Thoughts: The Last Airbender

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that The Last Airbender is…well, a disappointing homage to the original Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon, to say the least.

After returning from seeing it, here are my jotted-down thoughts on the film (keep in mind that SPOILERS may be present)

And now, the thoughts of an Avatar fan:

First, what I LIKED about the film:
– Shyamalan may not be able to write a good movie, but I say he had a good vision for the film as a director. Let’s be honest here, there is no real way to replicate some of the effects (like all of the bending) without a ton of CG work. And for what it’s worth, I think the effects overall get…a passing grade. Not stellar, but a solid start. I think I would have enjoyed the art direction more if some of the areas were actual sets instead of green-screened stages. It didn’t help that Aang’s actor didn’t seem to mesh well in that kind of environment either…he made you notice that it was a green-screen. Overall though, I think I’d approve if Shyamalan stayed as the director (if sequels are indeed planned). Just get him the hell away from the script.
– For the air-bison and lemur-bats that they were, Appa and Momo looked GREAT. Again, Aang’s actor looked awkward as hell petting Appa, but their models were amazing and it felt like they belonged in the world. Probably my single favorite facet of the film…and I know, that’s not saying much.
– There was solid stuntwork and fight choreography. Chief among these was Zuko’s training on the Fire Nation warship. Good stuff. Although, some of the slowdown effects and zoom-ins weren’t too appreciated in some of the other scenes.
– Dev Patel and Shaun Toub were actually impressive as Prince Zuko and Uncle Iroh. Best portrayed characters in the film, especially on Patel’s part. Although nobody can truly capture the real essence of Iroh anymore, now that Mako has passed on.

Now some cinematic critiques:
– It’s been said before, but the writing was just TERRIBAD. There, honest to God, was not a shred of clever dialogue in the entire film. Epic facepalm of the film went to this line.
Ozai: (paraphrase) So you’re telling me that my son is a traitor?

It was just unbelievable.
– Voiceover was also used far too frequently. We shouldn’t need to be TOLD that Sokka took a liking to Princess Yue and they were going to become fast friends, Katara. Rule #1 of screenwriting is “Show, don’t tell,” and Shyamalan broke it ad nauseum.
– The constant amount of exposition was draining on the viewer. Look, it’s clear you’re trying to cram an entire season of a TV into 103 minutes and there’s a lot of background information to get across, but there had to be a more clever way of delivering nuggets like this…
Zhao: Your son died in the 100 Day Siege at Ba-Sing-Se, did he not?
Iroh: …That’s right.
– It’s a bizarre thing when you care more about what the antagonist is doing far more than what the protagonist is up to. This might be due to the fact that the viewer never really connects with Katara or Sokka, and we still feel pretty estranged from Aang. On the other hand, Zuko has intriguing backstory and Iroh never comes across as the bad guy in this film. The Fire Nation was always far more intriguing than “our heroes.”
– I’m not going to talk about the whole OMG HOLLYWOOD RACISM thing that is attached to this film often. But the acting was incredibly wooden. Shyamalan didn’t do a bad job casting based off of looks for Aang, Katara, and Sokka…but please, let’s get some talented actors before you put up these uncomfortable excuses for characters up on the silver screen. Plus, Aasif Mandvi as Commander Zhao couldn’t escape his “WELL, JON” voice from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Granted, Fire Lord Ozai was a choice that paid off interestingly…although showing his face so early? Strange. Guess they had to, though. Azula is in this film as the “cliffhanger”…and well, she sucks. Could not have been less frightened by her, despite her attempted twitchy/crazy smile.

And now, canon complaints:
– Aang is not pronounced as “Ahng.” Sokka is not pronounced as “Soh-Kah.” And Iroh is not pronounced as “Ee-Roh.” These are botched American pronunciations…of the Japanese pronunciations? Plus the word “Avatar” switched from its natural pronunciation to “Ah-vatar” every so often. Every time a name was said improperly, a dagger was thrust into the hearts of fans in the the theater.
– The humor was entirely GONE from the film…which is what made the original cartoon so great. The only time the audience laughed was when Sokka gets splashed/frozen by Katara’s waterbending in the beginning…and that was already in trailers. It was almost like the soul was removed from the original material in this adaptation.
– Let’s be clear, part of what made the Northern Water Tribe arc interesting was KATARA AND SOKKA’S CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Katara wanted to learn waterbending under Master Pakku. After much denial, the connection was made between Katara and her grandmother, back to Pakku. Sokka, on the other hand, had to fight for Yue’s affections, since there was another Water Tribe soldier that was involved. All this complexity? GONE. Katara somehow learns to waterbend on her own and Sokka/Yue automatically hit it off. By the way, you only hear Yue’s name like TWICE. Not even kidding.
– Jet story? Gone. Kiyoshi Warriors? Gone.
– The Blue Spirit section was handled well. EXCEPT for when Zuko and Aang meet again. All that’s really said after they fight is Aang saying “We could be friends” right as he leaves the room. /endscene
– Aang never meets Avatar Roku. He only talks to a dragon in the wall in the Spirit World. Pretty damn lame. Plus, when he is moved by Zuko, the original story had the dilemma of his spirit not being able to find its way back. No such conflict here.
– Remember the key moment of Book One? Where Aang enters the Avatar state as a huge ocean monster to crush the Fire Nation? The movie had some BULLS*** message of using water to not hurt anyone. So Aang starts to glow, uses the ocean to create a gigantic wall…which causes the Fire Nation to retreat??? The wall then slowly collapses, instead of crashing down on the invaders. It was the most mindnumbing, driving-a-point climax of a film I recall seeing.
– AND FOR F***S SAKE, Sozin’s Comet does not arrive THREE YEARS after the end of Book One. In fact, the entire show is supposed to last only about a year. Why do they say this in the movie, however? Because dammit Paramount, you’re trying to make excuses regarding the sequels by screwing with the canon!!

The film will always have an…odd place in my heart. It’s so god-awful but because I enjoy the original series so much, there has to be some sympathetic connection to it.

Here’s the point, guys. The movie will make money. So the sequels WILL be made. That’s just how Hollywood works. But please…get Shyamalan as far away from the script as possible!