, disgusted, disturbed, and ultimately saddened.

EDIT–By the way, in the film, Aang’s story arc is that he has to accept his role as the Avatar and make peace with the fact that he caused the deaths of his Air monk brethren by running away all of those years ago. In the series, this is not the case; he’s a 100 years in the future, yes, but he was put in the iceberg by the monks so he could be protected from the Fire Nation who were raiding the Air Temples. Aang always knew his destiny as the Avatar. He had already accepted it as fact. He didn’t have to grow into it, so to speak, aside from learning how to master the other elements. And neither did the Fire Nation have to have lanterns and pots of fire with them in order to bend fire. Fire came OUT OF THEIR APPENDAGES! There. I am done.

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~ by LM Preston on July 9, 2010.

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