I haven’t written a harsh and critical movie review since the comic-book adaptation blasphemy that is Spiderman 3, but thanks to Mr. Shamalamadingdong I get to vent once again. First things first, background check. I may be out of turn speaking so unkindly about a film that was adapted from a franchise that I only recently came to love. I only finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender two days before watching the live-action movie, meaning I am still in a haze of praise for the Nicktoon. But even if you disregard background knowledge of the animated series, M. Night Shyalaman’s The Last Airbender was a theatrical disaster.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS TO THE HORRIBLE EXCUSE OF CINEMA THAT IS M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN’S ‘THE LAST AIRBENDER’. JUST READ IT. YOU CAN THANK ME LATER.
First things first, since the ethnic mix up in the film is blatantly obvious, I’m going to disregard it, for now. I could come up with many theories on why Shyamalan decided to stray away from the source material and mess up all the races portrayed elegantly in the original series. For example, Shyalaman’s last three films have been pretty much failures, and I hope he knows that. It is possible that he needed to give himself (and his people) a big ego-boost by casting the powerful, colonizing and tyrannical Fire Nation as predominantly South Asian. How noble to give back to your people M. Night. If I had three consecutive horrible films and my next one was expected to be worse, I’d cast the powerful characters as Bananas (white-washed Asians, for lack of a lengthy description) for sure. Not white-washed Asians, actual bananas, they would be more menacing than the Fire Nation in the film anyway.
First thing that made me cringe, which was no more than 10 minutes into the film, was the pronunciation of words and names. Aang is “Ong” instead of “Ang”; Sokka is “Sow-ka” instead of “Soh-ka”; Iroh is “Ee-row” instead of “Ai-row”; and at times characters would say the word “Avatar” as if Arnorld Schwarzenegger possessed their body, and the list goes on. Understandably, this can be seen as Shyamalan’s feeble attempt at trying to inject some proper Chinese/Asian-ness into an otherwise rock-bottom attempt at trying to adhere to the original cartoon. But, film adaptations are allowed to vary with certain aspects such as pronunciation of certain words and names. But the problem is Shyamalan’s inconsistent and indecisive choices with his reference to the source material. He obviously wanted a trilogy, each film adapting the three books (Water, Earth, Fire), or three season of the cartoon. Why go through the trouble of mirroring the storyline and dialogue so similar in structure to the source material, and fail to mirror anything else of relevance?
Disregarding the wannabe Star Wars scrolling text at the beginning of the film, the introductory scene, where they reveal Avatar Aang for the first time, was so lackluster and uncaptivating that anyone can predict the rest of the film to be just as unimportant. This is the scene where THE Avatar! Savior of the world! Master of the four elements! Awakens from is century-long slumber to end the treachery of the Fire Nation. There was no sense of epicness, not even an exciting soundtrack to somehow uplift the importance of the Avatar’s reappearance. Nothing. No emotions of grandeur were conveyed, no urgency, nothing to steer the movie into any type of positive outcome. It’s as if Jesus’ second coming was greeted with a chorus of shoulder shrugs and people saying, “meh”.
Aang was supposed to awaken from the sphere of ice full of joy, playfulness and positive energy. He’s supposed to embody the endless amount of energy a 12-year old should have. Instead, the only slither of optimism he had was when he visited his old Air Temple. Most of the time he just looked confused and constipated. The weird expression he had at the end of the film when giving his half-assed monkey bow to the people of the Northern Water Tribe, reflected the look I had when watching the film. It was like he was resisting the pain of a very small carrot being shoved into his ear, without flinching.
Noah Ringer’s performance in The Last Airbender was definitely questionable, but seeing that he is new to acting and was chosen more for his martial arts background, it was somewhat excusable. It just goes to show Shyamalan’s direction of Haley Joel Osmond in The Six Sense was either a major fluke, or that someone else wrote the script for him (and maybe even held his hand and directed it for him). Basically, Shyamalan can’t direct kids, and it clearly shows in a movie where all the main characters are kids. Rest assured, the original trio of Aang, Katara and Sokka in the live-action version had no resembling mannerisms and personalities of their animated counterparts.
Nicola Peltz, who plays Katara, had a permanent worrisome frown on her face. She always looks concerned about something. That, or she was constantly constipated. Maybe that’s the general direction Shyamalan gave to his young actors. “Act worried! Act concerned! As if you really want to poo but you have to hold it in!” The one shot where she smiles is when Aang bends a giant tidal wave attempting to crush the Fire Nation navy, but of course he doesn’t follow through. Why have Katara break out of her worried constipated state and muster a passable smile as she witnesses the Avatar about to destroy the entire Fire navy only to have him resist as some sort of moral excuse? Katara wants the destruction of the Fire Nation navy Shyamalan! Just give it to her! There is no need for some righteous personality undertone for Aang’s character; you have modeled him to be nothing like his alter ego in the cartoon anyway. There is no quick fix for the sub-par direction Shymalan gave to the actors and the entire movie. And where was Koizilla!
“Sow-ka” was not even slightly as witty, wise-cracking, or as clumsy as he was in the original animation. He, much like his other young co-stars, also had a constipated and worried expression on their face. But what do you expect, it’s the same actor who played the crazy junky vampire in Twilight (yes, I regrettably watched that too). Basically the lightheartedness that packaged the animated series so well is completely non-existent in this movie. Iroh was not wise nor did he have his endless proverbial advice to give to Zuko. Above all, he only mentioned tea once. ONCE! He is a tea JUNKIE! It’s like making an Incredible Hulk movie and making his skin orange! Iroh needs his f***ing tea!
All in all, Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender failed to resemble anything good about the original animated series. He attempted to salvage himself through laughable ethnic pronunciations and a weak mimicry of structure of the original storyline. But there were good aspects to the movie (yeah, I’m surprised too). The first few seconds after the Star Wars scrolling text knock-off was the amazing sequence introducing the four bending elements. It mirrored the original opening sequence of the animated series and added longer authentic martial art movements. That was pretty much the best part of the film. A measly 10 seconds. It honestly got me extremely excited, only to have me sit through another two hours of constant crashing, burning and facepalming. I do have to commend Dev Patel’s decent performance as Prince Zuko. I do feel bad for him. After Oscar-winning success with Slumdog Millionaire, his next film had him surrounded by idiots. I bet he worked hard to put on that American-accent and desperate personality, but all to no avail. There is always one good thing with film adaptations, but they are almost always surrounded by sub-par direction and schoolyard screenwriting.
I shan’t write anymore, it gets my blood bending (see what I did there?). To fans that fell in love with the Nickelodeon original, I share your pain, even though I only joined your ranks recently. It seems that it is a trend in Hollywood to green-lit horrible adaptations of beloved comic books, video games or animated franchises. How many hearts are you going to break Hollywood? How many faces will you palm? How many more bad films are you going to make until you call it quits M. Night Shyalaman?
M. Night, you do understand that you are one of few fathers on Earth who ruined their child’s favorite cartoon right? Actually, that depressing club is just going to increase if more crappy adaptations are given a thumbs up.
If I were you M. Night, I would repent profusely and make a public apology to the thousands, if not millions of kids, teens and adults across the globe that had to see a great piece of storytelling ruined by your own hands. And if they do give the go ahead for adaptations of the Book of Earth and Book of Fire, I suggest you stay far, far away from it. Maybe then will your daughter begin to forgive you. Thank you.
Banana Times: @bananatimes