The Last Airbender (2010)
Main cast: Noah Ringer (Aang), Dav Patel (Prince Zuko), Nicola Peltz (Katara), Jason Rathbone (Sokka), Shaun Toub (Uncle Iroh), Aasif Mandvi (COmmander Zhao), Cliff Curtis (Fire Lord Ozai), Seychelle Gabriel (Princess Yue), and Damon Gupton (Monk Gyatso)
Director: M Night Shyamalan

The Last Airbender is a visual feast on the eyes. But fans of the animated TV series that this movie is supposedly based on have better try to assume that this movie is a completely separate entity from the TV series, or else it is nearly impossible to enjoy it - the movie has even the pronunciations of the characters' names all wrong. That is, if those fans were even going to watch this movie, heh, due to the "racebending" performed by M Night Shyamalan that mutated the Asian characters in the TV series into lily-white characters for the big screen.

Anyway, this movie is set in a time and place when people can master one of the four elements - fire, earth, water, and air. Those who can master these elements are called "benders". An Avatar is someone who can master all four elements - he acts as a "balance" that unites all four tribes of people, and the Avatar is reincarnated every generation... until one day a few hundred years ago when he vanished. The Fire tribe since then moved quickly. Because the Avatar comes only from the Air tribe, the Fire tribe cheerfully massacres all Airbenders from existence. Earthbenders and Waterbenders are shuffled off to concentration camps, and in the case of the Water tribe, their Waterbenders are eventually eradicated from existence. Once the Water tribe of a powerful ice fortress in the North stands strong against the Fire tribe when the story begins.

Actually, there is a Waterbender left - Katara, a young girl who hides her abilities from the Fire tribe soldiers that constantly come to harass her village. She and her brother Sokka accidentally discover and subsequently release a boy and his all-purpose pet, both trapped in ice, during a hunting trip. This boy, Aang, turns out to be an Airbender, and even better, he's determined to be the Avatar of his generation. Aang, however, got momentarily angry over the fact that he can't have a family (or, I suspect, boink all he wants) as all Avatars must live a solitary life focused on their duties, and fled the Temple back then, and eventually being caught in a storm that ended with his state of frozen stasis in ice. That explains why the Avatar vanished - millions of people died because a silly kid decided to run away from his Temple one day, heh.

So, with Aang around, the Fire tribe naturally isn't happy. Unfortunately for Aang, he had only mastered airbending when he fled his Temple, so he currently lacks the abilities to bend the other three elements. In this movie, which compresses the entire first season of the TV series into two hours or so, he, Katara, and Sokka decide to seek out the Water tribe in the North to teach him how to waterbend. Prince Zuko, an exiled prince of the Fire Lord Ozai, is determined to capture and hand over Aang to his father in order to restore his honor. He acts independently of the rest of the Fire tribe armies who are determined to eradicate Aang for good.

M Night Shaymalan gets credited for the script, so I guess we can blame him for some annoying deviations from the TV series that annoy me, such as the dumbing down of Katara, whose waterbending abilities are far superior to Aang's at this stage in the TV series, into some visceral but mostly useless female character while Aang's waterbending abilities is ramped up to ridiculous levels by the end of the movie. Sokka is here for comedic effect, but the actor feels more at home being Jasper Cullen as he is given some unfunny lines to work with here. The most poignant part of the movie, the sacrifice of Princess Yue, fails to work because not only is the character given ten minutes of screen time with no buildup to her role in this movie, she is played by someone who seems to have walked in from a Hannah Montana show. Not to mention, Sokka seems to have forgotten her by the end of the movie because he's too busy basking in the glory of being a friend of Aang the superhero. The script feels rushed and unsatisfying. I don't mind that Mr Shyamalan skipped many crucial scenes in the TV series because he was compressing an entire season of TV shows into two hours of screen time. But there is no reason for the script then to feel so clunky and incomplete, is there? It also doesn't help that some of the most visually impressive scenes in the movie are inserted for no reason other than because they are visually impressive.

While I can't blame the actors involved in this movie for wanting a paycheck, I suppose I can also blame Mr Shyamalan, who also hogs the director and producer titles, for the racebending in this movie. I didn't pay a cent to watch this movie, by the way, I never intended to watch it until I was given free passes. I tried to watch with an open mind, given that the man had pointed out the racial diversity of the cast. But is it really racial diversity when the main cast is mostly lily-white? The Indians and the Chinese or Japanese are cast as either villains or secondary characters in roles so small you will miss them if you blink. The whole nod to racial diversity feels patronizing in this movie. Not to mention, Jesse McCartney was originally cast to play Prince Zuko. Does this mean that if he managed to play that character, his character's father would also be retconned into a white guy? Or would Mr McCartney blacken his face? Bless Mr McCartney for opting to continue his downward spiral into obscurity and freeing at least two acting slots for mere Indian actors!

And all that racebending is for... what? The kids in this movie are pretty wooden and forgettable. As a substitute for Jesse McCartney, Dev Patel overacts and fumes in an over the top manner, but still, I can only imagine that he's a better option than that annoying talentless turd.

The Last Airbender is worth a watch if you can overlook the racebending, because this is a pleasant flick that you can enjoy without thinking too much. You won't miss much if you have to take the kids to the toilet because this movie isn't that deep. Watch this for the visual CGI, in other words, and try not to think too much about everything else. The TV series is much better in my opinion, but this movie is a decent introduction to kindle interest in that TV series, which could possibly be a good thing despite all that racebending nonsense in this movie.

By the way, this movie ends in a manner that makes way for a sequel. That is understandable, but people unfamiliar with the TV series may be caught unprepared by the fact that this movie doesn't have a true ending.

Rating: 72

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