M.Night loyalty card has been handed in! 1 Star!
Beginning with some gobbledegook scrolling text, it’s clear to see that a director once labelled “the new Spielberg” is aiming for his own galaxy far, far away by adapting the brilliant Nickelodeon cartoon saga, Avatar (a certain biggest film of all time© high-jacked that prefix): The Last Airbender.
From the outside it would appear that M. Night had achieved this; the trailers featured the requisite amount of elemental CGI trickery and young lead Noah Ringer was an exact ringer for the source materials mystical hero Aang.
Well if it was Star Wars he was attaining to then unfavourable comparisons can only be drawn with that saga’s unquestionable low-point, The Phantom Menace; too much exposition and a lead moppet with all of the vacant charisma of Jake Lloyd. The problem is that this is worse than that turgid origin odyssey, so much so that you might start to appreciate Jar Jar Binks. Might.
In a ridiculous attempt to squeeze 22 episodes worth of story into one ninety minute mess, The Last Airbender is the story of Aang, the last of an ancient breed of warriors destined to master the four elements; earth, fire, water, and wind. Reawakened from one hundred years of slumber (although this is never clearly explained, a recurring fault being that a lot of the plot is lazily left for the initiated to fill in the blanks regardless of those who wouldn’t know a Moon Spirt from their Momo) by brother and sister team, Katara (Peltz) and Sokka (Rathbone). Together they must help Aang fulfil his destiny and defeat the evil Prince Zuko (Patel), the deposed prince of the Fire Nation.
The Last Airbender is a soulless exorcise in exposition, orchestrated by a director whose auteur ambitions have clearly gone to his head, and performed by a cast ranging from Dev Patel – credible as the less-than-bad guy – to terrible. For a film about the elements nothing at all seems natural.
Shyamalan shows the odd flourish – some of the set-pieces are pretty, though never thrilling – but he edits everything to the point of incomprehension and confounds the problem with some of the worst dialogue outside of an Ed Wood film. Characters will literally tell you what they are going to do before doing it; it’s a miracle that they don’t continue to proclaim “swiftly exit screen left”. If you thought the stagey acting in The Happening was lamentable, just wait until you’ve seen this Razzie snaffling ensemble.
The treatment of the source material is negligible, not only because characters names are pronounced in a completely pretentious and incorrect fashion but because they differ so much from their cartoon counterparts. Aang is no longer a cheeky, naïve, potential pain-in-the-ass, but a humourless bore that offers no weight to the risk his destiny generates. Even his giant flying Bison, Appa, is afforded no introduction, we are just asked to accept that he exists.
You may find some solace in the childish sniggering elicited each time a “bender” is mentioned by the dead eyed cast, but everything else about this joyless epic suggests that the M.Night loyalty card has well and truly expired; the Last Airbender is just full of wind