The Last Airbender (2010)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Last Airbender</strong> (2010)

(In theaters, August 2010) I haven’t seen the original anime series, so I can only judge the film on its own merits rather than as an adaptation.  By this yardstick, The Last Airbender is a mess of breathless mythmaking, indifferent characters, repetitive CGI, terrible dialogue, fuzzy motivations and sometimes-spectacular visuals.  It’s practically impossible to care about a film that spends so little time fleshing out its lead characters that a romance is established by voice-over narration.  (And that’s saying nothing about the blank hole of charisma that is the film’s titular protagonist.)  The story jumps frantically from one scene to another with minimal transition, never giving life to any lasting interest in what’s happening beyond the special effects.  Even by the climax of the film, it’s still explaining what we need to know in order to understand what’s going on.  It’s inept film-making with a stunning budget, but even in describing how much The Last Airbender doesn’t work, it’s hard not to notice that a few things do: The world-building is intriguing enough to make me me interested in the original series, whereas for all of his increasing faults as a writer, M. Night Shyamalan still has a few skills left as a visually ambitious director.  Some of the lengthier battle shots, in particular, are almost wonderful.  But little of this matters once the Typical Fantasy Big Battle is over: By the time The Last Airbender sets up a sequel, all that’s left to viewers is a dull shrug of the shoulders.  As far as hopeless first-instalment-in-planned-fantasy-trilogies go, this is barely above Eragon and quite a bit worse than even The Last Compass.  I saw the film in 3D by accident (no, really: who knew the local dollar theater had more than one 3D screen?) and not only does it add absolutely nothing to the experience, but it may even be taking away some of it.

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