Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Last Airbender Movie Review

So I just went to see The Last Airbender because my curiousity got the better of me. Because it is a martial arts (of sorts) movie I thought I give it a quick review for anyone who is interested. Of course these are just my own personal opinions.

To start with I'm going to give it two different ratings and reviews, the first are for those who have seen the animated series that its based off of and the second is for those who haven't seen the cartoon.

First Review: 2 out of 5
Where to start. If your a fan of the animated series then you probably won't like the movie. It is just the first season that they have tried to squeeze into a 2 hour movie. Shyamalan has made a number of changes that some may or may not like depending on your view.

Firstly, through the animated series, Firebenders have been able to generate fire of their own, and in the case of the more power firebender lightning as well. In the movie they can't, they must - like all of the other Elemental Benders, use existing fire. There is one notable exception as I'm sure if further movies are created other exceptions. This does make some sense and does make it easier to differentiat more powerful firebenders from the normal firebenders.

Secondly, the movie feels a little disjointed as they jump around from location to location, some of which are recognizable from the animated series.

My next issue with the movie has to do with the character struggles and growth which are apparent in the animated series but not so much in the movie. Having to condense the whole first season (all 20 episodes of them) into a 2 hour block I think really hurts the character depictions within the movie. For example, some episodes which deal specifically with Katara have been rewritten to include Aang and Katara's speeches given to him. While this seems a necessity because of the limitations of a 2 hour movie, I think it does reduce the growth potential of characters like Katara. This also seems to have led to another character difference. One of the key elements of the animated series (at least in my eyes) was the conflict between Aang's upbringing (and a vow of not killing anyone) and the influence of previous avatars while he is in the 'Avatar State'. Aang only entered the 'Avatar State' when in grave danger or when he lost control of his emotions, he was never able to voluntarily enter this state himself.

(Spoiler Alert: In the series, Aang is present when the moon spirit is killed and that triggers the Avatar State and in this state he deals with the fire nation in an incredible show of power which serves as both a foreshadowing of the type of power Aang might be able to achieve later as well as showing that the Avatar stands outside of the normal cycle of elemental benders and therefore isn't affected by the lost of the Moon the way the rest of the Waterbenders are. Both of which are, to me, important events. Next to this Aang kills Commander Zhao, showing that while in the Avatar State, Aang is not Aang but all of the past lives and they are willing to kill to preserve balance.) This leads to important internal conflict for Aang and a transport for his growth in later seasons.

I was willing to give the casting of the movie a chance. From a screen stand point, I can understand making the visual appearance of the different nations distinctive. After having seen the movie, my only issue is that there is no consistency in the background extras which are still a mix of nationalities. It seems to me that if there was any seriousness about making the nations distinctive they would have spent more time getting more extras of the appropriate nationalities to serve as extras, more Indian asians for the Fire Nation. Also, while I like the actor who is playing Iroh, he doesn't seem to fit the image of Iroh, but of course that is minor and based on the fact that in the animated series Iroh is a bigger (read slightly overweight) character with a laid back and more nurturing nature.

I am impressed that Shyamalan did seem to take to heart the difference in style used by the different nations. However on the flip side, The Last Airbender is more of a martial arts movie and less of a 'Bending' movie, something that is a little disappointing. In the movie the act of Elemental Bending seems to take longer to accomplish, which means that the battle scenes are more akin to the battle scenes of Braveheart and less like the animated series. In addition, many of the combats that include benders seems contrived and done just so that they could keep the title rather than working it into the actual story. As an example when the Earthbenders rebel, in the animated series they work together to accomplish bigger feats of earth bending, which is the reason they move in unison. In the movie it seems they only did it as a nod to the animated series and Aang still does most of the work. After that everything seems to be reduced to a martial arts brawl rather than a battle of elemental benders.

I did feel that Dev Patel does a good job as Zuko, just like Jackson Rathbone grew on me a bit as Sokka. However, and this is no reflection of the actors or actresses themselves, all of the dialogue in the movie seems forced with a bit too much time spent on trying to explain things rather than just getting on with telling the story. On the up side at least Aang actually moves like he has some martial arts experience (which he does) though his acting skills are still a bit rough.

I also want to note that while Firelord Ozai is the ultimate goal/villain, I felt he made too much of an appearance in the movie. In the animated series he felt more menacing because you don't really see him. Its not Ozai who makes the decision to kill the moon spirit, its an insane Commander Zhao.

Second Review: 3 out of 5
Okay, so for those of you who have never watched the animated series, I give The Last Airbender a 3 out of 5 rating. The disjointed nature of the scene changes can be very disorienting and make the movie at the beginning hard to follow. The confusion lessens once they make it to the Northern Water Tribe and the 'meat' of the film occurs.

While the special effects are good, the dialogue is weak and too mechanical. I don't blame the actors and actresses for this, but rather I think the script dialogue was written to try to make them sound older. I think younger kids will enjoy it, but I think adults will certainly pick up on the dialogue issues. The fight scene are fun and in many cases I think are well done even though they still feel very choreographed. Visually it is stunning, especially when you get to see the air temples from a distance. In general they do a good job of setting up the story, but I felt that they spend too much time explaining some things that don't really matter in the context of the title. Being called the Last Airbender, to me implies that in the beginning you don't have to explain too much about the Avatar. You can hold off on it till a bit later when the explanation feels less forced and more natural. It isn't the kind of movie we are use to seeing from Shyamalan, which isn't a good or bad thing, but don't expect a twist at the end of this movie like he has done with his others. It is a fun movie that I can see (along with the new Karate Kid movie) as increasing enrollments in Martial Arts schools around the country.

Just my two cents. Have a great day!

1 comment:

  1. LOL Well, i don't think i can find anything to add to that review. You spoke my mind exactly--and yes, i'm a big fan of the anime series. (so possible more spoilers in my comment. Fair notice)

    There was one point where all the earth benders were moving in unison (only one time) and then this tiny little rock floats by the screen. LOL I leaned over to my hubby and said "that's it?" And then the next moment a single earth bender throws up a huge wall. Alone.

    I like the idea of Fire having to use Fire to make a difference with Iroh--though it felt a little awkward in the show, but i really didn't like how long it took for them to bend stuff. Aang and Katara had some moves that made me forget they were actually bending. I thought they were just doing a taichi routine, and then right at the end, the water would move. But then there were other moves that were way cool. So yah-- a "cool" and "huh" at the same time. And again--agreed with you--i missed connecting to the characters. i started wondering how Aang was ever going to fall in love with Katara enough for him to walk out on the avatar state later on.

    LOL in other words, good review. I'm glad to see them attempt to bring the series into "life", but at the end it was still an attempt. It's hard to make a movie great out of something that is already awesome! :)