Unreal Movie Review: The Last Airbender


I’ve been dreading this day for a long while now, where I finally got to witness how M. Night Shyamalan would butcher my beloved Last Airbender, a brilliant animated series with tons of potential as a blockbuster smash hit. I’ve long since lost faith in the director, as his downward career spiral has gradually stamped out of my mind any last hope I had for the man making another good film of any sort, so I wasn’t expecting much here.

And yes, it’s a disaster of epic proportions, and one that is an affront to fans, critics, general audiences and his studio alike. A concept with such perfect source material, it should have been nearly impossible to turn it into shit, but the master of badness that he is, M. Night has done the unthinkable.

It’s a world where four nations have mastered four elemental forces, earth, air, fire and water. One spiritual leader, the Avatar (Noah Ringer), is meant to keep things in balance with the ability to control (bend) all four elements, but when he disappears for a hundred years, the Fire Nation takes over and war ravages the land. He eventually resurfaces, and is aided in his quest to learn the other types of bending and reunite the nations by two new friends from the Water Tribe (Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz) and one giant flying bison, all the while being hunted by the prince of the Fire Nation (Dev Patel), sworn to capture the Avatar to win back the favor of his father.


Don’t worry Dev, the movie might be a disaster, but at least they didn’t make you get Zuko’s goofy haircut.

I’m guessing most critics who are currently trashing this film (it’s the worst reviewed movie of the year thus far) don’t have the time to watch three seasons of an animated show on Nickelodeon, unlike myself, so I have the advantage of commenting on the film being very familiar with the original series. This is a double edged sword, because it allows me to see what Shyamalan was trying to do when he tries to be faithful to the show, moments which others will miss and not understand, but also I know the full potential this project could have had, as the show is a masterpiece, making the movie even more of a disappointment.

There are two major forces working against the success of The Last Airbender before the title screen even appears: the prospect of trying to condense 12 hours of a very complex show into under two, and that combined with M. Night Shyamalan’s complete inability to properly write or cast a movie.

First, the scope of the project. There are some TV shows that are relatively easy to adapt into film. The A-Team for example, only requires a bunch of actors looking and talking like the cast, thrust into a plot that vaguely resembles a few episodes of the series. Repeat for Charlie’s Angels, Miami Vice, Transformers etc.

But with other shows, this is more or less impossible. The three seasons of The Last Airbender were each carefully crafted arcs, which each episode building on the last. Trying to cut out 80% of the content and expecting the movie to still be coherent, and the characters to still be well-developed is a pretty impossible task.


No time to actually build a relationship here, so we’ll just narrate that one exists.

Imagine trying to cram an entire season of Lost or 24 into one two hour movie. You would lose everything that made people love the show, and that’s what’s happened to The Last Airbender here.

But that being said, the source material is so well done, I do believe there could have been a way to write this movie effectively. Unfortunately, the last man who should have been put in charge of such a task is M. Night Shyamalan who has proven time and time again that in recent years, he’s lost all semblance of what made him a good director a decade ago, and simply does not have the ability to write a good film, nor cast it in any way that makes sense.

The man cannot write dialogue, not at all. Each and every exchange between the characters is painful to watch, and this fact is only amplified by the miscasting of every role in the film. It’s astonishing how Shyamalan could miss in finding an actor for nearly every single role in the film. Much ado has been made out of his racial reconfiguration of the cast, but that’s not the issue here. Actually, what he does, making each nation a racial group (Fire – Indian, Earth – Asian, Water – White) is not a terrible idea, as no one really should have expected this movie to have an entirely Japanese cast, but it’s who he’s put in these roles that makes little to no sense.

He’s chosen actors that vaguely look like their cartoon counterparts, but none of them do a convincing job of putting anything resembling emotion into their characters. Dev Patel’s Prince Zuko probably makes the best go of it, but you can almost see the frustration in his face as he realizes his script is shit and he’s surrounded by amateurs.


“Reporting live from the Fire Nation!”

Who would think that The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi would make a convincing villain? I understand the lack of Indian actors in Hollywood, and the man has comedic talent, but he’s so out of place here it’s laughable. The same goes for Zuko’s Uncle Iroh played by Shaun Toub. Why would you think a chubby Asian man grandfather type would be better suited as a Jeremy Irons lookalike with dreadlocks?

But the worst offenders of the bunch are the main trio. Both Jackson Rathbone’s Sokka and Nicola Peltz’s Katara are vastly outperformed by their cartoon counterparts, and are simply not up to the dramatic task set before them. Peltz especially may look the part to a certain degree, but every time she starts narrating to clumsily explain the mangled plot, you will wince in pain.

But no one is a worse offender than Aang the Avatar himself (whose name is inexplicably pronounced “Ong” during the entire movie to the bewilderment of fans everywhere). Noah Ringer was plucked from obscurity after he impressed Shyamalan with some martial arts moves in open auditions for the part. But the kid is in no way an actor, something that’s abundantly from the first time he speaks. I can’t imagine why you would put the weight of an entire blockbuster franchise on the back of a kid who has literally no experience in the field, and it’s a gamble that’s backfired horribly here.


Why look, it’s how Aang is supposed to act.

It takes more than martial arts moves to be Aang, and it’s stunning to see the character transformation from show to movie. Aang is supposed to be a happy-go-lucky kid most of the time, too busy goofing off to properly learn bending, only occasionally succumbing to the emotional stress of being the Avatar. But in the film I’ll be damned if I saw him crack a smile even once, and that I blame on the script which is devoid of humor entirely.

The Last Airbender was a funny show. It was clever and smart, and humor played a huge part in what made the show work. The film accidentally stumbles onto one or two jokes at most, but the plot is too busy sprinting toward to the finish line to retain any of the tone the original series had.

The hurried pace of the film is another big turnoff, especially I imagine for those who haven’t seen the show. One minute we’re at the Southern Water Tribe, then the East Air Temple, then the Northern Earth Kingdom, then the heart of the Fire Nation, the Northern Air Temple, the Eastern Earth Kingdom and finally the Northern Water Tribe.


Quick, master water bending! OK, next scene!

I know what Shyamalan is doing here. Each of these locations contained an episode or two of the show in season one, and in an effort to try and be faithful to the source material, he puts in a three minute scene that’s a highlight reel of an entire episode. I appreciate the effort, but when the entire film is made up of short quick cuts like this, it doesn’t make sense when you mash them all together with absolutely no transitions. There’s no time for any sort of character development, and by the time you’ve arrived at the end, you frankly just don’t care about any of these people or what happens to them. Contrast this to the show, where by this point the well-rounded band of characters had grown to feel like family.

Despite its nearly endless list of flaws, one aspect I have to credit the film on is its creation of the Avatar world itself. It looks gorgeous, and is about as close to the original series as you could ever envision. The sets are beautiful, detailed and well-made, the cast is costumed to perfection and the elemental battle effects are really well done. If only when people opened their mouths it was as convincing as the set they were standing on.

This is tough. It’s apparent that Shyamalan really tried hard to make this work; to straddle the line between remaining faithful to the show and creating a viable blockbuster with mass appeal. But the task was just far too large for him, and he does not have the ability to write good scripts or making good casting decisions in apparently ANY genre.


Such potential here. Another Shyamalan trailer that gave false hope.

I wasn’t expecting much from him, as his last effort, The Happening, stands as my number one worst movie of all time, no small feat. With Airbender sinking even lower in critical ratings, I wondered if it could possibly surpass that film in the bowels of movie history. But it doesn’t, not quite, The Last Airbender is a bad film, but not apocalyptically so. The Happening was laugh out loud terrible, like it must have been a joke that we all didn’t get. Airbender is just sort of sad; a poorly written and acted film which wastes the potential of incredible source material.

I’m not calling for Shayamalan’s head like many are after this, but I must seriously suggest to the man that if he does want to continue making movies, to leave writing and casting duties to more capable hands. The man has an eye for film, as his films are usually shot extremely well, but with scripts written at a fifth grade level and casting decisions that make no sense to anyone with eyes and ears, it’s just not possible for the man to make a good film where he is allowed complete creative control.

Skip the movie, rent the DVD box set. Trust me, there’s greatness in The Last Airbender, you just won’t find any of it onscreen here.

1 out of 5 stars

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  1. I would have to agree, as an avid fan of the animated series I would have to say M. Night totally missed it with this movie, to fast paced and to hard to follow along, the sets were great and i even give props for Appa. the acting was terrible and the dialogue even worse, he cannot write dialogue to save his life “I need to mediate do you have a psiritual place” is probably the worst dialogue i have ever heard for that part, not to mention it didnt happen, where is the face stealing spirit, why don’t they mention that the dragon spirit is Avatar Roku’s dragon, and that he brings him to meet Avatar Roku, what about the winter solstice where Aang pretty much figures out what he has to do, or his run in with the blue spirit, there is so many key points to the story that he just screwed up or ommited from this film. It was such a movie that was so filled with potential that i couldn’t help but want to love it, but I couldn’t it was just that bad, it is the worst movie I have ever seen, that may have some fanboy rage in it but that was just garbage, pure and simple, I think the random 12 year old said it best when we were all leaving “I want my money back”

  2. You actually liked the elemental battles? I found them horrible beyond belief. Instead of the smooth quick paced smooth moves from the anime this looked like some third rate wizard movie. I couldn’t stand it. Especially the fire bending


    i loved the series, and still am waiting for that movie… but now i’m really not sure if i should do this to myself 🙁

    hopefully the bad acting is done a bit better by our german speakers^^

  4. The real victims here are the producers and writers who put their heart and soul into the original animated series. Now most of the short-attention-span public will associate their great work with garbage.

    I think a standalone movie with a short plot based on the Avatar world, possibly a prequel featuring one of the previous Avatars, would have worked way better (obviously with someone else at the helm). I don’t know if a character like Aang can be represented well on film by anybody.

  5. Do NOT see this movie under any circumstances!

    If you liked the show, it will only anger you. If you haven’t seen it, it will likely taint you view of what is a superb animated series. If you think you might go give it a chance, DON’T.

    Take Paul’s advice and rent/buy the original series. It’s available for streaming on Netfilx (which is how I watched it), and if you don’t have the time or attention span to power through 30+ hours of a television show, you can watch one or two episodes at a time. The show is awesome and definitely worth seeing.

    But just to reiterate, DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE!!

  6. M Night is one of the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse.

    The funny thing is, it wasn’t the fighting or the story arc that made the Airbender series so great. It was the characters.

    You see, MNS (sounds like an acronym for a degenerative neurological disorder…) seems to have a habit of injecting the actors with botox. The Airbender series OTOH was full of emotion, spirit and laughter. This whole thing was doomed from the get go.

    Someone please take MNS out behind the tool shed.

  7. I’ll probably never see this movie. Also, props to you for going into the muck trying to see what good it did have.
    Now for some M. Night shooting himself in the foot. On nickelodeon they had this 15 min “Making of The Last Airbender.” A few Shamyalan quotes: “Aang was changed to On-g along with the pronunciation of a few other characters’ names to their Asian pronunciations because I’m Asian. Now firebenders have to use some existing source of fire because I thought it was unfair the other benders couldn’t create their own elements, and only the most powerful firebenders can create fire. So that’s my secret for how I cast On-g – I just picked a kid off the internet! I remember seeing the Avatar turn into this giant coifish at the end of season 1, and I just knew what the image at the end of the movie was going to be.” (seriously? a giant wave being left to fall on the Fire Nation ships!?! Shamyalan had a fricken divine justice piece in his hands and then he rinsed it down the drain! Shame that Chao died by the hands of some extras, too.) “The Kioshi warriors will not be in the film. To be honest they were my favorite part of the series and we filmed a lot of scenes with them, but the movie was turning into a Kioshi warrior movie so I had to let the scenes go.”

    Paul Tassey: I don’t think M. Night did put much thought into his racial casting. Firebenders are easily Japanese, not Indian. Airbenders look white or maybe Chinese (why is Giatso black?). Earthbenders seem to be a mix of white and asian (compare Jet and Toph’s instructer). Waterbenders are Innuit (one reviewer commented they got this right with the extras but also wrote, “Maybe Gatara and Soka were adopted?”). Of course, this is made worse by the white characters beating up dark skined extras.

    One final note: the firebenders in screen shots don,t look like they’re wearing the anime’s atire and all the other character’s costumes look draber (at least JC’s Avatar wasn’t afraid to use bright coloring) not to mention the movie’s (cheap setpiece- with supporting descriptions-) world compared to that of the anime.

  8. Honestly, I hated how the firebenders couldn’t make their own fire.


    And I hated how the waterbenders drowned Zhao even though, in the show, he was taken by the fish monster.

    While watching the movie, my two brothers, sister, and I were making fun of the whole movie (starting, firstly, with how they said Uh-vatar).


  9. I’m a fan of the original series and I’m very disappointed to hear that the movie was so terrible. I was hoping against hope that Shyamalan wouldn’t be able to ruin it. Looks like I was wrong.

    I have not seen the movie yet, but critics have all been saying that he failed to squeeze a season’s episode into a 2-hour movie. My question is, what director can do that? It seems like an impossible feat. How could anyone squeeze 20+ episodes in one hour? Did people expect this movie to be more than 10 hours long?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Shyamalan, and I’m sure he did a terrible job, but, I’m just curious as to what critics / fans would actually do to the movie if they were given a chance to write/direct the film. How can you take Shyamalan’s movie and make it better? Everyone has an opinion about why it sucks, but, can anyone actually make it better and how?

  10. I started watching the series long time ago on nick but never went past the first season – just missed out on it, I think I may get back to it. Haven’t seen the movie, and this review seems to be more of a diatribe against Shyamalan (which he probably deserves for putting us through his last couple of movies), it’s a pity since Shyamalan definitely has talent, even his worst movies are atmospheric but ruined due to – it boils down to this – silliness. I think there’s always something in his head that he imagines to be cool, but ends up being silly, and he’s tunnel vision’d like that.

    By the way, Paul Tassi, I don’t mean to nitpick (but I am)

    quote “Actually, what he does, making each nation a racial group (Fire – Indian, Earth – Asian, Water – White)” unquote

    – it irks me when people tend to generally categorize ‘East Asians’ as ‘Asian’. I do hope you realize Indians, Sri Lankans, most Russians etc. are Asian.

  11. i would like to chime in as someone who has never seen an episode of the show…. my dad was in town this past weekend and really wanted to see this of which i knew nothing about except that shyamalan created it and i actually generally like his movies (with the exception of the village)….

    this movie was SO incredibly boring and annoying that I could barely stay awake…. the only reason i didn’t sleep is because of the throngs of screaming children in the theater…. horrible movie.

  12. So like all avatar fans out there I had to see the movie i couldnt call myself a fan if i didn’t go. So last minute i went with my friends took my cousin with me as well. And by god worst decision of my life. The plot was rushed the acting horrible and aang was no where near the happy crazy kid he was in the show. All that being said I hated the bending. In the show no one did all the moves then the element obeyed your command. In the show it moved with you. I mean it wasnt uncommon for katara to use water as a shield and if she had to go through every hand movement just for a wall of water to rise to defend her she would have been burned to a crisp. And really what was the point of making a tidal wave that huge then letting it fall and not becoming the big huge avatar fish guy who destroys ships. Show them the power of water my ass show them we can do cool shit but were too big of a pansy to use it. The bad thing is i know they more than likely will go one by one ruining each season of avatar and i just dont think i can watch this happen to one of my favorite shows. It saddens me deeply.

  13. This is a very crappy movie I hated it so much first I realized imideitly that the voices are defferent, then Aang was Ong, no humor what so ever bad dialog and acting it was just a bunch of cut sences with no charecter development no emotion it was just like listning to a robot missed like 1000 key parts this did not entertain me aswell their are to manny flaws to name. The directed/writter/caster should be ashamed. He murderd a amazing show he souls go to jail for this monstrosity it sucks I am 13

  14. I think that the movie was decent. I have never seen the series before seeing the movie. I thought the dialogue was a little forced in places. If I had to say a huge flaw with the movie, it was the seemingly fast pace that it set. It never really settled down to tell a story.

    After seeing the movie and reading these reviews I went ahead and started to watch the cartoon series. A lot of people are stating how they disliked that Aang isn’t this happy go lucky not a care in the world person in the movie. In a cartoon you can have characters that are over the top. In live action movies, it usually doesn’t work at all. He toned down all the characters into real life people.

    After watching some of the series now and comparing it to the movie my two main complaints are still, he rushed the movie. They should have planned a three-quel instead of just two movies. This would allow for better character development. Also some of the dialogue was stuttered but I think it is once again because they were trying to cram so much of the show into one movie.

  15. Okay, I’ve wasted the last 10-15 minutes reading all of you say the same thing. Now i can’t say that I completely disagree with you but i think you all are looking at this in a bit of an immature way. Now I understand that you are upset with the lack of story from the show and the dialogue and the acting, but let me tell you how i see it.
    First off, you cannot expect a whole lot of the show to appear in a movie. There is no way to fit all the time of 20 odd episodes into a two-hour movie. Now I agree the movie was quick and the dialogue was a pitiful attempt to develop these characters. I think you are right there, but remember, this is a trilogy with a lot of information to cover. My feeling is that this movie had to be quick and bad, because not everyone watched the show, but the ground work was set by this movie, and now that the basics are put out in this movie, the next two(if they make more) have a little breathing room to let the characters develop and also let the actors and actresses develop. Remember these are just kids, of course they’re gonna suck. You can’t find a child actor that is all that impressive. Point and case: look at harry potter. The kids started out young and not too great, but they all developed into better, stronger actors. And that’s what i think this first movies opened the door for. I dont see the point in tearing this movie apart for acting and how much it followed the show, because not all people know the whole story like we do, and a few things HAD to be explained in the first movie to make sense in the next couple.
    That being said, my opinion on the direction of this trilogy is that M. Night is trying to take the show and turn it into what he thought it should be and not necessarily what we saw. Remember there are certain things you can’t do on a kids’ show, like killing people. So i feel that the movies will show M. Night’s creative freedom of being able to put a darker, probably more realistic human nature in it than just a little kiddie show can offer. Call me optimistic but i think he casted actors with “potential” to turn out better and i think that there is still hope for the next couple of movies. I would surely not expect the next two to follow the show that much just like this one, but I think it could put a more lurid action/adventure feel into the show that we all know and enjoy. I look at this movie and see mistakes, but potential, and a lot of room to grow.
    I don’t mean to sound so rude or offensive as I’m sure i do in the opening, but i think your view are a little obtuse, that’s all. I understand your frustration and, believe you me, i was not too pleased with the plot and dialogue and definately not with katara, but my point is that the next two are set up now and everyone knows the background of the movie, so hopefully it will expand into a killer film by the time the next two come out.

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