After a string of disappointing movies, The Last Airbender must surely be the final nail in the coffin for M Night Shyamalan (The Happening, Lady In The Water). It’s a movie which is awful on every level; in acting, effects, plot, script and dialogue, this is one of the great disappointments of 2010.
It’s set in an agrarian world where certain people called “benders” (stop laughing at the back) can manipulate the elements of Earth, Air, Wind and Fire. The aggressive Fire Nation have started exterminating the other tribes, completely eradicating the Air Nation and subjugating the others. Teenage siblings Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz) from the Water Nation stumble across a child (Noah Ringer) encased in ice. After freeing him and realising he can manipulate air, they believe he is the Avatar, the one person who has the ability to command all the elements and bring peace to the world: a bit like a pint-sized Captain Planet.
For all the TV advertisement hoo-hah about The Last Airbender being in glorious 3D, the special effects are lacklustre at best. The opening scene where Katara manipulates a ball of water is entirely unconvincing; the Firebenders’ flames seem insubstantial and not even hot and the overall effect is a muddying of the colour palette which wouldn’t impress a six year old.
Paying the extra for 3D would be adding insult to injury, a final slap in the face after Shyamalan has widdled on your popcorn.
Special effects aside, the fight scenes are so badly directed that they’re robbed of any kind of excitement or fun – Shyamalan manages to make a punch-up between 20 monks that can throw fireballs and impale people with icicles into a mundane and tiresome slog.
The dialogue can barely be called that. Characters speak to each other but you never feel like they’re actually having conversations: words are only used to describe what they’re doing – like Star Trek characters announcing their every action. It’s the worst example of tell not show – characters barefacedly stating plot exposition so often that it’s frequently hilarious.
The acting is as bad you can possibly get – so stilted and jerky that you start to wonder if it’s some sort of joke. You couldn’t get much more wooden without becoming part of the scenery. Hayden Christiansen had better watch out because here’s a new crop of actors which are as mind bogglingly bad as he is.
The only source of entertainment is the unintentional and puerile amusement at the word “bender”, which is occasionally delivered without an elemental prefix and leads to hilarious utterances like, “The Fire Nation wants to suppress all bending.” Childish yes, but in a movie otherwise barren of enjoyment, you take it where you find it.
There little to recommend about The Last Airbender, a punishing and frustrating film adaptation of some good source material.
Earth, Wind, Water and Fire it may have but there’s definitely no Heart.