Monday 16 August 2010

Review: The Last Airbender

Year: 2010
Director: M Night Shyamalan
Screenplay: M Night Shyamalan
Starring: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone

Synopsis is here.

Ok. It's got a bad name. There's people in the film called benders, we can stop the giggling and what not. The Wackness (2008) had an awful name, but it was pretty good and I still find Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies to be an awful title for a movie. The Last Airbender is an unfortunate name but imagine a re-release of "Let us be gay" for a minute. Right. We done now?

M Night Shyamalan for me produced one of the most interesting "comic book" movies in Unbreakable. A film which caught the mood of where actual comic books films where going. All you young Dark Knight fans, you may do well to check out Shyamalan's somber effort. I still think it's his strongest movie with all the pieces coming together slowly but beautifully. That was ten years ago and since then his output has slowly become weaker and weaker. I could go through the titles but I'm sure other blogs/websites have done the same and better.

Which brings me to The Last Airbender, a film based on a T.V that my younger brother enjoys and I know nothing about. If the film was a good one, then I probably would have given more of a damn about Avatar: The Last Airbender, However, Shyamalan's film is a total mess of a movie. I'm not saying this to have a go at a director because it's the "in" thing, I'm saying this because this really feels like a fall from grace. Where shall I start?

Well lets start by saying TLA as the kind of story in which characters of certain importance will be bypassed constantly so we can be introduced more characters who eat up precious screentime. Instead of any real building of characters within this world, we get dull montages, irritating narration and just lackadaisical storytelling in general. At no point in time does the screenplay (or direction) truly invite us into this world. At no point do you engage with these people, what they do, what they believe in, anything. There's no atmosphere to draw us in, nor does the film give us a reason to care, assaulting the viewer with truckloads of trite story and hollow dialogue but never anything of real investment.

I suppose Shyamalan was counting on the brand name and the films effects alone to make the film interesting. Not a great idea as while the computer effects aren't as bad was what many have stated, they do have to contend with the worst (I repeat THE WORST) 3D going. I cannot stress to you enough that the 3-D in this is terrible. If Hollywood are determined to make every film use this stupid gimmick I strongly urge they sort out pricing, particularly if it's rotoscoped as badly as this. I'm happy I didn't pay for this movie. If I did I would have been paying more money just to watch the film with glasses on. The 3-D does nothing. Zip. Nada. I repeat once more (sorry) THE 3-D IS BRUTAL AND BORDERLINE NON-EXISTENT. The combination of the films ok effects and terrible 3-D is one of the most frustrating things about the movie. But I haven't got to the acting.

Now before I get on to the acting I will have to mention the films casting which was (and still is) being attacked with accusations of racism. Now racism is a strong word which seems to be constantly misused. To say it's racist would also say it's truly hateful, no the casting is simply ignorant when it comes to race in the frame. I cannot tell you to the stupidity of having these three white kids stick out like a sore thumb against all the eastern aspects of the film. Seriously watching this "avatar" being the only Caucasian airbender against rows of Asian kids looks very dumb. There's also some "interesting" issues involving the Earthbenders (lol) all Asian, poor and sidelined while The Waterbenders are of course white, wealthy and highly knowledgeable.

But it's hard to take these racial issues with any seriousness when the acting is so laughably bad. It's bad enough that the script has them re-alliterating plot points needlessly (seriously the dialogue sounds childishly written) but it would help that the film actually picked strong actors for the leads. The performances are terrible, blank faced affairs which are so painfully awkward it becomes a little sad at times. The only person that seems to escape this is Dev Patel is does well but not only needs more to work with (annoyingly he has the most interesting character) he is very miscast. The less we say about the adult performances the better.

The Last Airbender is the worst entry I've seen from M Night Shyamalan. Even in The Happening or Lady in the Water had interesting scenes. I don't even see what the aim was here. Many who enjoy the show have appeared to distanced themselves from it and those who are new to Avatar: The Last Airbender won't batter an eyelid. Commercially, the film looks set to do what it needs to do (the 3-D money must have helped) but there's a reason why the critics blew this out of the water.