Perhaps I'm grasping at straws here, or perhaps I'm in serious denial, but... it wasn't a complete rape of one of my favorite shows. The Last Airbender follows Book 1 (season 1) of the show. In this world, there are people who can control the four elements--air, water, earth, and fire--known as benders. There is only one who can control all four elements, and this person is the link between the human world and the spirit world. This person is known as the Avatar. 100 years ago, the Avatar disappeared and the Fire Nation began a war on the rest of the world, slowly taking it over. But a young Waterbender named Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her warrior brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) discover the Avatar, an Airbender named Aang (Noah Ringer), frozen in the outskirts of their Water Tribe village. Eventually, they discover that they must travel to the Northern Water Tribe so that Aang may master Waterbending before moving on to Earth and then Fire, as he must defeat the Fire Nation and restore balance. However, along the way, he is pursued by the banished Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) and his Uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub), as well as Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi). Zuko must capture the Avatar if he is to regain his honor, but Zhao will not have any of this, and vows to find the Avatar first.

On paper, they pretty much got the basic plot of the first season down. There are only a couple changes here and there (strangely almost entirely dealing with the Fire Nation, such as how they control fire, Sozin's Comet, and even Avatar Roku). But what they missed in this adaptation was the show's heart. The characters aren't very endearing, nor do you care a whole lot about them. For instance, Uncle Iroh stays pretty true to his cartoon counterpart... except for his whimsicality. In fact, the entire movie was missing the whimsy of the show. And I think that was one of its biggest flaws. There was hardly any comedy. Everything was taken seriously to an absurd amount. Aang wasn't particularly carefree, nor did he hardly smile. Sokka was used to comedic effect maybe twice in the whole movie, and only mostly thanks to Katara--who herself was turned into a bit of a worrisome girl. They could have even given some good stuff to Appa or Momo, but Momo is mostly in the background with nothing to do except offer fan service (you only hear his name once in the whole movie, and it's like a 'blink and you miss it' kinda thing... except for ears). Appa has one attempt at comedy with Sokka near the very beginning, but even then it was so painfully contrived that it wasn't funny whatsoever.

I think part of this has to do with a mixture of things. First, there's the dark and brooding music that plays throughout the movie. Like the aforementioned Appa/Sokka moment, the serious music takes away from the moment, leaving you unsure whether or not you should be laughing. The other issue is that, besides Zuko and Iroh, there are no simple character moments. Everything is BAM plot point BAM plot point BAM plot point. Granted, I'm aware they had to shorten an entire season into one movie, but they put in some pretty unnecessary things. The rescuing of the Earth Kingdom villages? While fun, I suppose, it wasn't necessary, and took up a decent chunk of time that could have been used for character-building. At the very least, they could have tossed in Suki, who was supposed to be in the movie, but was apparently cut. M. Night really chose some strange episodes to keep in that really took away from what could have otherwise been useful time for other things.

I also wanted to briefly bring up the controversy that has been dubbed "RaceBending." This is based on the issue that M. Night nearly white-washed the entire cast. After a while, I just didn't care anymore. I figure that if the actors could pull off the roles, it'd be OK. Whatever. I was just tired of hearing about it. But here's the problem... they didn't pull off the roles. Granted, I'm not exactly sure how much of that is the actors' faults and how much of it is the script and M. Night's faults. There was some pretty rough dialogue, mostly consisting of moments of pure exposition, which happened incredibly often. There were times when I could actually see M. Night going "OK, what's a creative way I could toss in some exposition without it seeming like exposition? Oh, I've got it! I'll just have Zuko ask this random boy about the Prince... that way I can get out Zuko's backstory in a creative way." Except it was already done in a creative way... on the show... in an amazing episode called "The Storm"... which gave all the necessary backstory to both Aang and Zuko without having to spread it out strangely throughout the rest of the movie.

But the movie wasn't all bad. As I said at the beginning, it didn't completely rape one of my favorite shows. There were some stunning visual effects (like, totally Oscar-worthy here... which isn't surprising considering that the main guy involved has won many times before, if I'm not mistaken). And the action scenes are really good. They actually captured the bending stuff really well. But even some of the non-bending action is good, too, like the Blue Spirit scene, which was probably one of the better moments of the movie. Between the visuals of the bending and the action scenes, there were some pretty stunning shots. And there were even a few more gorgeous shots during non-bending/action scenes. Some of the set pieces (like the Northern Water Tribe) are amazing. Also, Dev Patel and Shaun Toub were pretty good as Zuko and Iroh, respectively... at least for what they were given. And it was no shock to hear that they were M. Night's favorite characters, considering they were given the best treatment in this movie.

Overall, I tried to be as fair as possible in this review, looking at aspects of it as an adaptation and as a movie for people who are not familiar with the source material. As an adaptation, it failed pretty bad. It kept moderately faithful plot-wise, but missed the heart and soul of the source, becoming too serious and lackluster... almost feeling as if it lost its purpose... like it was just going through the motions. As a film for those unfamiliar with the source, it's... well... lackluster, like it has no purpose and was just going through the motions. Sure the visuals and the action are pretty good, but you still need compelling characters for an epic adventure like this... and Zuko is only gonna take you so far. So in other words, as a non-adaptation, it was moderately entertaining, though horribly forgettable. In other words, the very definition of "painfully average." So if I were to mix my "average" score with the adaptation's, well, not-so-good score... you'll get my final score:

Feed Me, Seymour!

(P.S. And we're talking probably the lower-end of that score... though is it sad that I still want the other 2 made? Maybe if M. Night just produces or something and another writer/director come on? They just have so much potential... and that last 30 seconds or so with Azula was fantastic!)

(P.P.S. I think one of the biggest slaps in the face, though, is the fact that almost nobody's name is pronounced correctly. Avatar, Aang, Sokka, Iroh... it's ridiculous. For somebody who claims to be a major fan of the show, M. Night should have known better...)

(P.P.P.S. For more of an in-depth analysis of the show and this movie, stay tuned for the next episode of The Demented Encyclopedia, due this weekend!)


  1. Ok. I guess we can agree to disagree! I mean, coming from a guy who's never seen the show, I imagine some things get lost, but, even so, I was hard pressed to find anything I liked here!

    I will check it out on Netflix though, once I have the time.

  2. This is my first reading of a review of The Last Airbender ... tell me no ... it can't be bad ...no no no.

  3. Simon: Unfortunately... my review is probably one of the more positive you'll find, as I was grasping at good stuff.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.