Opening day for "The Last Airbender" was yesterday, and those who know me know that I was right there, eager to see this movie since I adored the cartoon television show. Those who know me also know that I'm always opened for movie adaptations of popular cartoons and video games; Resident Evil is one of my favorite movies after all, and this despite sometimes harsh critics.
So I went in with an opened mind... but admittedly came out of this disappointed. Should I have expected anything else? Perhaps, but I still believed it could be achieved. So let me give you my review of The Last Airbender
Do not be afraid of spoilers. If you've seen the show, the movie holds no spoilers for you.
To begin with, the lack of Plotbending
is both a good and a bad thing. Purists will be happy to know that, save for a couple of minor things, the plot has remained completely intact. By this I mean that the major changes come from Aang meeting the Dragon instead of Roku in the spirit world, and the mention of the comet at the end which, unlike in the cartoon, does not come at the end of the summer, but in three years, helping the actors physically grow accordingly with the trilogy and making more sense.
That being said, it doesn't mean key points were not cut out completely either, and it does become problematic, especially thanks to awful editing. The movie is a little less than 2 hours and Shamalagalayan has tried to cram too much information from the first season into too short a time. The result? Major, cataclysmic holes. So major in fact, that I wondered how people who had never seen the series would understand what was going on. Why was the use of The Blue Spirit necessary? You see him for less than 10 minutes and you find out at the end of those 10 minutes that it's Zuko. No development as to why Zuko would save Aang from the General though. "I" knew because I saw the series, but someone new to the series and seeing the movie won't know. How did Katara and Sokka manage to get on Appa's back at the beginning? "I" know, but someone who never saw the series will think it was a pretty easy task to hop on a foreign creature's back with no introduction.
Spending more time on the first two and last 2 episodes, with a few events in between would have worked so much better, as well as a three hour movie instead of two hours. There's definitely an hour of content missing here. Where did it go? The lack of editing and overly crammed information ends up doing no less than completely killing any character development through and through.
Which brings me to my next point: casting and characters. Now, I was one of those who was unhappy with the casting at first because of the apparently overly Caucasian cast. That being said, it didn't really bother me throughout the movie. Sokka and Katara weren't as bad physically as I expected, and I know actors from Northern Canada (actor Tahmoh Peniket is from the Yukon) who could pass for Caucasian when they aren't really. Aang never felt asian to me in the cartoon anyways, not as much as say Zuko or Toph. Noah Ringer, who plays Aang, just LOOKS the part. He's unmistakable as Aang. Being his first role, I didn't expect much, but seeing interviews, he seemed like a very energetic and fun boy who had a lot of potential. Sadly, Shamalagalan decided that Aang was not to be a fun, innocent boy who needs to learn about his responsibilities to the world, and so it was painful to see poor Noah struggle with bad lines and an angsty character he obviously knew should not have been this way. I couldn't feel it was his fault for the bad character representation. You could see he really wanted this to be good, but Shagalaglaman didn't want this.
I'll say the same for Sokka who, while looking very much like his cartoon counterpart, held none of the charm Sokka held. This Sokka has already reached the end of the series and has already matured before the movie begins. He's no fun, not really clumsy (although they make you think so at the beginning - what a tease) and just.. plain. Katara, also looking quite the part in my opinion, also didn't feel right. Not because her character was badly portrayed (it wasn't that bad) but because her acting was horrible, so much so that I cringed at some point during the movie, and that takes a lot for me.
Truth is, most characters completely lack emotions. The Fire Nation Guards hold more emotions than the main characters, sadly enough.
Zuko, while, for some reason, has more hair than he should, was probably the closest in personality to his cartoon counterpart. The problem is that, again, bad directing and editing makes it so you don't give a crap why he wants to capture Aang so bad. You feel very little for him. His father also looks nothing like the cartoon (none of the Fire Nation do actually) but for the bits and pieces we see of him, he seems like he fits well. Iroh could also have been done better, but you can tell the actor was working hard to give us what he could with the little bit he was given by an awful director.
I enjoyed the culture diversity of the worlds. It seemed the Air Nomads held the most diversity, the Water Tribe held both Caucasian and purely Inuit people, while the Earth Kingdom was mostly Asian and the Fire Nation was Arab in ethnicity. While people complained about the change in the Fire Nation, I actually welcomed it. Perhaps the very tanned skin fit well with the fact that the Fire Nation plays with fire? I don't know, but it didn't bother me like I thought it would. It did however look strange since they were surrounded by Chinese symbols.
My main gripe (despite awful acting and plot wrecking) came with, believe it or not, name pronunciation. When I see an english dubbed anime, I often forgive bad name pronunciation because sometimes, they're just difficult to pronounce accordingly. In this case, however, there was NO reason for this lack of proper name pronunciation. Avatar is American to begin with, and the characters name are generally short and easy to pronounce. So why was Aang's name completely wrecked? You say it as you read it: Aang. Why is it pronounced "Angue" in the movie? Why is Iroh pronounced "Eeroh"? That was unforgivable for me. They had three seasons to watch to get it right; three seasons that were english to begin with.
That being said, the only reason I would recommend The Last Airbender to anyone is the gorgeous special effects. You BELIEVE these characters can bend the elements, you believe in this world, which was rendered very accordingly with the cartoon. The beasts (Momo, Appa, "Fire Nation mounts" ) all look gorgeous and again, you believe they're part of that world. The fight scenes are also breathtaking. Noah Ringer is an extremely skilled martial artist: I command him on that. All was very well choreographed. And I think this could be one of the problems too: visuals took over where the plot needed it. Unfortunately, as gorgeous as this movie is, the visuals cannot save the awful writing that took place. You may enjoy it as long as you don't try to understand the plot.
Everything that gave the original series its charm and our love for the characters is non-existent. I adored Appa and Momo, but with no introduction, I didn't care. Momo sometimes follows Aang, sometimes he doesn't - and no name is given to the flying creature. He just pops up for no reason and disappears for equally no reason. The characters are flat and boring - they have no heart. I couldn't care less what happened to them. The narration is also poorly used, often thrown in to compensate with scenes that SHOULD have been there but obviously there was no time to add them. For example, there's no connection made between Princess Yuhei and Sokka other than Katara's narration claiming they become "friends" right away. And suddenly they're in love and you don't understand why. Same goes with being thrown from one scene to another with no transition other than bad narration that does not connect anything together.
All in all, I don't recommend it outside of renting or buying it at 2$ in a couple of years. Shamalala should just stop while he still can, pass the flame to someone who could do something decent with the next two movies. Not all is lost, but he needs to go.
Actually, you know what? Don't bother. Just buy the series and enjoy it for what it should really be and don't bother with this painful movie.