The Last Airbender Review
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For more than a decade, director M. Night Shyamalan has been trying to recapture the success of his breakout hit, The Sixth Sense. Yet, no matter how much moviegoers would love to see him produce another masterpiece, each new release seems to be less coherent and more self-important. Still, audiences keep coming back for more, convinced that Night’s just been stuck in a rut. This is it, we keep telling ourselves, This one will be his triumphant return. But, instead of another Sixth Sense, we get a Lady in the Water. And I’m afraid that The Last Airbender is just more of the same.

The Last Airbender is the first in a possible series of three films—each based on a season of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender series.

  
 
The story begins when, while hunting with her older brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), Katara (Nicola Peltz) discovers a huge sphere of ice with a boy frozen inside. When she and Sokka rescue the boy—who introduces himself as Aang (Noah Ringer)—they attract the attention of the Fire Nation’s banished Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), who captures Aang and takes him aboard his ship.

With the help of his uncle, Iroh (Shaun Toub), Zuko discovers that Aang is the Avatar—a spiritual leader who can bring peace to the four war-torn nations. The Avatar has been missing for a century—and he’s the key to Zuko’s return to the throne of the powerful Fire Nation. So when Katara and Sokka help Aang escape, Zuko sets out to recapture him.

Unfortunately, Aang ran away from home before he could finish his Avatar training—and he isn’t yet powerful enough to stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the other three nations (Water, Air, and Earth). So he sets out on a journey to complete his training.

The story is so complex that it’s difficult to explain in just a few words—and that’s one of the film’s greatest faults. The Last Airbender is more of a brainbender—one that apparently requires (at the very least) a couple of magical old scrolls, a sinister villain, and a very smart child to explain what’s going on.

Instead of simplifying the series into a manageable story, Shyamalan tries to squeeze an entire 20-episode season into one feature-length film—and, as a result, he ends up spending the majority of the movie trying to explain every last detail of the plot (and each character’s history) in long, rambling expository monologues. Excessive exposition is bad enough in a movie for adults. But, in a kids’ movie, it’s a death sentence—because even if the younger viewers can keep up with the detailed explanations, they’ll be so bored that they’ll eventually stop trying.

Worst of all, though, there’s just no joy in The Last Airbender—no childlike wonder or imagination. A kids’ film about magical children who can control the elements should be fun and fanciful—and, if nothing else, it should at least be visually interesting. Instead, it’s heavy and serious, with long, stilted speeches. The acting is so bad that it’s uncomfortable to watch, the dialogue so poorly written that it’s often laughable. And even the effects are dull and dingy. Simply put, it’s boring, and it’s ugly—and it’s sure to be a huge disappointment for fans of both Shyamalan and the Nickelodeon series.

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