Let me admit that I was a huge fan of M. Night Shyamalan. 'The Sixth Sense'? Wow. That movie was awesome, and still holds a lot of it's appeal after you already know the big ending. I also liked two of his follow up hits, 'Unbreakable' and 'The Village'. However, aside from those, he's put out turkey after turkey. There was the odd 'Signs' in which Mel Gibson faces off against aliens dumb enough to attack a planet whose surface is covered in about 70% water, a substance that is lethal to them. Then there was that awful 'The Happening' where Mark Wahlberg realizes that the plant population has banded together to get rid of human beings by forcing them to commit suicide (it's as dumb as it sounds). Don't even get me started with 'Lady in the Water.'
But by far, Mr. Shyamalan's biggest sin, the one movie that I now associate with his name and the cause for innumerable Internet rants, was 'The Last Airbender'.
|Jedi mind tricks won't work on m... You are NOT worse than Jake Lloyd.|
I'll tell you right off that the movie is completely worthless. There will be no redeeming bullet points at the end of this review, nor will there be any listing of pros and cons. Not once in its entire 103 minute run is there a point where you think, "Gee, that was way cool!"
You don't even get to the point where you can say, "Gee, that was marginally acceptable!"
It is all bad, all of the time.
|This was NOT in the movie, goddamn it.|
The movie is based on 'Avatar: The Last Airbender,' a cartoon series which aired on Nickelodeon for three seasons (2005 - 2008). While it was on the air, the show collected a hugely passionate fan base. It paired exceptional animation with solid storytelling to create something that was great for kids and adults alike. What set it apart from so many other cartoons was that it took itself seriously in the right ways. The show had a lot of Asian elements in it, from cultures to costumes to settings. These were taken from real things that exist in the real world. The Water Tribe is obviously inspired by the Inuit culture and the characters from that area share the dress, traditions, and the look of those people. The Fire Nation is inspired by Japanese culture, and they exhibit many Japanese traits, like a focus on honor and discipline, as well as features and armor.
This extends even to the martial arts that these distinct groups use during the course of the show. Each nation in the series has it's own style of fighting, each based off of a real world school of martial arts. The specified forms of each school grants the warrior a form of psychokinesis over a certain element, what is termed "bending" in the show. Each nation's people can only "bend" one element; Firebenders can only control fire, Earthbenders, only earth. In each generation, an individual from one of the tribes is born who can control all four: water, earth, fire, and air.
The film version is based on the first season of the cartoon. At the start of the series, two Waterbenders, siblings Katara and Sokka, discover an Airbender, Aang, frozen in an iceberg.
|"Give me all your white people!"|
The Fire Nation, hungry for conquest, killed off the Airbenders to ensure that the Avatar could not grow to full strength. By the time we meet Katara and Sokka, they have already invaded the Water Tribe and are at war with the Earth Kingdom. In a short time, Sozin's Comet will reach its zenith in the sky and the Firebenders will have near limitless power (or at least enough to finally beat the rest of the world into submission).
Aang, it turns out, is the one the Fire Nation had been looking for when they'd eradicated the Air Nomads. He ran away when the monks who had been training him because he was not ready for the responsibility of being the Avatar. Now released from the ice, he has to travel through the four regions and learn to bend water, earth, and fire, before he can confront the Fire Lord and restore balance to the world.
In the series, we had about 20 episodes to learn all of that information. For some crazy reason, Shyamalan decided to dump all of it into the viewers laps in the most ungracious way he could come up with. The movie uses an introductory voice-over, non-stop narration, and a constant stream of on-screen exposition in order to get all this data to you, the viewer. The overload is quick, and about 2 minutes in, you're already lost.
And that brings us to the first of the big problems with this movie. There's no drama, no comedy, no believable action in it anywhere. It's all exposition. When they've finished explaining something, they'll move on... to explaining something else. No weight is given to any of the events. It's like Shayamalan forgot all the lessons of storytelling and film making and just printed out the Wikipedia article for his actors to read.
|Just the worst acting ever. I can't even...|
Which brings us to the acting. Oh, geez, the acting.
I don't get it. I really don't understand how Shayamalan thought that these kids were a good fit for these roles. Though a lot was said about them not being obviously Asian, that's not what I'm talking about. They were just genuinely awful at playing these characters. When Nicola Peltz (Katara, pictured above) went into her big speech to the Earthbenders in the prison, I bust a gut. If I'd heard that speech, I'd have crawled back into my cell and pulled the bars closed after me, and then given her the finger for good measure.
Then we've got Jackson Rathbone (who played Jasper in 'Twilight') playing Sokka. In the series, Sokka was the heart of the show. He was the comic relief and later, the guy the people counted on to keep them straight. His arc was from being a goofball, to being the leader of men. This guy isn't any of those things. He may have gotten better later on as an actor, but in this movie? There is no way he should have been chosen for this role.
Noah Ringer (Aang) is even worse. I don't think I've ever seen a worse actor in a $150 million Hollywood film. His delivery is just absolutely wooden and he's not at all like the laughing, lighthearted kid that you see in the first season. He may be able to kick my ass in real life, but in this movie he comes off as a cutesy, effeminate loser. You never see any of the humor or fire that Aang has in the cartoon.
|There, there, Aang. We feel you, bro.|
The bad guys are a little more believable as people.
Dev Patel plays Prince Zuko, son of the Fire Lord who has been tasked with finding the Avatar or living out his exile in disgrace. Since this is the guy who played Jamal in 'Slumdog Millionaire', I have a feeling that some of these actors might not be a bad as they seem. That maybe its the direction that is at fault.
Cliff Curtis, who plays Fire Lord Ozai, cements that idea. He's a great actor, as displayed in movies like 'Sunshine' and 'Whale Rider.' I don't think he was right for this role though, since he does not look like the bad-ass that Ozai needs to be for the final confrontation. In fact, I think it would have been better if they'd switched his part with that of Shaun Toub, another great actor who plays Zuko's uncle and brother to Lord Ozai, Iroh. Both these guys are great actors with the filmography to prove it, they just couldn't do anything with this terrible piece of garbage.
|How do I get out of this chicken shit outfit?|
What about the fights, you ask? Surely those brought a ray of light into this sewer of a movie.
Nope. Awful. Just... unbelievably stupid. I've already talked about how the creators of the show approached this aspect, but here's a visual example for you. The GIF below is one of Toph Bei Fong, Aang's Earthbending teacher in the show. She uses a style based on Hung Ga Kuen from Southern China:
|Toph rocks, forever!|
You'll see how just a few gestures from her produce some rather awesome effects. Now this is a scene from Shyamalan's movie in which six imprisoned Earthbenders rise up against a couple of Firebenders:
|Prison flash mobs aren't what they used to be.|
I was laughing at this movie through out, but when this happened, I literally fell off my chair. It takes six of them to pick up a rock and another just to push it at a someone. Fuck you, Shyamalan. This should never have made it into the movie if you couldn't do it right!
Now you might say, "well, Toph is a master! Those dudes in the movie were just regular guys!". Here's a few "regular" Earthbenders from the show, bringing down a 50 meter wall:
|Don't do it! The titans will get in and eat us!|
Granted, Noah Ringer is an actual martial artist, as is Dev Patel, but their talent in their disciplines is not reflected in the images on screen. Some of the choreography might have worked, but Shyamalan has no idea how to shoot action. His camera seems to float around the protagonists and just hang there while they go through whatever little procedure is written in the script. For many of the scenes there isn't any editing to help out either. It's just a single uncut shot, which is slow as hell for what is supposed to be an epic action set piece.
They all end up looking flat and lifeless, just like any of the other scenes. Where's Michael Bay when you need him?
|Why is it leaking water? If it leaks water, then shouldn't it get smaller?|
"The effects!" you say, "The effects must be good! It had a $150 million budget!"
Nope. I've seen effects like the one above on fan-made YouTube videos. It's disappointing that there aren't more impressive effects in this film, considering the level of action in the source material. There's a scene where Aang is running down a line of Fire Nation soldiers towards the end, and not one of his tricks looks anything close to the awe inspiring moves he has in the show.
Here's another GIF of that scene:
|I'm a pretty ballerina!|
Not sure where that $150 mil went, but it definitely wasn't to this scene. He looks like he's in a ballet.
During this portion of the show, the situation is pretty desperate and Aang, thinking that all hope is lost, involuntarily goes into the Avatar State (wherein all his past lives lend him their power and take over his body in order to protect it). He basically rampages through the city as a giant water demon, washing the opposing forces away:
Instead of that awesome sequence, the film has him fight the aforementioned soldiers, and then make a big wave that scares off the navy.
Of all the things that Shyamalan could have chosen to get his cooties all over, why did it have to be this property? Any one who has ever watched the cartoon will tell you that it is one of the best cartoons ever made in any category. Japanese, American, Disney, Pixar, Ghibli: the show is at par or better than them all. The material was there, it just needed a more competent hand.
While the original cartoons are still here for people to enjoy, and we in fact got a follow up series with 'The Legend of Korra,' it makes me angry that the movie franchise because of this fuck up of film. To think of all the new fans that could have been brought into the Avatar world if Shyamalan hadn't gone and fielded this piece of shit, and all the ones that were downright turned off of watching the cartoon because of it.
I sometimes hope that when his kids saw this movie (he has said that he made it because they loved the show so much), they looked up and him and said, "What the fuck is this, dad?!"
And what boggles the mind, is that he's not getting any better!
I've seen interviews of him after its release in the States and his response to the criticism afterward is that he doesn't understand why the critics have it out for him. Somehow this stinking fart a movie still managed to make a profit and he manged convinced a studio to give him money to film 'After Earth.' He also convinced Will Smith to play one of the leads.
While no where near as bad as this pile of shit, it's still pretty horrible. 'After Earth' also turned a modest profit when you factor in some the international box office, so we can expect to see more of the same from Shyamalan,
Let's hope he gets tired of writing/directing and goes into producing instead.