With the exception of Lady in the Water, I’ve enjoyed watching M. Night Shyamalan’s films. I also look forward to movies made with youngsters as the target audience. Shyamalan usually gives me something fascinating to think about, and “PG” offerings provide the opportunity to unleash my inner child. So my expectations for The Last Airbender were probably too high, which seems to be happening a lot lately. My disappointment in connection with Shyamalan’s live-action adaptation -- he wrote the script as well as directed the movie -- of the popular Nickelodeon animated series relates to its ponderous nature and lack of any comic relief. Its main character should have been named Angst instead of Aang.
Angst is definitely what I felt while viewing this movie. Anguish, torment, worry, anxiety -- the whole enchilada. My inner child failed to peek out even once. That’s surprising, because the two young lead characters come across as quite appealing. Newcomer Noah Ringer projects an appropriate intensity as Aang, the Avatar everyone hopes will bring peace to the world, and Nicola Peltz (Deck the Halls) is very cute and concerned as Katara, the teenager who assumes responsibility for Aang. But there’s no playfulness between these youngsters. Yes, they -- along with Katara’s brother Sokka (Jason Rathbone) -- face serious obstacles on their mission, but why not show some amusing banter or teasing among them to lighten the tone and to make their characters more believable?
Speaking of obstacles, villains in The Last Airbender include Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis), Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) and Prince Zuko (Dev Patel). As members of the Fire Nation, they want to capture Aang in order to prevent him from stopping their plans to dominate the other three Nations -- Air, Earth and Water. Curtis (Whale Rider), Mandvi (The Mystic Masseur), and Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) seem like actors in a Shakespearean tragedy here. Again -- nothing humorous thrown in to help youngsters (and my inner child) enjoy their interactions.
Although some images display visual artistry, especially sequences taking place in the ice and snow, others present dismal images that make us feel even more gloomy. And, while the CGI effects depicting waterbending, firebending, earthbending and airbending could have been exciting, they are repetitive and look bogus.
Hoping for a successful franchise, Shyamalan ends The Last Airbender with a teaser scene for the fantasy’s first sequel. Unfortunately, that’s not something fascinating for me to think about.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “PG” for fantasy action violence.)
For more information about this film, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.