Monday, July 19, 2010

The Last Airbender - Movie Review


Starring Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi and Cliff Curtis.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Quite the summer for Jackson Rathbone. I spent the whole movie looking at this guy wondering where I know him from, and then when I see the name is the closing credits, I think "Oh, Jasper from Twilight! When he doesn't have blond hair and golden eyes, he looks kinda like Tobey Maguire."

M. Night Shyamalan likes to claim The Sixth Sense is his first movie, and I concur since I don't want to ever see Wide Awake. But each movie he makes tends to be worse than the one before it. The Sixth Sense > Unbreakable > Signs > The Village > Lady in the Water > The Happening. But The Last Airbender is not worse than The Happening, so hooray for that.

Based on the Nickelodeon cartoon, this is about four Kingdoms that are based off the four elements. There's a Fire Kingdom, a Water Kingdom, an Earth Kingdom and an Air Kingdom. The Fire people are 99% Indian-Polynesian-Pacific Island types. The Earth people are 99% Chinese. The Water people of the north are 99% Scandinavian, while the Water people of the south, if they can't bend water, are apparently Eskimo. I wondered why there was just one white family in this village we meet at the beginning, but the girl can bend water, so I figured that was why. I don't think we meet an Air people, but the monks of Air seemed to have a healthy racial mix.

I've never watched an episode so I was lost here and there as far as the rules of the world go. "Bending" refers to using telekinesis on the elements, and you need to do a little tai-chi dance to get the elements going. It must make sense in the cartoon.

The title character is Aang (Noah Ringer) a little Buddha-Christ boy who's the reincarnation of the one being who can keep balance in the world. He's been away for a hundred years, so the big meanies of Fire Nation have been plowing through the other lands, taking over. Katara and Sokka, a brother-sister team who are your Hermione and Ron for these adventures, go with him so they can whine and look surprised and give Aang friends while he hops around trying to figure out how to be a god.

With some of the reviews I'd read beforehand I was expecting an early favorite for my Worst Ten list in about six months, but really, visually, I had a great time, going from set piece to set piece, with imagination art direction and design. I love seeing new worlds. The actors (and characters) aren't that memorable. Aasif Mandvi of The Daily Show is the main evil general, and when he's giving a report to the tyrannical king of Fire, he does it in the exact cadence he would use when letting Jon Stewart know in a deadpan that BP is a great company. I can't really call anyone's acting "good" but a vet like Cliff Curtis at least seems amused to be here, fully aware he's in a CG-infested kids movie.

I would put it about on par with The Golden Compass.

P.S. I will say I saw this in 2D, and from the reviews I've read, the 3D conversion process was maybe worse than Clash of the Titans. Nothing sucks excitement out of me more in seeing a live-action preview than when it boasts it's in 3D. Sorry, but 3D is for animated films and James Cameron. No one else seems to know how to do it.

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