Surprising No One: ‘The Last Airbender’ is Terrible

Posted: January 11, 2011 in Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

I waited until I’d finished watching the first season of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” through Netflix streaming – no easy feat, as my girlfriend issued a rare “Do not watch without me” proclamation and she works nights a lot – before taking in The Last Airbender.

7% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. King of the “Worst of 2010” critic lists. But…I had to know.

Partly because my 5-year-old nephew and his dad are unabashed fans, and I figured I’d take the bullet for them. If it was in any way watchable, hey, maybe they wouldn’t mind it.

So it’ll surprise no one that this is an utterly unwatchable film.

(I would have proclaimed it the MOST unwatchable film of 2010, except I also saw Jonah Hex and that one hits virtuoso levels of “I do not understand what is happening, this has been filmed so that I can barely see or hear what is going on, the lead actors appear to have been making thorazine martinis before filming commenced, and above all else, I am incredibly bored.”)

What bugs me: I can’t completely lay this one at the feet of M. Night Shyamalan. Because IMDb tells me the studio insisted a half hour of cuts when they hastily decided to transfer the thing to 3D, and I can’t think of many movies that become MORE coherent when you pull a half hour out of the story.

And this is clearly what happened, as entire chunks of story are replaced with narration explaining what the audience would have seen, if only they didn’t need to move things along.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I can and will lay 90% of the blame on Shyamalan all the same. There are few directors who can get more bafflingly wooden performances out of actors and seem to only barely understand “humor” than M. Night, and he doesn’t fail here. Most brilliant step: hiring a 12-year-old martial artist to play Aang – who, naturally, can’t fucking act. At all.

So it’s a good thing the other actors are there to pick up the slack – no, wait, it’s the Harpo-looking guy from Twilight playing Sokka. The comic relief character. Who is given absolutely nothing funny to say. Perhaps he had some killer lines in those missing 30 minutes, but I somehow doubt it.


And while we’re picking on the actors, it’s hard not to mention Asif Mondvi – a comedic actor, here playing a Fire Nation general (a noncomedic role) as…well, Asif Mondvi, Daily Show Correspondent and Also Wartime General.

But ultimately, it’s not (entirely) these actors’ (or “actors”) fault. Their director saddled them with a script that is pretty literally just a feature-length movie made up of two-minute recaps of episodes from the first season. And when you cut a 22-minute episode down to a two-minute segment in a movie, do you think it’s the exposition that gets lost, or the character-building, humorous, and dramatic moments?

This is what we’re dealing with here: A director who watched a magical, lovingly crafted, and – I cannot stress this enough – REALLY FUNNY TV show, and decided what he really needed to do was arbitrarily change names (not only is it Ahng instead of Ang, and Soaka instead of Sokka…sometimes it’s even ahvatar instead of avatar), make up confusing new motivations (apparently the Fire Nation HATES THE SPIRITS THEMSELVES and that’s why they’re waging war; and the reason Aang can’t quite master water bending at first is because he hasn’t grieved enough over being the last airbender…or something), completely remove any sense of fun, and just cut and paste from bits of a serialized story rather than, y’know, write a new screenplay that would fit an actual feature film.

You can't begin to know how tedious these scenes are.

What’s funny is it was curiosity about the awfulness of the movie that made me catch up on the series. And it’s a good thing, since if I hadn’t, I would have had NO IDEA what was happening in this movie.

But on the upside, maybe that was Shyamalan’s Trojan-horse plan: make a movie so incomprehensible, so ploddingly dull and lifeless, that people are compelled to watch the series just to see what the hell the man could’ve been thinking. So. Pretty sneaky, M Night.

And I suppose I should thank your movie for, at the very least, not featuring Megan fox looking like she’s going to start drooling at any moment. YOU COULD LEARN A LESSON, JONAH HEX.

  1. […] is advice both for horrible movies that felt entitled to sequels (looking at you, Last Airbender) and for movies that actually do require sequels (like Golden Compass – even a sequel would have […]

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