Abandon hope.

“The Last Airbender” Movie Review

Abandon hope.You may remember my article on the greatest show of all time, Avatar: The Last Airbender.  You may also remember my mentioning that M. Night Shyamalan decided to adapt the first season into a movie.  I saw this… movie… when it first premiered.  I entered the theatre expecting to love it; by the thirty-minute mark I loathed Shyamalan with every fibre of my being, and when at last I stumbled out of that accursed theatre I would gladly have throttled the bastard.

Preface

M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” was by far the worst movie I had ever suffered, and it made me long for the days when that title could have gone to films like Bridge to Terabithia or Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.  Such films were left forgotten in Shyamalan’s fell wake.

This film didn’t need to exist.  We had the show; we loved the show.  If you’ve not seen it, I might add, then you should; at the very least, you should read my review of it before this article.  As you may have guessed, I’m stalling.  Despite longing to tear into this abomination, my stomach turns at the thought of it.  Every moment of this film is painful to even think about.  I suppose I should start talking about the movie now.  Pity me…

絕望 (Abandon Hope)

Sitting in that theatre all those years ago, we who loved the show beheld the first few seconds of the film.  Fixated on the foreground as we were, these first moments seemed rather promising.  We saw the sequence of the four styles of bending (Water, Earth, Fire, and Air) as we had seen so many times in the show’s opening, and we settled into our seats.

Hope was short-lived.  Immediately the film cut not to a shot of mountains as in the show, but to a torrent of sluggish crawl text and a wooden narration.  Even the wording of each sentence, which was perfect in the show, Shyamalan had changed to the worst possible choice of words.  It was here that we became uneasy.

The Casting

The real Katara compared with her bland counterpart from the movie.Next came the first shot of waterbending, and the special effects in this movie really aren’t anything special.  In fact, the physics of the bending here seemed… well… wrong.  We weren’t given time to think about this, however, as this was the point where two white teenagers emerged onto the screen.  This is the first really big problem with this movie: the casting is atrocious!  Few, if any, of the actors in this movie look even remotely like the characters in the show, and none act anything like them.

Sokka compared with his inferior counterpart from the movie.First we have Nicola Peltz, who looks the least like Katara of any of the actresses in this thing.  The only thing worse than looking like the anti-Katara is Peltz’s acting, which is horrible.  She’s the one who’s doing all the horrible narration.  Next there’s Jackson Rathbone as her brother Sokka the meat and sarcasm guy; Rathbone doesn’t crave meat, and he’s not funny in the slightest.  He doesn’t look like his character either.  Moving on.

The Boy in the Iceberg

After some even-more-wooden narration that butchers backstory from the show to the point of being near-unrecognizable—this will be a common occurrence—the film plodded towards the point where we’d meet Aang, and we hoped beyond hope that things would get better.  Instead, through a series of increasingly stupid actions on the part of these two white teenagers, Katara cracked open the iceberg to reveal Noah Ringer as Aang.  Instead of then introducing the characters of Prince Zuko and Uncle Iroh, all M. Night gave us was a shot of the back of Dev Patel’s head and a disembodied voice shouting,

“Uncle…  Look!”

No mention of honour or calming tea.  Lovers of the show awaited the classic moment when Aang awakes in Katara’s arms, but Shyamalan decided to grind our hopes into the ice with his oversized middle finger, and Aang just didn’t wake up.

White Kids Stare at the Camera

Shyamalan insulted us yet more with the first of his truly pathetic attempts to reproduce the comedy of the show.  Later in the village, and not in Katara’s arms (no.  I’m not letting that go), Aang wakes up.Aang compared with the henna-clad Noah Ringer  A shot of his tattoos, and I was already starting to get angry; Shyamalan had taken the simplicity of the blue arrow and replaced it with what looks like henna or something!  It was here that we witnessed the extent of the acting in the film: long shots of actors staring blankly at the camera as they delivered horrible lines in a most wooden manner.  When Nicola Peltz asked how Aang had become frozen, Noah Ringer answered woodenly,

“I ran away from home.  We got into a storm.  We were forced under the water of the ocean.”

“The water of the ocean”?  That line is horrible on so many levels!  After that bit of nothing, the film cut to Zuko’s ship approaching the Southern Water Tribe as we in the audience all wondered what the hell we were watching.  The Fire Nation uniforms in the film look nothing like the show, and the designs here look ridiculous.  It was during the Fire Nation attack that we saw the rest of the Southern Water Tribe, and to our surprise—aside from the colour of their clothing, which should have been blue—they actually looked the way they were supposed to.  Why then are all the main characters white?

Zuko Attacks the Southern Water Tribe

Sadly our hopes for a brief fight between Sokka and Zuko (as in the show) were dashed, and we got only Dev Patel expositing who he is and why he’s here.Prince Zuko compared with his inferior counterpart from the movie.  Now, Dev Patel—despite looking nothing like Zuko—gives by far the best performance of the main cast.  However, had he not announced himself to be Zuko, we’d probably never have known, as his scar, in the show a great red disfiguring mark, is barely visible in the movie.  Indeed, it looked less like a burn-scar and more like he’d cut himself while shaving his face.  Again, it’s clear he’s doing what he can, but it’s terrible.

I and several others in the theatre groaned when Katara and Sokka’s grandmother Kanna stepped out of the igloo, as she’s as poorly cast as they are.  Sokka reaches for his boomerang, but Katara stops him.  Then Katara starts to waterbend, and Sokka stops her.  Which character is which?  I realized then that Shyamalan likely didn’t care.

We who’d been waiting for Aang to come to their rescue like in the show were, as usual, disappointed.  Instead, a Fire Nation soldier found Aang in an igloo and brought him to Prince Zuko, who promptly took him to his ship without so much as a blow exchanged.

A Taste of Unfunny Sokka

Later in the igloo, we suffered through a scene of Katara trying to convince Sokka that they should go and rescue Aang.  Fans of the show awaited the moment when Sokka says, gesturing to a canoe he’s been packing with supplies,

“Katara!  Are you gonna talk all day, or are you comin’ with me?  Get in; we’re going to save your boyfriend

“He’s not my—“

“Whatever.”

But this was Shyamalan so I think you can guess how that turned out.  Sokka’s line in the film is as follows:

“I know you think everything’s going to work out, but I don’t.”

When I first saw Jackson Rathbone’s performance in that theatre, I thought he was Hayden Christiansen; if that doesn’t scare you, just wait.  Instead of Sokka trying to remember Aang’s command to make Appa fly, all we got was a remark that “that bison creature thing” can float.  And that seemed to be all it did.  In the show, it feels like Appa is flying, but in the movie he just floats in place like the CGI effect that he is.  Did Shyamalan not realize that the sky bison were the first airbenders?

In another horribly-shot scene where everyone just stares at the camera, Shyamalan introduced the audience to a skinny Iranian man whose face isn’t even in the shot.  He said ominously that he’d perform a test on Aang, and then he’d be free to go.  With hindsight, I’m confused at why he delivered his lines like the motel owner in a horror film, but at that point I was just trying to figure out who this guy was.

“A Little Bit of the Avatar in All of Us”

Next there was a scene of Kanna telling her grandchildren a load of exposition, and I realized that M. Night Shyamalan and Katharine Houghton were trying to pilfer Aunt May from the Spiderman Trilogy.  He clearly tried to pick an actress who looked like her, and she was clearly doing her best impression of Aunt May if she were on crack.  This is the most blatant example of casting the poor-man’s version of an actor I’ve ever seen, as Houghton has none of Rosamarry Harris’s talent or charm.  Kanna proceeds to exposit incorrect information about the Spirit World and the Avatar, concepts that were introduced gradually in the show, as well as talking about characters who shouldn’t be revealed till Season Three.

The Avatar Test

The strange, skinny man from before proceeded to place each of the four elements on the table before Aang, and each of them moved in his presence.  Aang asked to leave, and the man said, again in the manner of a horror movie villain,

“I apologize.  I should have explained further.  If you failed the test, as all others did, you were free to leave.  But, as it turns out, you are the only one in the entire world who could pass this test.  It is truly an honour to be in your presence.”

Aang escaped almost immediately, far more easily than he did in the show, and no one made any effort to stop him.  I still had no idea who the skinny man was.  Nicola Peltz started narrating what we’d already been told at least once.  This is one of the biggest problems with the film: the exposition.  These are all things that we should be shown in flashbacks like in Kung Fu, and they were shown in that way in the show, but here we’re made to endure Peltz’s bland, wooden narration instead.  Maybe it could have worked had the film used a better speaking voice, but that’s not what we got.

The Southern Air Temple

I’d no way of knowing this as they approached the Southern Air Temple, but this would prove to be the most abhorrent part of the film.  It was here, for some inexplicable reason, that Peltz decided to finally ask Noah Ringer’s name.  I found the wording quite odd:

“Is it okay if you tell me your name?”

But that was the least of my problems as I sat there, for this was where the film really got bad.

“The monks named me [ɑːŋ].”

The theatre rang with our outrage.  “It’s [æːŋ], you idiot!” were the words on my tongue thenceforth—each time they uttered “[ɑːŋ]”.  This wasn’t a minor annoyance; Shyamalan had decided to make me flinch every time anyone referred to the main character by name, and this is never a good idea when you’re making a movie.  Nor was this the only name he’d decided to change—far from it.

On Names

Sokka ([sɒkɑ]) was changed to “[soʊkɑ]” in the film, Sōka being the name by which Hahn the “jerk without a soul” called him while rubbing his betrothal in his face in the show.  The list goes on.  From what I’ve gathered, Shyamalan may have changed the names in order to appeal to Middle-Eastern audiences.  On the subject of Aang’s name change, it may appear on the surface to make sense, as modern Chinese doesn’t have the [æ] sound, but that’s due to a vowel merger; historically it would have been [æːŋ].  Finally, if Shyamalan was trying to stay true to Chinese pronunciation, then he wasn’t very consistent about it, so it came across as a slew of arbitrary changes just to irritate anyone who’d been listening to the show’s pronunciation for years.

Oh, and if Shyamalan changed the names because he wanted to stay truer to Chinese pronunciation then why does the film have a deleted scene where characters refer to letters of the Latin alphabet?

On Calligraphy

The show's Chinese calligraphy compared with the movie's squiggles.
Why change all the names if you’re going to use squiggly lines instead of real calligraphy anyway?

In the show, we never see the characters’ names spelt phonetically.  Indeed, they aren’t spelt phonetically but logographically—in Chinese characters called hànzì.  The Chinese writing system is designed to transcribe the meaning—not the pronunciation—of words.  Therefore, as I see it, the characters’ names are properly pronounced however they happen to be said in the context of the show’s world—or, rather, however the actors in the show pronounce them.  In the world of Avatar, Aang is pronounced [æːŋ], Sokka is pronounced [sɒkɑ], and so forth.

The show's Chinese calligraphy compared with the movie's squiggles.
The show used Chinese characters. The squiggles in the movie are just gibberish.

It also bears mentioning that whereas the show’s opening featured Chinese writing in the background, the opening of the movie has reduced this to little more than meaningless squiggles.  The same can be said of all writing in the movie, in contrast with the show, which used actual Chinese calligraphy.  Siu-Leung Lee, Ph.D., a consultant on the show who provided all the in-universe writing, said of this change:

“I just received words from the movie producers. They are not going to use Chinese calligraphy at all, replacing it with unreadable symbols. I won’t be participating in the movie. It is not only a disappointment on the cast. They are removing all the successful elements of the original TV series. I think that would keep a lot of Asian audience away. I am disappointed to learn that the Avatar movie has removed the successful cultural elements of the original Avatar TV series.”

“As Long As You Need”

Once again I thought Shyamalan’s movie had gotten as foul as it could get; once again I was wrong.  I’d no idea then that we approached the worst line in the film…  We arrived at Shyamalan’s horrendous portrayal of the iconic and emotional scene where Aang finds his mentor Gyatso’s skeleton and, consumed by grief and horror, enters the Avatar State.  Katara tells Aang that she went through the same thing after the death of her mother and comforts him with the moving line:

“Gyatso and the other airbenders may be gone, but you still have a family!  Sokka and I—we’re your family now!”

Aang slowly descends to the ground and falls limply into Katara’s arms.  It’s one of the most memorable scenes in the show.  I didn’t expect that Shyamalan would be able to take such a scene and corrupt it, but what he did was worse than anyone could possibly have foreseen.  Shyamalan, instead of giving us an emotional scene, bludgeoned us with exposition about the Air Nomads, then some pointless exposition about Gyatso’s necklace, and as Noah Ringer entered the Avatar State for the first time in the film, Nicola Peltz read to us the worst line in the film:

“You can’t bring Monk Gyatso back, but Sōka and I can be with you as long as you need!”

“As long as you need”?  It’s obvious that Peltz and Rathbone want nothing to do with Ringer.  There is no connection between the characters in the film.  That Shyamalan would take Katara and Aang’s relationship in the show and reduce it to… to this…  It was from that moment forth that my loathing of the film now extended to its director.

Fang the Dragon Spirit

What I assume is Shyamalan's version of Avatar Roku's dragon.For some reason, while in the Avatar State, the Aang of the film met what I assumed was meant to be Avatar Roku’s dragon Fang.  Roku himself is markedly absent.  Instead of communicating telepathically through images as in the show, Movie Fang is voiced by John Noble, who played Denethor in The Lord of the Rings.  How he went from such a great role as the steward of Gondor to this abomination I dare not guess.  All the same, his few lines are among the best-delivered in the film.

Horrible Fire Nation Casting

The movie then introduced us to whom we were expected to accept as Admiral Zhao.  Unfortunately this version of Zhao was played by a comedian with a high-pitched voice and negligible sideburns.  After inviting Zuko and the skinny man to lunch, Zhao announced,

“I would like to thank the great General Irō and young prince Zuko for dining with us.”

Uncle Iroh compared with his inferior counterpart from the movie.I realized then that the skinny man was supposed to be Zuko’s overweight Uncle Iroh.  Again the pronunciation has been changed for the film from [ˈʌɪroʊ] to [iˈroʊ], a change that makes little sense as the “h” at the end is what causes the “i” to make the sound [ʌɪ] in Iroh rather than [i] in Irō.  Said “h” has conspicuously not been omitted from the name in the credits.

When I realized that the whole scene had gone by without a single mention of ginseng tea, I zoned out.

Imprisoned

I regained consciousness as Sōka and Peltz asked Ong whether he’s the Avatar.  Firstly, the pronunciation of “Avatar” isn’t consistent in the film, with some characters annoyingly pronouncing it [ɑvətɑr] rather than the show’s pronunciation: [ævətɑr].  Secondly, and most importantly, he just went into the Avatar State, you dipshits!  What do you think that means?

Moustached Haru compared with his inferior counterpart from the movie.Immediately the three of them met a young boy named Haru.  Haru has a moustache in the show—I mean, in case you were wondering how closely this abomination was following the source material at this point.  We groaned at a failed attempt to copy a joke from the show, and then the lot of them got dragged off to a stone prison for earthbenders.  Of all the changes, this is not technically the worst, but it’s certainly among the stupidest.  Aang gave a speech to rally the earthbenders, something Katara did in the show, and of course Shyamalan screwed it up.

“There is earth right beneath your feet!”

You know, in the show they didn’t know that there was earth anywhere near the prison.  That’s because it was made of metal in the show, something they couldn’t bend.  Here it just seems like they have the IQ of the director.  Speaking of which, the cinematography in this scene is even worse than in the rest of the movie!

Earth and Fire

A stone prison for very stupid earthbenders.Shyamalan then subjected us to what he thinks passes for bending: six guys doing a complicated dance as a pebble floated slowly in the general direction of an enemy.  The movements of the bender have no connection to those of the elements they’re supposed to be controlling, and it feels more like a Naruto-style ninjutsu than actual bending.  I figured out at this point that the movie’s firebenders couldn’t actually shoot fire out of their fingertips, making them entirely useless.  What made the firebenders capable of waging war on all other nations in the show was that, unlike their enemies, firebenders didn’t need existing fire to bend.  It was lightning that most firebenders couldn’t make from nothing.  As a result of Shyamalan’s failure to reinvent the wheel, the bending in the movie is boring and takes forever.

The Responsibilities of the Ovatar

More dull exposition followed, and among this came something only slightly less loathsome than “We can be with you as long as you need!”  Aang decided to tell Katara and Sōka why he ran away from home.  Now, in the cartoon it was because the other monks had conspired to separate him from Gyatso, but here…

“The day they told me I was the Avatar, they said I could never have a normal life, that I could never have a family. They said it cannot work with the responsibilities of the Avatar.”

You know what the exact words were concerning this in the show?  If all you’ve seen is the movie then go on.  You’ll never guess…

“Being the Avatar doesn’t hurt your chances with the ladies.”

Yes.  You heard that right.  That’s how far off the mark Shyamalan was willing to go with this abomination.  The thing that the Avatar can never do in the show is, in fact, to detach himself from the world.  Indeed, the whole reason that the Avatar reincarnates is to prevent this; the Avatar must be able to, in the words of Avatar Yang Chen…

“The Avatar must be compassionate towards all people, and the only way to do that is to live with them.  The Avatar must experience sadness, anger, joy, and happiness.  By feeling all these emotions, it helps you understand how precious human life is… so you will do anything to protect it.”

Avatars have gotten married and had children, and forbidding this defeats the purpose of reincarnating in the first place!  What’s more, this change was a huge middle finger to anyone who’d seen the show; it’s Shyamalan rubbing it in our faces that he cut out the romance between Aang and Katara.

Practising Nothing

The rest of the exposition in that scene was wrong, and everything about the scene was irritating.  The actors started practising waterbending forms, but the water around them didn’t move—because apparently bending doesn’t actually work in the movie.  Perhaps one minute of this passed before the next middle finger.

The Fire Lord’s Face

The mysterious Fire Lord Ozai is revealed too soon in the Shyamalan movie.I doubt any of us expected Shyamalan to do this, but he did; he decided to show Fire Lord Ozai’s face.  As you might imagine given what this movie had done thus far, the casting of the Fire Lord is terrible.  In the show, Fire Lord Ozai is shown only as a silhouette behind a wall of fire, and only in the final season do we see his face.  When finally he is revealed, he looks scary, and it doesn’t hurt to be voiced by Mark Hamill, either.  In the movie, however, Shyamalan cast the least intimidating actor I’ve ever seen.  He has a nice, round, friendly face, and he doesn’t even have Ozai’s hair or beard!

Zuko’s Botched Backstory

Dev Patel is a good actor, but he’s terrible as Zuko.  The relationship between Zuko and his uncle is completely absent from this portrayal.  In the show, Zuko was a sympathetic anti-hero, an angry teenager slowly coming to terms with the reality that his father is evil.  In the movie, Zuko himself seems evil, and so does his uncle, for that matter.  In few scenes was this more obvious than the scene in which his backstory was revealed.

This scene, which tried to mirror one of the show’s most revered episodes, found new ways to fail.  The scene began in what appeared to be a Fire Nation colony, which already made no sense as Zuko’s in bloody exile!  Then Irō says,

“There are a lot of pretty girls in this town, Zuko. You could fall in love here. We could settle down here, and you could have a blessed life.”

Alright, let me go through everything wrong with this line!  First, as I already said, Zuko’s in exile; he can’t settle down there.  Second, this line seems to be trying to reproduce a far subtler line from a scene in Ba Sing Se, where Iroh buys a vase of flowers and nudges Zuko, saying,

“I just want our place to look nice, in case someone brings home a lady friend!”

The rest is implied—rather than being bluntly stated as in the film.  The worst was yet to come, however.  In the show, Iroh narrated the story of Zuko’s banishment, but in the film Zuko called a little boy over and had him narrate.  Needless to say, Mako was a far better narrator than a Shyamalan-directed child actor.  Patel got the boy started by saying that the prince,

“… Spoke out of turn… to a general—in defence of some of his friends, who were going to be sacrificed in a battle.”

Well, way to deprive Zuko of his good qualities!  In the show Zuko saw the sacrificing of new recruits as a betrayal of their patriotism, and his outburst was our first glimpse of his kingly qualities, but the film destroyed all this by making it what anyone would have done!  The boy said that Zuko was sentenced to an “Agni Ki duel.”  What?  What the…  It’s called an Agni Kai, you bloody morons!  This… this is worse than the other name changes because it makes the least sense.  Moving on!  We saw a flashback of the still-unimpressive Fire Lord, and we heard Patel recount that he “mocked” his son and said,

“I should bring your sister up here to beat you.”

A young, poorly cast Azula laughs like a normal person.
This is not Azula. It is never going to be Azula.

Er…  That’s not mocking him; that’s a statement of fact.  Everyone knows that Azula would beat Zuko!  She’s a firebending prodigy—one of only three firebenders alive who can generate lightning!  Even when Zuko is at his strongest and Azula is at her weakest, he still can’t defeat her, so saying that is more a disservice to Azula than anything else.  In the cartoon, what Fire Lord Ozai says is that Azula was born lucky and that Zuko was lucky to be born.  What’s worse than the Fire Lord failing to be sufficiently horrible is this: Azula laughing the laugh of an even slightly well-adjusted child!

The Blue Spirit

To this day I can’t figure out why, among all the plots that Shyamalan cut out, The Blue Spirit was one of the few that he left in.  I mean, there were so many that were just as important, and he’d no problem leaving them out, and the elements of The Blue Spirit that made it important in the show were omitted here, of course.  Regardless his reasons, it was handled as horribly as I’d come to expect by this point.

Movie Zhao was horrible.  The film’s design for the Blue Spirit mask looked awful.  The action sequence was worse-shot than the previous one; Shyamalan insisted on shooting it all in long, clumsy tracking shots.  As a result, I realized early on in the scene, these shots weren’t in slow-motion; the actors really were moving at that speed.

As for what made The Blue Spirit so great in the show, it all came down to when, as Zuko was waking up, Aang told him about his friend Kuzon, who was from the Fire Nation, and asked if Zuko thought they might have been friends had Zuko been born back then.  In the movie, all this is omitted; Noah Ringer just leaves him there without a word.

The Northern Water Tribe

Aang and Katara fail to bend water in Shyamalan's horrible film.
Why is there no water flying around?

In the show, Zuko was nearly blown up by a vengeful crew of pirates who were working with Zhao.  In the movie, it was a simple gas leak.  When the white main characters arrived at the white Northern Water Tribe, the film became even more boring.  Sōka’s relationship with Yue was glossed over with a bland narration from Peltz.  All the comedy of the show was, of course, stripped away—particularly in how Sokka and Yue met.  The dull Master Pakku of the movie was in no way similar to the bitter and angry Master Pakku of the show.

The part where Irō goes undercover on Zhao’s ship is butchered.  In the show, the death of Iroh’s son was revealed to us in the scene where Iroh nagged his nephew to stay warm, saying that,

“I’m sorry.  I just nag you because … well, ever since I lost my son… I think of you as my own.”

Shaun Toub and the guy from The Daily Show engage in exposition.In the movie, Zhao exposited it to us in an emotionless scene—just like every other meaningless tidbit of information in the film.  Indeed, the scene between Irō and his nephew had no such line so it was almost entirely pointless.

The Spirit Oasis

Aang, Katara, and Yue arrived at the Spirit Oasis, and instead of developing characters or plot, Shyamalan threw more tedious exposition at us:

“To get your airbending tattoos, you have to meditate… for long periods of time… without losing focus.  Some of the great monks… can meditate… for four days.”

That’s entirely wrong!  You earn your airbending tattoos by inventing an airbending move.  Aang, for instance, earned them by inventing the Air Scooter technique.  Also, even if the exposition weren’t bollocks, why is it relevant?  Aang started to meditate, and unlike in the show he didn’t object to Katara talking loudly while he’s trying to concentrate.  Zuko showed up and, after more exposition, easily beat Katara—on the night of the full moon, no less!  In the show Zuko doesn’t stand a chance until the sun rises, strengthening his bending.  Shyamalan decided, however, to make Katara useless.

The Siege of the North

Thus the Siege of the North began, and it was awful.  First of all, the white people playing characters in the movie who looked Inuit in the show was getting more annoying by the minute.  Then I saw the first giant Komodo dragon emerge from a Fire Nation ship—a poor substitute for the Komodo rhinos of the show.  During the battle, all the actors just stood there waiting for the camera to reach a certain angle.  Nothing about this resembled the show.  Meanwhile, Aang talked with Denethor, who told him that,

“As the Avatar you are not meant to hurt others.”

Again this is wrong.  Just ask Avatar Kyoshi!  The most irritating part of the scene was perhaps simply that he was talking to the dragon spirit instead of to Koh the face-stealer.  Speaking of which, Fang doesn’t even tell him the important details of where to find the Ocean and Moon Spirits, nor that someone intends to kill them.

The Moon-Slayer

Aang woke up and fought with Dev Patel as a horribly-choreographed battle raged outside.  Zhao (sans-Zhao) told Irō (sans-Iroh) that,

“… your brother, Fire Lord Ozai, and I have decided it is in our best interests to kill the Moon Spirit.”

You know, I don’t think Fire Lord Ozai is stupid enough to come up with a plan like that.  Zhao’s certainly that stupid—not to mention completely insane, but not the Fire Lord!  The scene of Commander Zhao actually killing the the Moon Spirit was even worse, as he says the idiotic line:

“The Fire Nation is too powerful to worry about children’s superstitions, General Irō.  We are now the gods!”

That line had Shyamalan’s fingerprints all over it!  It shows just how badly the film screwed up; this isn’t Zhao’s character.  Admiral Zhao, in the show, is quite insane, which explains why he wants to destroy the moon.  He’s obsessed with what he perceives as his destiny, and he longs to be remembered in legend as the admiral who killed a spirit.  Movie Zhao isn’t insane; he’s just following orders, which makes him almost a non-entity.  In the show, the line went as follows:

“I am a legend now!  The Fire Nation will, for generations, tell stories about the great Zhao, who darkened the moon.  They will call me Zhao the Conqueror, Zhao the Moon-Slayer, Zhao the Invincible!”

In the show, after Zhao killed the Moon Spirit, Iroh wasted a bunch of Fire Nation soldiers and tried to kill Zhao.  In the movie, he just stands there and firebends at no one.  Everyone freaks out and runs away because he’s “making fire out of nothing!” something even a child could do in the show!

No Koizilla

Aang and the Ocean Spirit never formed Koizilla in the movie, and Shyamalan’s explanation for why he omitted this is truly outrageous.  The scene where Yue takes Tui’s place as the Moon Spirit, obviously great in the show, was bastardized in the movie, of course.  The worst line in that scene has got to be:

“It is time we show the Fire Nation that we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs.”

Princess Yue's hair turns dark in the dreadful movie.What the hell has that got to do with anything!  Shyamalan, this film is not supposed to be about your spiritual beliefs; it’s supposed to be about the characters whom you clearly know nothing about!

Zhao’s Demise

Yue’s hair turned dark as she fell into the water, whereas in the show she vanished completely.  Then Shyamalan butchered the scene where, in the show, the final duel between Zuko and Zhao is interrupted by the vengeance of the Ocean Spirit; Zuko told Zhao to take his hand, but Zhao chose to die rather than be saved by his enemy.  In the movie, Irō interrupted the duel and said to Zhao,

“You stand alone, and that has always been your great mistake.”

Shaun Toub interrupts a fire duel.
Possibly the only cool shot in this movie!

What?  No it hasn’t!  Zhao’s greatest weakness is that he’s a complete nutter with no self-control whatsoever!  Then Zuko just walked away and Zhao was drowned by a group of waterbenders instead of by the ocean itself.  Even after all the other crap in this movie, this was a let-down.  And, needless to say, this scene too was horribly-shot!

A Wave

Instead of joining with the Ocean Spirit and forming a giant koi monster to destroy the Fire Navy fleet, Noah Ringer just makes a big wave.  He doesn’t even do anything with it; he just shows off a big wave.  That’s it!

Wrapping It Up

Then there’s a final “fuck you!” to the audience as Aang accepts the responsibility of never having a family, defeating the purpose of reincarnation and wiping out any chance of a romance with Katara.Princess Azula compared with her inferior counterpart from the movie.  I was ready to jump into the sea myself at this point.  Then there was an epilogue with the Fire Lord telling Azula that Sozin’s Comet will give all firebenders the ability to actually firebend instead of whatever they’ve been doing in the movie, and then he tells her to hunt the Avatar—even though her mission in the show was to capture Zuko and Iroh!  Movie Azula isn’t scary in the slightest.  That’s the end of the movie!  Good riddance!

The Score

The music by James Newton Howard, while not among his best work, was actually quite decent.  But not only is it in a terrible movie—it’s also doomed to be compared to the TV show’s much better music.  The themes in the show were memorable—even more so because they employed eastern instruments, and those in the movie just weren’t.  In many cases the score of the movie doesn’t fit what’s going on in a scene, not least because of the western instruments that dominate it.  Don’t get me wrong—it isn’t bad music, but it’s not as good as the show’s.  In short, despite having been the best thing about the movie, it was set up to fail, and it’s probably the most tragic part of all this because it’s the only part that had any merit.

An Insult to Avatar

This is not just a bad movie; it’s worse than that.  M Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender takes the greatest TV show of all time and twists its likeness into an abomination.  Even Pu-on Tim’s Fire Nation propaganda-play “The Boy in the Iceberg” from the episode The Ember Island Players didn’t represent these characters as poorly as Shyamalan!  Indeed, I can only imagine that Shyamalan watched that episode, ignoring all the parts about the actual characters and focusing only on the play, and then tried to adapt that into a movie.  I’m just glad he never got the chance to ruin Toph!

This film is an insult to Avatar, an insult to filmmaking, an insult to storytelling, and a betrayal of trust.  It’s one of the worst adaptations of all time, but as I said in my review of the show, that only serves to make us appreciate the greatness of the original all the more.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch the cartoon and get this bloody film out of my head.

3 thoughts on ““The Last Airbender” Movie Review

  1. Yep. If it ain’t broke don’t “fix” it. I don’t remember much about the film because I haven’t thought about it much since I saw it in the theatre but I do remember that terrible scene with the characters doing what looks like tai chi and then a little rock flies into the air. What a waste. The show was so good. All he had to do was find some good actors (they were knocking at his door wanting to be cast!!) and then use the dialogue from the show. A little focus on the special effects would have helped. So much potential. I was so excited about seeing the movie!! Oh and missing out on the humour and the romance!! Ugh!! And Iroh.. my favourite character! : (. Yuck. I agree, time to do something else to get the bad taste out of my mouth. I hope you review something good next time!

  2. It’s as though a dementor from Harry Potter was asked to write the screenplay to convey all the emotions of the TV series and, well, sucked out all the life from the party.

    I do want to stand up on the side of the actors, though. I have seen some actors in this in other shows and so I know we should not judge any of them by this. I remember being amazed at how much like the real Aang was Noah Ringer in the special features – he had a beautiful smile and sense of fun – joie de vivre – that the dementor – Mr. Shyamalan – decided to disallow in his performance.

Leave a Reply