Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Last Airbender Movie Review

Nickelodeon Studios has made a handful of movies that were little more than extra episodes of their successful TV shows with a much bigger budget. There are exceptions, of course. Rango for example, was quite good and had nothing to do with the studio's television programs. Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of their more successful and compelling shows that featured an interesting blend of Anime and American cartoon styles. It was character and plot driven, unlike most of their shows which are physical comedy driven. Nickelodeon made a bad move when they thought they needed to make a live-action summary of Avatar: The Last Airbender, then they made another bad move by having M. Night Shyamalan direct it.
The world is divided into four kingdoms, each represented by the elements they harness, and peace has lasted throughout the realms of Water, Air, Earth, and Fire under the supervision of the Avatar, a link to the spirit world and the only being capable of mastering the use of all four elements. When young Avatar Aang (Noah Ringer) disappears, the Fire Nation launches an attack, planning world domination. 100 years pass and Fire Nation has eradicated the Air Nomads and continues to conquer and imprison anyone with the elemental “bending” abilities in the Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom. Then young siblings Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) of the Southern Water Tribe find a boy trapped beneath the ice outside their village. Upon rescuing him, he reveals himself to be Aang, the Avatar and last of the Airbenders. Swearing to protect the Avatar, Katara and Sokka journey with him to the Northern Water Tribe to master Waterbending, and eventually fulfill his destiny of restoring peace to the world. But as they go, they must evade prince Zuko (Dev Patel), the exiled son of Lord Ozai, and Fire Nation military leaders.
Nickelodeon had to change the title of the movie to The Last Airbender (2010) so as not to get it confused with James Camron's Avatar movie which came out a few months earlier. I don't understand the reasoning to make this movie. The material was born to be Anime; it needs to be animated. The TV series used bright colors and “clear line” animation style which is used by animation masters and is a pleasure to observe. In contrast, take the X-Men movies for example; a lot of visual changes had to be made, costuming in particular. A lot of the visuals in X-Men looked good in comic books but would look silly in live-action. But The Last Airbender didn't make the necessary changes to keep it from looking silly. The colors seemed out of place and unreal, the costumes looked rather eccentric, and the elemental bending looked silly in a live-action context.
Another problem with The Last Airbender is the pacing. It seems that Shyamalan tried to condense a whole season of half hour episodes into one two-hour movie. Everything seemed incredibly rushed and there wasn't enough time granted to each of the characters to develop them into people we should care about. There were even moments that were described to us in narration rather than shown us. For example, we don't get to see our heroes arrive at the Northern Water Tribe. We're just told through Katara's narration that they got there and that Sokka hit it off with the princess. It would have been nice to see why they hit it off and how they developed a relationship. But, no, we simply see a new character show up from out of nowhere and suddenly has a long standing relationship with a main character we've had since the beginning of the movie. They just tried to get too much in too short a span of time, and it made the movie seem sloppy and rushed.
Given how rushed everything was, it left little time for meaningful dialogue. There was some dialogue here and there that developed the unique setting, but not much else. Even the way the film works so hard to develop the plot is scarcely left enough time to dramatize the characters. One of the more interesting characters is Prince Zuko; he has a tragic history and complex motives. But his dialogue in The Last Airbender was forced and simplistic. Which is a shame since Dev Patel is a really good actor. He was phenomenal in Slumdog Millionaire; he and the rest of the cast had such dry, uninspired material to work with that everyone's acting seemed impeded.
The Last Airbender was completely uncalled for. What little story they crammed into the movie was already done. This movie wasn't even a decent “readers digest version” of the series. Why make this movie? It did nothing new, and did lousy job recreating what was already done. I imagine the only ones who would appreciate The Last Airbender are young fans of the series who want to see more familiar images. I did appreciate the reluctant hero struggling with his responsibilities, but the sparse good qualities are completely overshadowed by the bad ones. DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE, though I do strongly recommend watching the TV series itself; it's very good.

What's your favorite Nickelodeon movie? Why do you like it so much? Comment below and tell me why!


  1. Thank you for this well written review! I would never be able to force myself to watch it again and now you have written a review with sentiments very similar to my own.

    1. I'm delighted you agree! It was pretty excruciating to watch the first time.
      Check back often for more reviews! (Also, I take requests)