I’m an aficionado of bad films. And I am a one-time fan of M. Night Shyamalan. So how could I not watch The Last Airbender, Shyamalan’s doomed, big-budget adaptation of the well-loved cartoon series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. I never saw the cartoon, so I have no dog in the hunt here. I just want to see if the film is bad.
Yes, it’s bad. But not nearly The Happening bad. Not even close.
First of all, the dialogue. It is terrible. With a capital TERRIBLE. It has no poetry, and it’s hopelessly stuck in the now. I’m watching a weird fantasy film. I don’t expect or want to hear colloquial American English.
Next, the performances. Most were bad. If you were in this film, just assume you were bad unless I mention your name. The handful of exceptions are:
- Noah Ringer (Aang) is usually acceptable, and at times, I really felt for him.
- Dev Patel (Prince Zuko) does a serviceable job with a one-note character. I actually felt sorry for the Prince, being put in this no-win situation.
- Randall Duk Kim (Old Man in Temple) is a breath of fresh air for the two minutes he’s in the film.
- Shaun Toub (Uncle Iroh) is the best performance. He’s half the reason I care about Prince Zuko.
As for the action, I really liked it. It was doofy, with people tai-chiing marginal special effects into life and whipping them around the screen, but it was different and, at times, thrilling. In particular Aang’s air bending escapes. I also appreciate Shyamalan’s reliance on master shots. This film is the opposite of a shaky-cam, epileptically-edited action film. It gives some of these scenes a stately feel. In fact, several key sequences are done in a single shot, which I appreciate, though at times it did kill the pacing.
But the best part is the overall story. (Well, except for everything to do with the spirit world. That was dumb. It should all have been cut.) These nations of element benders with the unifying force of the oft-reincarnated Avatar is a great idea. I even got a hint of the different personalities of these nations by hanging out with different groups of people.
So, I’m not acting here as a Shyamalan apologist. As I said, mostly this film is horrible, but there are glimmers of wonderful in there, too.