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Water and Fireballs, Karate Poses...Oh, Not This!

Movie Review: The Last Airbender (2010)
Spoilers: none

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The Last Airbender has the grace and class of a skinny, sweaty, pale, off-his-meds schizophrenic man putting on a martial arts display in the middle of an intersection in a major metropolitan area. It comes as close as a movie can possibly come to being a textbook definition example of a grandiosely bad movie. And that's not grinding an ax.

When trying to keep its puny legs from buckling under the enormous weight of its would-be-aspiring and epic plot, it foolishly resolves to not be concerned about the fact that its muscles will just never be that strong. The content is thrown up in our faces way too fast, and as it was drawn out properly, was enough for three seasons-worth of cable programming, involving Asian folklore and an astrological-supernatural TV adaptation.

Most of the dialogue sounds like it was taken in heavy portions from an astrology encyclopedia—that or two geeks arguing over who put a fear spell on who first. You can count on one hand the lines that don't sound like they are being read directly off the prompt cards. Scenes with floating mammoth creatures are put in for no other reason than to have two kids say something to the affect of: “That creature floats.” Wasted camera shots, looking down from large ice monuments at hunters, are done in such a way that it takes a good five or six seconds to recognize what exactly you are looking at.

The inexcusably bad special effects and thrifty 3D is on league with the always unwelcome and cheesy breaking off into stiff martial arts poses and bad fight maneuvers that accompany cheap CGI water and fireballs. When not seeing flying lemur pets and dragon spirits, and glowing "spirit" fish and white-haired “spirit” girls, you are hearing repeated - enough times to make you woozy - the tireless lingo about the magical manipulation of the earth, water, fire, and wind elements, which would, I suppose, be less hated by Bubblegum Crisis or Dungeons and Dragons campaigners the world over. But that is of little significance to the lot of us (and I'm a D&D fan).

To get a brief synopsis of the plot, a child tells the story at the opening; it’s been a hundred years since the last avatar had come who could bend and balance all the elemental forces of the world. The kingdoms of Water, Air, and Earth are being conquered by the oppressive Fire Kingdom. Global harmony has ceased. They now strive unequally, without one who can master them all. But a young, new avatar is found.

Starring Noah Ringer as Aang, the next in a long line of avatars, and Dave “Slumdog Millionaire” Patel as Prince Zuko, air to the throne of the ambitious Fire Kingdom, The Last Airbender could have established itself as a memorable story. It brought to mind components of The Neverending Story (1984) and The Golden Child (1986), with a faint magical resemblance to Lord of the Rings that I wished could have counted towards something.

And yet, somewhere underneath it all was a plot that once made Nickelodeon proud. Sadly, Shyamalan's out-of-bounds creativity has put him in the penalty box once again in the making of another sorely disconnected cinematic concoction, without a care in the world as to how it would be perceived by viewing audiences.

(JH)

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Grade: F (0 stars)
Rated: PG (for intense sequences of action and violence, and some sensuality.)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Summary: A young successor to a long line of Avatars must put his childhood ways aside and stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the Water, Earth and Air nations.
Starring: Noah Ringer "Aang," Dev Patel "Prince Zuko," Nicola Peltz "Katara," Jackson Rathbone "Sokka," Shaun Toub "Uncle Iroh," Aasif Mandvi "Commander Zhao," Cliff Curtis "Fire Lord Ozai," Seychelle Gabriel "Princess Yue"
Genre: Action / Adventure / Family / Fantasy
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