13 March 2011 | bob the moo
Self-important, stiff, clunky, dull and lacking any sort of spark or flair
The world is divided into four kingdoms with each being able to control (bend) an element to their will. These benders (stop tittering at the back) are held in balance by the influence of the Avatar, a being who can control all elements as well as being a link to the spirit world. It has been 100 years since this Avatar vanished and in this time the various benders (stop it) have all been in conflict. The wars have been led by the flaming benders (seriously, stop it) who control fire and wiped out the air benders because they knew the Avatar was one of their number. With the air benders gone and the Avatar nowhere to be found, the benders are all under the thumb of the fire nation, with bending outlawed (like it used to be in the Isle of Man). When sibling waterbenders Katara and Sokka discover a child frozen below the waters near their town they rescue him only to quickly learn he is the Avatar. They join him in his quest to learn to be bend the other elements and also free the kingdoms from the tyranny of the fire nation.
I've not watched the original series so in a way I came to this film free of the built-in criticism of those who love the series and were always going to be upset by a poor copy. Normally this would mean that a poor version might still be a good film but obviously in this case I did come with the knowledge that it had been universally slated by critics and mostly ignored by audiences. So basically I had no preconceptions of how the film should look or be but at the same time my expectations were low due to all the criticism I had heard. So I guess it is understandable that I come out of the film saying "c'mon – it's not THAT bad" because it is not the crime against humanity that some have suggested. The effects are pretty decent and as a result some of the sequences are decent if only on a technical level. And. And. Well, I guess I'm done providing the critical balance here, so onto the parts of the film that are not the "pretty good" effects.
Sadly this "rest of the film" is the vast majority of the two hour running time and it is pretty poor. Maybe the plot has potential but from the evidence of this it is a terrible heavy mess of mythology and nonsense that might have struggled to works in the hands of someone really able. M. Night Shyamalan is not an able person – he is someone who appears to have had a couple of good ideas (Sixth Sense and Unbreakable), a couple of so-so films and then a growing collections of stinkers, in which camp this film belongs. In the hands of Shyamalan it is overly worthy, clunky, self-important and just a big bore full of gas. It is no surprise that within this frame he has written dialogue that is equally pompous with lots of terribly stiff lines which are almost a pain to listen to. As director he fails his cast. The adults seem to have enough about them to at least have presence but the younger cast members seem totally lost in terms of what they are doing and are painfully stiff and have no presence. As a director of action he is lacking as well; OK he handles the effects well but the fights lack tension and excitement and just seem silly most of the time. To those that say that the action sequences were cool then I would suggest you check out the countless martial arts films that do them better, with actual excitement and impressive director and choreography – because those on display here are a poor copy of the genre.
Overall, it comes to something when the best that one can say about a film is that it is not the abomination that he majority say it is. However this is not me saying it is good; because I'm not; because it's not; not at all. It is clunky, stiff, self-important and lacks any sense of adventure, fun, character or charm – it is frankly a bore. I could care less if Shyamalan has upset fans of the original series with his version – he could have done that and still presented the rest of us with a decent film – but he hasn't He can get shirty with journalists who ask him about the downward trajectory of his career but ultimately he is doing nothing to suggest it is headed any other direction – The Last Airbender is not the worst film ever made, but it certainly another in the growing pile of stinkers that has his Shyamalan's name attached to them.