M. Night Shamyalan’s latest outing in the film world abandons his penchant for twist endings and disturbing forays into the paranormal. Instead he tries his hand at a well established franchise with mixed, and mostly bad, results. The Last Airbender
follows Aang, a young monk with the ability to control the air, as he avoids the fire nation and learns how to bend or control the other three elements and become the Avatar, the one person capable of reuniting and balancing the worlds. He is accompanied by two villagers of the Water tribe, Katara and Sokka, who discover Aang trapped within ice.
So let’s start with what is good about this movie: the visuals and choreography. The Last Airbender’s strongest point is its cinematic qualities. It truly captures the scope of a vast world, and manages to provide each area it visits with a unique flavor. The colors are strong and vibrant, leaving viewers slack-jawed. I have heard from some viewers that the colors and visuals are muted and washed out in the 3D version, however, the "traditional viewing" version does not suffer from these issues.
When it comes to the fight scenes in The Last Airbender, all I can say is that they are beautifully done but lacking impact. The use and acknowledgment of Tai Chi for what it is, a combat martial art, was appreciated, but the contact of fist to flesh or armor felt hollow and lifeless. It was clear that the participants were holding back. I felt this lack of energy especially true when it came to the benders. It seemed as if the regular soldiers decided just to sit back and wait to be knocked over like bowling pins rather than try to fight, leading the fight scenes to seem more like dance sequences, very pretty and well done, but ultimately pointless in this kind of movie.
The plot for this movie is the standard reluctant hero story archetype, with a somewhat unique twist in that the protagonist has been hiding from his role as hero for one hundred years. However, once he is discovered, he quickly, almost eagerly, accepts his role in the events to come. This quick reversal is unsettling and almost negates the sympathy that the story archetype is supposed to create between the hero and the audience.
Where this film fails most distinctly is in the acting. With very few exceptions, every line uttered almost caused me physical pain. The dialogue was stale, trite, and painfully obvious leaving no room for emotion or intrigue from vocal inflection. Perhaps this writing style contributed to the monotone evident in the acting of every character. Whatever the case, listening to nails on a chalkboard would have been a more pleasing experience than listening to the dialogue in this film.
In summary, The Last Airbender is gorgeous to watch from the amazing visuals to well-performed dance, I mean, fight scenes. Sadly though, this film cannot overcome its horrendous acting and stale plotline. I would only recommend watching if there is nothing left to see at the theatre, and if the theatre has a five dollar special.