The Last Airbender (2010) Movie Review

M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action “The Last Airbender” is the first part of a proposed trilogy, and is it ever obvious. As a result, there is no real conclusion, just a series of set-ups for something grander in the horizon. If, that is, the film proves profitable enough to warrant a sequel or two. Mind you, while this is a very real problem with the film, it’s not the only problem. If you did not know that Shyamalan had been slaving on the project for the last two years, you would be hard-pressed to guess that he not only wrote but also directed the film. This does not feel like a film from the same man who gave us “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”. Then again, considering his more recent outputs, the egocentric “Lady in the Water” and the unintentionally hilarious “The Happening”, maybe “Airbender” won’t be that hard to associate with Shyamalan after all…

“The Last Airbender”, based on the Nickelodeon cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (the “Avatar” part was excised as not to confuse it with James Cameron’s film, though considering the titanic (get it?) box office of Cameron’s “Avatar”, that might not have been a wise move), comes with heavy baggage. The animated series is essentially a children’s action-adventure show with children heroes. Shyamalan has translated the original source as best he can, with newcomer Noah Ringer standing in for Aang, the franchise’s young hero. Aang is the latest in a long line of mythical Avatars, essentially the fictional land’s Beat Cop. When the film’s four individual nations – Earth, Water, Fire, and the Air Nomads – get a little too big for their britches, it’s the Avatar’s job to summon all the four elements at his disposal through the art of “bending” and whup some ass, thus maintaining “balance”.

Alas, it’s been 100 years since the last Avatar disappeared, and in that time the Fire Nation, led by the bellicose and (not so much) father of the year candidate Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) have been terrorizing its neighbors. The Fire Nation, whose soldiers have the ability to bend fire – that is, control fire through, for lack of a better word, kung fu – have razed the land with their “machines”, a source of much derision among the other Nations. In the naturalistic, fantasy world of “The Last Airbender”, everyone lives in harmony with nature, so the Fire Nation’s clunky war machines are seen as instruments of brute, ugly violence and insults against the nature that everyone cherishes so much. It’s all very obvious and “sledgehammer to the face”, yet something else the film’s script has in common with Cameron’s film.

Into this world arrives young Aang, who is found frozen in ice by siblings Katara (Nicola Peltz, also our narrator) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), members of the over-powered and subjugated Southern Water Tribe. Aang doesn’t know it yet, but he soon discovers that he’s been frozen in ice for the last 100 years, and his presence has alerted young Fire Prince Zuko (Dev Patel, “Slumdog Millionaire”), who has been scouring the land all these years in search of the Avatar in order to find redemption and somehow get back into the good graces of dear old dad. Zuko is assisted by his kindly uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub), but is resisted by douchey Fire Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi), who spends the entire movie being evil and, well, more evil. If it isn’t obvious by now, subtlety is not exactly the strong point of “The Last Airbender”, and I’m afraid that’s just one of many issues the film can’t conquer.

It’s not so much that “The Last Airbender” is a bad movie, it’s just that … well, it just kind of exists for the sake of existing. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I had a hard time trying to decide if the film is bad, or if it is just mediocre. One thing I can safely say with 100% certainty is that the film is never outstanding. Not once in the entire two hours. It’s as if M. Night Shyamalan spent so much time with the little things – getting all the details of the water city stronghold just right, the nooks and crannies of the Fire Nation ships, the colorful outfits of the various tribes — that he forgot to make the film good. Oh sure, the sets are huge and the CGI is always outstanding, and all the “bending” effects are seamlessly integrated into the scenes with the live characters, but … well, what else is there? Not much, I’m afraid.

I’m reminded of George Lucas’s “Star Wars” prequels. All three films were marvels of CG technology, and you absolutely knew, without a doubt, that Lucas wrote those films specifically so he could show off the newfangled technology he had come up with since “Return of the Jedi”, and not necessarily to tell a coherent, interesting, or even believable story. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not demanding that “Star Wars” be believable. Likewise, I don’t care if “The Last Airbender’s” world is believable. There are guys using kung fu to throw fire, water, and dirt at each other? That sounds cool, I can dig it. Unfortunately, watching “The Last Airbender” I couldn’t shake the notion that this is what Shyamalan’s career should have started out with before he eventually matured into the man who gave us “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable”. In fact, he seems to be regressing as an effective storyteller, which is something he should be very worried about.

“The Last Airbender” is led by young Noah Ringer, a novice actor who was doing martial arts showcases in tournaments one day and fronting a big-budget Summer Event studio film the next. It’s one hell of an impossible situation for the kid (what was he supposed to do, turn it down?), and the young man gives it his all, but he’s no Dakota Fanning or Haley Joel Osment. Then again, I’m sure those two couldn’t throw down like Ringer, so that’s one thing he has over them. This is actually one of the few areas in the film where Shyamalan does well – he smartly keeps Ringer from having to shoulder the entire film, and has surrounded him with a large cast to share the workload. Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone have almost as much screentime as Ringer, and half of the film is devoted to the life and times of Dev Patel’s Zuko. It’s curious, but the film feels like two different movies – the tortured, adult story of Zuko’s quest, and the whimsical adventures of Aang, Katara, and Sokka.

“The Last Airbender” is not a terrible film, but it is a film that makes you wish Shyamalan had done more with the opportunity (not to mention the budget he had been given). And while it would have pissed off the diehard fans, it might have been wiser to cast an older Aang and made the film more than just a series of bloodless, mostly consequence-free CG combat. Despite the film’s talk of war and conquest, it’s never more than child’s play (the movie is rated PG), which seems justifiable given the film’s original source material. The big leap in faith here is that Shyamalan expects to be able to make parts two and three, and has given us a film that is only one-third of the whole story. The problem is that it feels very much like an incomplete movie, which might not have been such a bad thing if audiences are only asked to pay one-third of the ticket price to see it. Alas, that is not the case.

M. Night Shyamalan (director) / M. Night Shyamalan (screenplay)
CAST: 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


Buy The Last Airbender on DVD



About Nix

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Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.

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  • HipHop Mama

    I am a 33 yr old black woman with 2 kids(10 &11) who fell in love with the entire Nickelodeon cartoon series, so when my kids and I found out that MKS was making it into a movie, I became like one of those geeky trekkie fans. Just excited, more than most of my peers. BUT to my dismay, this movie sucked with a capitol SUCKED! Now going into this I knew that a few unnoticed changes would be made and a number of episodes had to be condensed into movie form, but dude….really?! I'm very disappointed and I want back my $45 I spent for my family to watch it. My 10yr old daughter said, and these are her words, “It was rushed”. It was too serious, Sokka's corky humor was not there, Momo's dramatic entrance was watered down and not only were lots of changes made but they were confusing. Am I going to buy the DVD….NO! Am I going to pay money to see Earth: Book 2….NO! Again, disappointed and out of $45 bucks(not including concession!).

    • Wrestlerpogo

      All I have to say is that M. Night needs to go back to film school…BAD, and the next movie should be both made and directed by a FAN. That means a geeky nerd who loves the show and isnt afraid to show it not a stuck up, errogant movie director.

    • me

      I think it is because you are such a fan of the cartoon that you are disappointed with the movie. I watched the movie first got interested in the cartoon then bought the cartoon complete collection (books 1-3). It’s really not easy to condense 20 30 minute episodes into a 1 hr 45 minute movie. Shyamalan did an excellent job I feel. I also don’t understand why the critics are going on about Shyamalan’s writing. He’s working with somebody else’s stories.

    • not-a-monk

      I am not associated with Paramount nor Shyamalan. I am of Chinese Asiatic descent. I watched both the movie and the cartoon series. In the cartoon series, Aang is an irresponsible little boy that won’t study and practice before a coming battle or approaching doom’s day. Through out all three seasons, he sits on his butt in front of his teacher, don’t pay attention. He pay attention to beach surfing and fish surfing while doom and death are coming. He relies on his “Genetic Superiority” to win the day at the end. Only, at the last minute he seems to worry. I am sure I do not want the kids in my family to take the original Aang in the cartoon as a role model.
      In the last season of the cartoon series, the end Aang (an 11-13 year old boy that looks like a Buddhist Monk) was in a major lip lock with Katara (a 13-15 year old girl). Obviously a lot of you don’t seem to see what is wrong with that. However, to a Buddhist follower, that scene is just wrong in so many ways… I am glad that Shyamalan clean out a lot of the original errors and faults in the original series so that the story does not offend people in from other religions as the original series had. I also like that an Indian director is selecting the roles of the villains for his fellow Indian actors and actresses. Someone had to play the bad guys. Good for them… I support the movie and not the original cartoon series.

    • not-a-monk

      I am not associated with Paramount nor Shyamalan. I am of Chinese Asiatic descent. I watched both the movie and the cartoon series. In the cartoon series, Aang is an irresponsible little boy that won’t study and practice before a coming battle or approaching doom’s day. Through out all three seasons, he sits on his butt in front of his teacher, don’t pay attention. He pay attention to beach surfing and fish surfing while doom and death are coming. He relies on his “Genetic Superiority” to win the day at the end. Only, at the last minute he seems to worry. I am sure I do not want the kids in my family to take the original Aang in the cartoon as a role model.
      In the last season of the cartoon series, the end Aang (an 11-13 year old boy that looks like a Buddhist Monk) was in a major lip lock with Katara (a 13-15 year old girl). Obviously a lot of you don’t seem to see what is wrong with that. However, to a Buddhist follower, that scene is just wrong in so many ways… I am glad that Shyamalan clean out a lot of the original errors and faults in the original series so that the story does not offend people in from other religions as the original series had. I also like that an Indian director is selecting the roles of the villains for his fellow Indian actors and actresses. Someone had to play the bad guys. Good for them… I support the movie and not the original cartoon series.

  • Seira5chan

    Huh i don't get what the big fuss is about i liked this movie, it was good and wroth my money, only thing i didn't like was 3D lol. I want to see all the movies of it. Sure it was a little rushed but not to a bad extent it's too be expected with movies on a long show. The movie wasn't the greatest OMG lets see it 5 times but it was decent, my only complaint about the movie itself was some of the actors didn't look right and i couldn't tell the difference between, The fire lord guy, his son and the general at times. But i got the hang of it later on.

    Note to everyone: Do not expect a movie to be exactly like the show if based on it, Do not get into the show just because the movie is coming out you will be disappointed. I had that problem with Spiderman 3 lol i shouldn't have watched the cartoon first.

    I have seen the Avatar show but not all of it, just what ever episode was on when i turned on the tv.
    Overall this was not a bad movie in my experience.

    • Docterknocker Lafanda

      Dude, are you an idiot? Even if it did murder the original show, the acting just sucked. Period.
      God, people are idiots . . .

      • Nate

        …..you’re calling seira5chan an idiot for enjoying a movie……are you serious. in addition to the fact that his comment is very valid, off course character development is going to seem rushed, its a tv series packed into an hour forty movie, but overall can be looked at as an enjoyable movie. and i think you meant to say: even if it DIDNT murder the original show, the acting just sucked, before proceeding in calling people idiots. your comment makes you look like an arrogant teen who doesn’t use his brain. congrats

    • tucker stepp is a faggot

      it’s just like reading a book if you want to see the movie don’t read the book. in conclusion that is why i hate books. and because i don’t like to read. also i hate how they changed the names of iroh, sokka and anng.

    • The_artsy_alive

      Er…. I’m going to go with majority rule on this one….this movie sucked. And Spiderman 3 wasn’t based off a cartoon… It was based off a comic…

      And they’re remaking the Spiderman franchise now since it strayed away from it’s roots… So… Maybe sticking to the roots of Avatar would be a great idea.

      Props to you for stating your opinion but no. That is not how it is.

    • Jenny609

      are you kidding me???!!! this movie sucked……i mean i prefer watching the show than to watch the movie. It was a waste of my time and money…. especially how m.night changed the whole view of the show wasn’t cool…he should’ ve left it was it was seen on the show

  • AvidMovieGoer

    M.K.S,

    You should be ashamed of this bullcrap. You single-handedly ruined this franchise. The material was already there for you from the TV show. There was plenty of material to explore. I can't believe you were egotistical enough to take on the writing, producing, and directing of this film. My one true hope at this point, is that you won't ever get your hands on this material again and the studio salvages this story with a new writing team, producers, and direction. I have never seen folks actually boo and violent coming out of a movie like I saw today after watching this travesty.

    • Echodazzle

      I agree with you. Some one save this great story line, M.Night Shyamalan ruined this movie for me. I was so mad and annoyed by the direction of this film went. Who in the right mind thinks he is God, that he can direct, do the script and also changed the way how the story goes. He had plenty of materials from the original writers who came up with the story in the first place…

  • Hgafh

    I love avatar the cartoon and when me and my friends found out about the movie we were thrilled. We waited over three hours for the premiere only to be completely disappointed. Now beforehand me and my friends talked about what would be taken out or rushed but never expected this. This movie really was a bad rushed summary. The group never meet any of the other non-main characters or go through any character-building adventures. I don't know what the director was thinking when choosing the cast because it was all wrong as were the characters themselves; the personalities of the characters were nothing like the ones from the cartoon. For an avatar fan I believe it would have been better if this film was never created so that in the future another director could have a shot at least. Now I did ask a friend who hasn't seen the show and she said that she believed the film was rushed and at the most mediocre.

  • http://twitter.com/tQ2123 Travis Queypo

    Oh my gosh! I agree with you! I just went to go see it with my husband cuz I'm such a huge fan of the cartoon series (I even bought the complete DVD set)… and I've watched every single episode at least twice (yes I know, I'm a dorky fan). But I had so much hope for the movie, I've been waiting to see it for 2 months! I've never been so excited to see a movie! But all that excitement went into the trash after seeing it… everything was rushed! If we weren't fans of the series, we would have no idea what was going on… and what's with all the weird moments, I mean the irrelevant scenes, like when Katara introduced herself to Zuko before their fight in the Sacred Oasis at the Northern Water Tribe… Seriously? “I am Katara.. the last waterbender of the Southern Tribe….????” that is NOT something you would say to someone you are about to fight, at least at that scene, it just made it awkward. Oy… Such a BIG DISAPPOINTMENT FOR ME, I will definitely not be collecting these movies… I'll stick with watching the cartoon series, at least theres a cuter APPA in it, as well as a better looking Zuko…

    • Docterknocker Lafanda

      I’m not exactly one to go nuts over any show, but the Avatar cartoons were something else. While the writers were chained down by their supposed ‘younger audience’ (as the cartoon was produced by nickelodeon) forcing them to present a carful, no death, no pain, no injury play-out (which they attempted to stretch on occasion-subtly) the storyline itself was fantastic and original. The characters and dialogue, while sometimes childish, but maturing toward the end of the show, still put forward a strong feel of a deep character, for an carful observer to scape up from the cartoon. Even the world’s backdrop and civilizations offered a large scope for imagination and exploration. The movie had such potential. They had to chance to by-pass the cartoons childless and present instead the true essence of the story and characters. Sadly, they missed this chance. The move was not only repulsive to the show’s fans, but also to those who had never even heard of ‘Avatar’. Even as the effects light up the screen, the characters fade into stiff, wooden backdrops, with dialogue that is even worse than that of the cartoons. The storyline itself? Lets just say it was like watching an patchy, rushed camera scroll of something butchered with a rusty chainsaw, put through a blender, tossed off a cliff, molested in a thousand different ways and than tossed off a second cliff. Disastrous.

    • Jack Hobbs

      I have to say you could tell ny the first 2 sentences that it was going to crash and burn: My brother isnt a very good hunter (Tiger seal!) and my mom is dead and my dad is in the war. I went to see the movie with my friend (we are huge fans!) and we hated the movie but got akick out of how it was so bad it wass funny. My favvorite part is where the waterbender guy goes OOoooooOoooooooo and all the water benders bang thier spears. I also thought the actors stunk. Aang looked about 7 and Katara was supposed to be 12-13 but she looked about 16.. The only good actor was Saka… And did you notice all the actors were segregated: Earth was chinese, water was scandinavian, fire was indian, and air was tibetan.

    • Tak

      The movie is fantastic. Well paced and covers the major events in the tele series very well. Unfortunate that the movie’s greatest fans happen to be tweens who just cannot accept change in their vision of the characters.
      The main actors all played their part very well.

      Special effects were very thrilling and well developed.
      Can’t wait for the sequel.

  • Coeroo

    Is this your honest opinion? I can over look horrible casting, and i can even over look the onscreen play they called acting, but the fact that M. Night went as far as to change the rules of the universe was something i cant forgive. fire benders DO NOT need a preexisting source of fire to bend, making that a rule in the movie was a horrible mistake and completely disrespected the original makers of the show.

    • Nadie_dw08

      no they should not have a source of fire!! like in the third book we find out Zuko’s source of fire came from his drive to capture the Avatar, Aang and when he joined their group his fire went away so Aang and Zuko went to find the original source of fire!! so no it does not make any sense to have some sort of other existing source of fire when they already have the fire within in them… sorta speak. If Shymalan would have done a little more homework he would know this!!

      • The_artsy_alive

        OOOOOOOOOOHH!!! Nadie makes alot of sense. I take back my compromise.

        • Munch921

          in the movie firebender could still create fire, remeber when Iroh scared Zhao off when he stabbed the fish, yeah there was fire bursting from his hands. So I guess it was a mix of “of course they can CREATE fire, but they can also TAKE it”. I mean why not it’s sitting right there…

          • Lalipineli

            The director said only powerful firebenders can make fire. D:

        • Nadie

          thank you! but seriously M. Night does not do anything right by this movie by changing so many aspects of the show he has completely messed up the flow of this movie and the excellence of the show. the creators put so much hard work, heart, and genius into this serious and shymalan just destroyed it with his ignorance and selfishness!! he wanted everything to be his way and did not consider the fans what so ever! I can’t believe how truly disrespectful this man has been to the creators of the show, those who worked on it, and it’s fans

        • Nadie

          thank you! but seriously M. Night does not do anything right by this movie by changing so many aspects of the show he has completely messed up the flow of this movie and the excellence of the show. the creators put so much hard work, heart, and genius into this serious and shymalan just destroyed it with his ignorance and selfishness!! he wanted everything to be his way and did not consider the fans what so ever! I can’t believe how truly disrespectful this man has been to the creators of the show, those who worked on it, and it’s fans

        • Nadie

          thank you! but seriously M. Night does not do anything right by this movie by changing so many aspects of the show he has completely messed up the flow of this movie and the excellence of the show. the creators put so much hard work, heart, and genius into this serious and shymalan just destroyed it with his ignorance and selfishness!! he wanted everything to be his way and did not consider the fans what so ever! I can’t believe how truly disrespectful this man has been to the creators of the show, those who worked on it, and it’s fans

        • Nadie

          thank you! but seriously M. Night does not do anything right by this movie by changing so many aspects of the show he has completely messed up the flow of this movie and the excellence of the show. the creators put so much hard work, heart, and genius into this serious and shymalan just destroyed it with his ignorance and selfishness!! he wanted everything to be his way and did not consider the fans what so ever! I can’t believe how truly disrespectful this man has been to the creators of the show, those who worked on it, and it’s fans

    • Soundproofbucket

      they have a preexisting source, the sun… but you are right they never needed to be by a fire before.

    • Soundproofbucket

      they have a preexisting source, the sun… but you are right they never needed to be by a fire before.

    • Soundproofbucket

      they have a preexisting source, the sun… but you are right they never needed to be by a fire before.

    • Soundproofbucket

      they have a preexisting source, the sun… but you are right they never needed to be by a fire before.

  • thestrongestthereis

    I am going to see this tomorrow, and can't really say much on it right now, but it sounds like to me that people went into the theater expecting a 30 hour movie made of up little episodes like the series. Its a film, not a TV show, things have to be cut. I guess i'll understand when I see it tomorrow. Just sounds like people whining so far though, most of whom admit to becoming crazed fanboys and girls of the series. I'll wait and see what Dedpool has to say. I have to admit that I'm a little worried. Nix and I are usually on the same page with most things.

    • Nadie_dw08

      so now that you’ve seen it what do you think?? horrible right?

  • Edenblackle

    I think your right. That is a huge change but i think it sort of makes alittle sense. I only say that because this rule applies to all the other bending and elements like water and earth. What i cant forgive is the changes in motivation of each character. Sokka is completely different and so is Aang. Aang was never driven by revenge like suggested in the movie and the previous Avatars tell Aang to kill in the show and it is Aangs is the one that refuses. The dragon also never talks in the show, and appa and momo have no more than 40 seconds of screen time… So so bad!

    • The_artsy_alive

      Well the fact that fire benders can make fire at will explains why everyone’s having such a hard time beating them in war. But yeah i can understand that change.

  • Juvenilegirl06

    WOW it was a major disappointment, I love cartoons and im a major fan of the show. I first found out about this movie over a year and 1/2 ago and was so excited, it gave me chills. I literally counted down the days for this movie. The acting was horrible on the new actors but that is to be expected. The movie did not and i say this again DID NOT transition well to the next scene. It was to choppy and the script was horrible. If they do plan on making book 2 then i hope they fire the director and get Michael Bay to do it. Dont get me wrong the details and effects are real nice but it was just a bad script all around. My husband was dozing off and my face was blank threw-out the entire movie. By the way, you will see more 3D in the previews than the actual movie itself.

  • Tushka

    checked out The Last Airbender, tonight. This was so bad that it hurts.

    • Kainoareloza

      it was like a swift kick to the balls to me. im a die hard fan.
      i almost know every thing