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Review – The Last Airbender

Click poster for more info.

Click poster for more info.

With Noah Winger, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Aasif Mandvi. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Rated PG for fantasy action violence. 103 minutes.

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 out of 5.
Based on a popular cartoon series, THE LAST AIRBENDER arrives with a thud in a live action version directed by fading director M. Night Shyamalan. In a summer of clunkers that includes “Prince of Persia,” “Marmaduke” and “Sex And The City 2,” this adaptation sets a new low for boredom.

The backstory is complicated. We’re in a fantasy world where tribes have set up communities based on their affinity to earth, air, water or fire. Within each community there are those who are “benders,” who can control their element and bend it to his or her will. And among those benders, there is one who is the “avatar,” who can master all four elements.

The story begins with Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz) discovering Aang (Noah Winger) who has been encased in ice for a century. Katara is a water bender, but still learning to control her power. Aang, as it turns out, is not only the last of the air tribe, but the reincarnation of the avatar. All his people were wiped out by the fire tribe, who are looking to capture him and destroy all their competition.

To complicate matters, the leader of the fire tribe has two people looking for Aang. One is Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), who has been exiled by his father but can redeem himself by capturing the avatar. The other is Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) who sees his success as a way of making himself the heir apparent and cutting off Zuko for good. While Aang is looking to be trained in his powers, Zuko and Zhao are looking for him.

As a story, this is not very compelling. As we try to figure out why the fire tribe is bad and the water tribe is good, it becomes obvious that we don’t care the slightest about the characters themselves. The cartoon series borrows greatly from Asian cultures and Japanese anime and there has been much criticism that Aang is not played by an Asian actor. One might just as well ask why all the villains seem to be from India. The issue here is less paying homage to sources than the fact that this is a manufactured product without any soul.

Shyamalan’s recent films may have been flawed but at least he seemed to know where to put the camera. Now, in this work for hire, he seems to be just going through the motions. The movie’s 3D effects are non-existent and there are long stretches where you can remove those annoying glasses and still watch the film. As for the acting, it is dreadful. Most of the performers are so bland that you forget them while you’re watching them. Patel, saddled with a character with conflicting motives, fares slightly better, but for adults the most recognizable face may be Aasif Mandvi, a regular on “The Daily Show.” Where he is so quick and sharp with Jon Stewart, here his performance is so turgid that a scene in which he delivers the line, “Yes,” actually got a derisive laugh from the preview audience.

The film ends with a set-up for a sequel, which those unfortunate enough to endure this torturous mess can only hope never occurs. Should “The Last Airbender 2” ever be made (and if the enforcers of the Fourth Geneva Convention fall asleep on the watch), it’s a safe bet that step one will be replacing Shyamalan with a director who can bend a cartoon into something that audiences will line up to get into rather than out of.•••

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.


About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

7 responses »

  1. Who would have thought this movie was going to be THIS bad? It’s the twist!

  2. The actual genders and races of what the elements represent are in Rodney St.Michael’s book, Sync My World: Thief’s Honor GA SK. (

    Air = Yellow “race” = male = scholars

    Water = Small Browns = female = shaman

    Earth = Blacks = lesbian = social ubuntu business class

    Fire = Whites = gay = military, militant business class

    Ether or Metal = Big Browns = bisexual = working class, bi-military

    (females & bis go together like Katara & Sokka or brown females and males)

    Therefore Aang should be Chinese.

    Katara should be a Malay like a Filipina.

    The Earth Kingdom should be African.

    Zuko should be White like Hitler, Alexander the Gay or Gen. Arthur McArthur.

    The Fire Nation’s army should be like the fiery Sacred Band of Thebes (an ancient elite gay army that Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell troops would be envious of) or the Sturmabteilung, the much-feared homosexual stormtroopers of Hitler.

    And the Slumdog Millionaire (casted as Zuko) should be Sokka.

    This film is just as messed up as the movie Angels and Demons. The branding of the priests were incorrect.

    But anyway, from the guy who gave you the Sixth Sense, which did not portray childhood schizophrenia accurately or anywhere near the real world, what do you expect?

    Bisexuals love horror and terror. They also scam people, just like the Wizard of Oz. The old Oz film which is also about the Elements is understandably all-white because they were ignorant back then. People have higher standards now, and realism is a must.

    But M.Night, the Wizard of South Asia also has lessons for everyone after conning them:

    1) Clearly, when people don’t play roles that fit them, everything is messed up. (e.g. “male” clergy in what should be a female realm, forbidding gays in the military which is their territory)

    2) Whites are not fit to play the leading roles of Air and Water in the world scene. Leave that to the ASEAN+3 (China, Japan, Korea and South East Asia).

    3) Arabs are not necessarily the greatest evil in the world. Occasionally, they float like Ether to the ranks of Water. It is fiery whites that fits the role of Lucifer or Satan.

    4) By acquiring objective reviews from leading critics, they have agreed themselves that these are all factual objective realities.

    Thus, the Wizard, even if he is a con man, is also an accidental pseudo teacher. Partly, it’s called sunyata or “emptiness.”

    • Disappointed

      WOw that comment was a utter waste of time and effort to read and guess what, it was garbage. If this is a joke, this can be best described as excessively OVERDONE.

  3. I saw the film today, while I did enjoy some parts of the film, I agree that the acting was awful and the 3d was completely unnecessary. The romantic subplot didn’t do it for me, in fact I didn’t really care for any of the actors except Dev Patel who gave a so so performance. Why were the white actors playing Asian parts? I’ll never know. As my first time watching a 3d movie I was disappointed, let’s hope M. Night Shyamalan is never given another directing job again.

  4. I agree that M. Night is horrible, but If anything I hope they don’t let him touch it for the 2nd and 3rd, because it actually is a well written storyline (which M. Night DID NOT WRITE). It could be a beautiful film series, if someone like James Cameron (or even Michael Bay) did it. What was Paramount thinking, letting that one trick pony do this epic story all wrong?

  5. I also saw this movie around a week ago on the midnight showing. Within 5 minuets of the movie i had wanted to leave. I also think the actors sucked and didnt fit there parts. I mean come on, Zuko isnt a indian with short hair. He is white with and bold with a pony tail! And bending 10 oz of water took katara a ten minuet dance! this movie gets a 1/10. 1 for the siege of the Northern Water Tribe. The battle sences were alright.

  6. “The Last Airbender” is not just a disaster of “Lady in the Water” proportions. It’s not even the fiasco of “The Happening”. No, my friends, it is far, far worse than that. It is the Hurricane Katrina of cinema. The Krakatoa of all things that drive a movie-directing, writing, producing, casting, acting-and Shamas**t is our own veritable nightmare FEMA, leaving fans of the original series in water filled with decomposing corpses for weeks without even a conciliatory “gee, sorry about that guys” shrug as an apology. It is unforgivable in every sense of the word and reaffirms what I thought after walking out of Lady in the Water: I will NEVER sit through another Shamapieceofs**t film EVER again. NOT EVER!


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