Watched May 15, 2012
Adam Cook’s review:
NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!
You can fuck up your career with your own stupid ideas all you like, Mr. M Night Shyamalan, but for the love of God please don't ever destroy somebody else’s story.
The Last Airbender had so much potential to be a great trilogy of family films but Shyamalan has royally fucked this up on a quite grand scale (although this should come as little surprise to anyone who has been following his career of late). There was not a single competent element here and I fear a lot of people unfamiliar with the original series will probably blame the source material as much as the woefully poor execution.
Firstly, it looks unbelievably cheap almost bordering on Xena: Warrior Princess territory during some sequences (especially the one-shot set piece where Aang announces he is the Avatar - I'm guessing this is supposed to be an impressive sequence but it provided one of the biggest genuine laugh out loud film moments of the year for me, well, in-between the tears of woe). They have crammed an entire series worth of story into 90 minutes so whilst the plot beats are reasonably faithful to the series it comes at such a clumsy rat-a-tat pace that it doesn't work at all. It relies too heavily on some of the worst exposition delivery in the history of cinema and because none of the characters are given time to breathe their relationships just don't ring true. Which brings me onto the performances: Holy shit! When Dev Patel was cast I was pretty confident he would be the worst of the bunch but how wrong I was. He is as bad as I had feared but compared to the rest of the young cast he looks like Laurence Olivier. Noah Ringer, the little twerp that plays the title character, is an offensively terrible child actor. He was clearly cast because he can do a bit of martial arts and looks like the character from the cartoon but that is it. His monotone delivery and laughable attempts at emotion actually make the film entertaining in parts but, naturally, all for the wrong reasons.
Of all the things I didn't think they would, or could, mess up was the action sequences as all they had to do was copy them verbatim from the animated series. But, thanks to Shyamalan and his crew’s special talents, they have somehow ruined this basic element too. Part of the problem is the ridiculous time it takes any character to do their bending. Even moving a little pebble seems to require a 20-step move that takes a couple of minutes to complete. Then when they have finished foolishly flailing their arms about the end result is normally laughable too with none of the attacks looking impressive or like they would cause much damage or pain. The fight choreography in the series was one of the strongest components so it is very sad to see them drop the ball...again.
After every new Shyamalan film critics say they're sure he can't make a poorer film yet ever since The Village he has continued on a downward trajectory so steep it is hard to see how he will ever recover. But I have faith and I disagree with the critics because I fully believe he can plumb new depths of ineptitude not seen in our lifetime, and on the evidence of this film he hasn't got far to travel.