THE LAST AIR BENDER
By: Gary Murray
Starring: Jackson Rathbone, Nocola Peltz, Noah Ringer and Aasif Mandvi
Written and directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Running time: 106 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Selig Rating: Cable
Let me start out by saying that I am a fan of one M. Night film. That's too bad because he has made so many films. The Sixth Sense was a brilliant piece of work on the lines of the best of Hitchcock. Unfortunately ever other flick he has been on helm have not been as good. The last one about the killer trees was my pick as the worst film of the year. So, I had very little hope walking into The Last Airbender, based on the Nickelodeon series.
Set in a time long ago in far away lands, the story is of four nations that are the four elements—Air, Water, Earth and Fire. These groups have always had an uneasy alliance, with wars being wages for years. Of the four, it seems that Fire has the most power, ruling the seas with giant war ships which is a cool visual.
Each of these tribes have individuals who are born with magical powers and are called Benders. As the work opens we see Katara (Nicola Pelts) practicing her Water Bender skills by forming giant water globes into the air and tossing them to and fro. The world of the Water Benders is an Arctic wasteland with the people struggling to get enough food.
Katara and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) see something in the ice and try to free it. Busting through the ice and show is Aang (Noah Ringer) and his flying beast. The two Water siblings believe that Aang is the last Air Bender, a group of monks who had a losing battle with the Fire Nation one hundred years ago. There is a myth of the Last Air Bender being an Avatar, able to command all the other elements and bring the four tribes into a whole people.
Aang thinks that he has been under the ice for a few days and insists on going back to the Air Bender temple. There he learns the dreadful truth of his people. He realizes that he must be the Avatar but has never been trained in commanding the other elements. He decides that he must visit the other elements homelands in order to complete his training.
On the other side of the plot, the ousted and disgraced son of the Fire Lord is searching for the Avatar. He needs to capture the last Air Bender in order to win favor back with his father. Our young prince will do anything and everything to become a hero for his people. Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) has his own agenda for finding the Avatar, cementing his place in the good graces of the Fire Lord.
So as soon as we can say road trip, Katara, Sokka and Aang are 'off to see the wizard' by going to the other side of the world and the other Water world, a arctic fortress that protects magical fish. At the same time, the Fire world warriors have figured out where Aang is heading and begin to capture the Water fortress. All of these elements build to a giant fight between the Air Benders and the Fire Benders.
There are so many problems with The Last Air Benders all of it falling directly on the head of the director, producer and writer M. Night. He somehow mistakes complicated for confusing with his screenplay. The entire look of the film reminds one of a Ray Harryhausen flick but not in a good way. The 3D is just flat, forced the way it was in Clash of the Titans remake from earlier this year. This newest generation of 3D imaging is making a ton of money but it just doesn't work as well with live action as it does with animated films.
At the same time, some of the elements of the film are just stunning. The beast that Aang rides is an amazing cross between the creature from The Never-ending Story and the monsters from Where the Wild Things Are. Some of the action sequences to impress, with giant fire balls and water balls flailing through the air in CGI explosive visuals. Other times, the action is slowed down to a crawl, making the action drag across the silver screen.
The acting of the young cast is very inconsistent, with some child performers shining against some very amateurish reading of roles. The good performers are brought down by others who can't act their way out of gunny sack.
The opening slate reads Book I: Water. One must assume that the executive producers are planning more installments of the franchise. I think that The Last Air Bender is going to be like The Golden Compass a series that doesn't make it past the first episode.