The Last Airbender - The StoryIn the world of The Last Airbender, there are four tribes of people: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Siblings Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) are Water people who, while out hunting, stumble upon a sphere of ice housing a weird animal and a small boy. They bring the strange, tattooed boy named Aang back to their camp where they carry on the most rudimentary inquiry as to who he is before the fierce Fire tribe, led by Zuko (not Danny from Grease but Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire), comes and captures the kid and hauls him away on one of their massive ships.
Zuko has issues with his father, the Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis), and has been disowned unless he finds the Avatar. A short test proves Aang is the Avatar, and proves the kid playing the Avatar (newcomer Noah Ringer) is way, way out of his league as the star of a major motion picture.
Anyway, Aang escapes and with the help of Katara (who can bend water) and Sokka (who can't really do anything), he heads off to learn the bending skills he didn't pick up when he was actually alive hundreds of years ago (he'd been in that water bubble for a long, long time after storming off in a huff from a secret Avatar initiation ceremony). And while learning the skills, Aang the Avatar must unite the people against the evil Fire tribe. To do this, he must use kung fu/air guitar skills that make it so he doesn't actually touch a single person, which means no blood is shed in any of the film's battle scenes.
The CastAs previously mentioned, Noah Ringer is not up to starring in a feature film yet. He may have great martial arts skills, but his acting is amateurish. It doesn't help that he's surrounded by actors completely wrong for their roles, and I'm not just referring to their ethnic backgrounds. Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone kind of flounder around, neither ever really figuring out who their characters are or what they're supposed to be doing. Rathbone's just there for comic relief - he all but has that tattooed on his forehead - and it feels as though he's in a different film from the rest of the cast because of the silliness he's forced to endure.
Shaun Toub, as Zuko's caring uncle, manages to pull off a fine performance despite nothing to work with. Meanwhile, Dev Patel scowls well, but he's about as dangerous as a puppy even during what are supposed to be his most fearsome moments. But the worst offender in the bad acting category has to be Aasif Mandvi as the commander of the Fire army who hates Zuko and wants to capture the Avatar himself in order to gain more power amongst his people. Mandvi actually, I kid you not, looks like he's doing a very bad impression of Bela Lugosi as Dracula at one point. What the heck?
The Bottom LineThe 3-D version of The Last Airbender is simply cashing in on a now-popular gimmick, and is just a way to get you to fork over more money. Converted to 3-D rather than shot in the format, it's a poor attempt at making the film seem more entertaining - and it doesn't work.
Overall, the effects are okay but the payoff isn't there in any of the fight scenes involving the bending skills. Controlling water, the earth, air, and fire sounds like a pretty interesting way to fight, but as brought to life on screen by Shyamalan, it's actually a pretty damn boring fighting technique. In the film's climatic sequence, Aang controls the ocean and makes a formidable wall of water to repel the Fire tribe's ships. And it's happening and you're thinking, "Finally, the spectacular action scene we've been waiting 90 minutes to see is about to happen!" But then the wall of water just subsides, the ships turn around and sail away, and that hope of a payoff you've been waiting for the entire film sails away alongside them.
Hopefully they mean it when they say this is The Last Airbender. It's the last time I ever want to see anyone 'bending' anything.
The Last Airbender was directed by M Night Shyamalan and is rated PG for fantasy action violence.
Theatrical Release: July 1, 2010