I watch a lot of films and television shows. A lot. I will be the first to admit that many of these would be considered of questionable quality at best. I have seen (and at least somewhat enjoyed) The Scorpion King (dude, it’s just like the WWE set in ancient Egypt), The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (uh, Nicholas Cage shoots magic missiles in NYC. Yeah, he probably rolled 20s), Full House (was anyone else upset that Kimmy Gibbler didn’t get her own spin-off series?), and any given reality show. Basically, the bar to entertain me is set pretty low. That being said, The Last Airbender fell way short of this extremely low standard—even from the director who brought me The Happening (*involuntarily shivers*).
The fantasy geek in me was excited about the premise. Although I haven’t seen the animated series this film was based on, it sounded really cool. Essentially, there is a mystical world that has several factions of people who can control the elements: fire, earth, air, and water. At the start of this film, the Fire Bender nation had conquered several of the other, more peaceful, people. Soon, two youngsters from the water tribe happened upon a young boy frozen deep beneath “the water of the ocean” (that’s a direct quote from the film). It turns out that this special lad is the last Air Bender—the only person who can defeat the Fire Benders. And thus they embark on an epic journey to try to save the world.
Sounds fairly cool, right? In fact, I think it would take quite an effort to make this story virtually unwatchable. Well, M. Night Shyamalan actually did it. I was totally taken aback by how poorly this movie was directed. Many scenes are awkward at best and there are strange build-ups to non-events. It actually felt like it was directed by a first-time director, not an A-lister who has been making films for over a decade. All I can say is that I was floored.
I tried to imagine what could have made this film better. Perhaps they could have shot it with the cast from Full House. DJ would be from the Fire Nation and the Water Benders would boast Stephanie as their kin. Then the two end up fighting over who should control the world. But, instead of killing each other, they decide to divide the world in half with a duct tape line indicating which side is which. Of course, Stephanie and the Water Benders would be upset when they discover that the bathroom is on the Fire Bender’s side of the world. And the crap hits the fan when DJ and the Fire Nation find out that their diaries are on Stephanie’s side (gasp!). They fight, ultimately come to the conclusion that the world is better when they work together, and decide to team up against Kimmy Gibbler and her fellow Earth Benders. Michelle and the Air Benders say, “you got it, dude” in perfect synchrony. Cue the canned laugh track as Gibbler and her Earth Benders succumb to the wrath of the Tanners. I am sure it would be an epic battle. Better?
I felt that all the pieces of this film just didn’t work. I wanted the effects to be better, the acting to save the film, or the story to redeem the movie. They didn’t. I kind of feel bad being so hard on this film—I wanted to like it, honest! The only thing that made The Last Airbender watchable was that we watched it with Rifftrax (downloadable MST3K-esque commentary you can purchase to spice up certain movies). We laughed so hard at some of the jabs, that my husband was literally crying. Sweet.
After seeing The Last Airbender, I am somewhat curious to watch a few episodes of the animated series to compare. Are they both pretty unwatchable or is it just the film? I guess that is something I have to discover on my own. I just really wish I was able to like this film more; or, at least, at all. I know: How rude!
Have a fantastic day!
Score with Rifftrax: B+
Netflix Queue: 483