The Last Airbender was a monument to disappointment. It’s as if the makers of this film wanted to give all children an abject lesson in “How your childhood dies.”
Names are mispronounced. Names like Aang, Sokka, Iroh, Zhou, and Ozai. (And it’s not like the correct pronunciations were lost in translation or anything!) Words are mispronounced. Words like, “Avatar.” The relationships between all the characters have been stripped of affection. As I feared, all the humor was sucked out of the story in favor of grim solemnity and Captain Obvious disease. You know the illness I mean; when a script has spiraled so thoroughly out of control that you have people standing around a room talking about the furniture and the wallpaper in it. Which, you know, we can see, because we’re watching a film.
Aang: I need to go to the Northern Air Temple!
Katara: Aang, we need to go.
Was she not listening? Did she hit her head? Another smack-worthy instance:
Aang: I need to meditate. I need to be totally silent. ::assumes pose, closes eyes::
Katara: Aang? AANG! Are you there, Aang? I believe in you, Aang! Aang Aang Aang! (Mispronouncing it the whole way, for the record.)
Not even special effects could save this movie. The cinematography was so claustrophobic, I spent the whole movie becoming uncomfortably aware of nostrils and what they do during conversation. Nicola Peltz’s acting was abysmal. In the series, Katara is a role model, strong, kind, capable, and at the same time, she possesses a great capacity for human weakness. Katara in the movie doesn’t stop sniveling long enough to fix her hair, which was both lank and frizzy to the point of distraction. And don’t give me any, “in reality, her hair wouldn’t stay perfect!” nonsense. In this movie, she was the only person in the Four Kingdoms who lacked a comb, a brush, and some mousse. Sokka had better hair than she did. Come on.
Jackson Rathbone, an inmate of the movie I saw yesterday, was a bright spot. His scenes with Seychelle Gabriel were confusing and scary, because they were acted with feeling, and had a spark of humanity. Even the horrid dialogue didn’t seem so bad, because the actors made it sound natural and understated, like two reasonably mature and infatuated teenagers would behave. This, children, is what we call, “act-ing.” It’s like playing pretend, only with cameras and lights and things!
Dev Patel’s performance left something to be desired, but I attribute that to an absolute lack of depth on the part of the script. The film makers seemed to miss the point of his character. Zuko is the only one of the “young” characters who interacts with, and relies on adults almost exclusively. He is a teenager with adult responsibilities and ambitions, but those same responsibilities and ambitions are rooted in a childlike place, as he desperately wants to be accepted and loved by his family. Dev Patel’s Zuko did not fully embody that, but he did the best he could. (Upon further reflection, I think Jackson Rathbone made out as well as he did because the script ignored him most of the time, and thus he escaped the movie’s desire to flatten every character into cardboard.) It seems like every actor was handed one emotion, and told to be that emotion with everything they did. That’s a cute exercise for young children in an after-school acting class, but in a movie with this budget? The director should have done something other than hand out index cards with, “angry,” “whiny,” and, “conflicted” written on them.
The movie looks beautiful. The scenery was luscious, the props and costumes breathtaking in their complexity and attention to detail; the various scrolls and maps were my favorites. Anything lifted straight from the cartoons was wonderful. Appa and Momo wandered in and out of several shots, a constant source of delight for those of us who came to the movie wanting to see a cartoon we loved made flesh and bone. But, alas, that was not enough to save it.
The bending was surprisingly unwieldy. Too much physical activity was needed to make the simplest motions. In the series, it looked as though they were truly becoming one with the elements. In the movie, it looks like they’re playing DDR: Elemental Edition. The motions of the benders don’t seem related to what they want their element to do until the last possible second. It’s like a pitcher who winds up for five minutes to throw a ball ten feet.
The few things this movie does right only serve to make the lorryload they got wrong more pathetic. The hand-to-hand combat is so well choreographed that bending looks boring and unnecessary. Who would spend all that time learning to bend, when you could handle swords like Zuko does? The costumes and scenery are beautiful, only serving to emphasize how uncomfortable the actors look within them. The major plot points of the Water Book are all there, but the script is so awful that nothing makes sense.
Things the movie was clearly afraid of: fast motion, series in-jokes, conversations, smooth transitions, and smiling.
Things the movie did well: Appa and Momo. Though that was probably Industrial Light and Magic’s doing. I’m sure the film makers would have screwed them up if they could.
In sum, this movie is so bad it’s physically exhausting. I must take to my bed and read some space opera now.