Review: ‘The Last Airbender’ ‘is disappointing in a way that its intended audience may not notice’

July 01, 2010 | 12:55 a.m.

Times movie critic Kenneth Turan weighs in on the controversial anime-inspired new release, “The Last Airbender.”



If ever a film was born under a bad sign, “The Last Airbender” is it. As the blues lyric goes, if it didn’t have bad luck, it wouldn’t have any kind of luck at all.

Not only does this live-action feature written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan have to weather comparisons with the hugely popular (and DVD-available) animated TV series that inspired it, it lost the first word of its title — “Avatar” — when a certain other film used it first.

Then “The Last Airbender” irritated fans by changing its trio of heroes from Asian to white and weathered the inevitable suspicion that goes with both a late conversion to 3-D and a studio decision to keep the film away from journalists and critics until close to the last minute.

It would be nice to say that this story has a miraculous Hollywood ending and that “The Last Airbender” beat those long odds, but that is not to be. By specifically critical and broadly adult standards, this film is undoubtedly a disappointment, but it is disappointing in a way that its intended audience may not notice.

For more than most films, “Airbender” is made for a 10-and-younger audience and a 10-and-younger audience alone. Unlike the recent “Percy Jackson” saga and most nominal films for children, which shoehorn in teenage material and secretly want to be hooking adults as well, “Airbender,” whether intentionally or not, is pegged almost exclusively to a small-fry state of mind.


Echoing the Nickelodeon TV series created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, “The Last Airbender” takes us to a self-contained mythic universe inhabited by four tribal peoples: the air nomads, the water tribe, the earth kingdom and the fire nation. Each group has chosen people in it called “benders” who can, yes, bend their particular element to their will.

In the best of times, these nations live in harmony under the guidance of an avatar, a rare individual who can bend all four elements and keeps balance in the world by consulting with animal spirits ordinary folks can’t communicate with.

The last 100 years, however, have not been the best of times. The avatar has disappeared, and in his absence the bellicose fire nation, ruled by the unpleasant Fire Lord Ozai ( New Zealand’s Cliff Curtis), has taken it upon itself to attempt to rule the world…


— Kenneth Turan



Hollywood whitewash? ‘Airbender’ and ‘Prince of Persia’ anger fans

Shyamalan: ‘Airbender’ rises above race

Will “Airbender” resurrect Shyamalan’s mystique?

Shyamalan had a sense that “Airbender” would make a “killer movie”

Shyamalan should be careful. Remember “Dragonball Z”?

Shyamalan found liberation in box-office failure

Jake Gyllenhaal turned down the lead in “Avatar”

‘Sherlock’ sequel may join ‘Last Airbender’ and ‘Green Hornet’ in 3-D parade

Photos: Aang (Noah Ringer) prepares to fight. Credit: Industrial Light & Magic

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20 Responses to Review: ‘The Last Airbender’ ‘is disappointing in a way that its intended audience may not notice’

  1. Walter Correa III says:

    greaatttt, i was hoping this would lift mns from his last two dismal movies. personally i like the last airbender. now what am i going to do with another week of crappy movies? well at least i'll save some money.

  2. JP says:

    Have you LA Times "writers" ever heard of the comma?

  3. Joy says:

    This movie was absolutely awful. People who've seen the series such as myself were very devistated during this film. My boyfriend and I walked out during this movie sice it didn't go with the story line of the book or the TV series. The actors and actresses seemed to not be involved during the making of the film they seemed to not enjoy themselves. The producer should have done more studying of the books and the television shows to feel the energy. The film seemed to not have the energy the emotions of the origional charaters. There was too much "hand motion" and not so much "bending". I'm so disappionted in fact I know other people who walked out as well. Note to producer "Do your homework before making anouther one of these films! Your losing money because you butchered this fun loveing animated story." The next one if there is a next one get the NAMES RIGHT!, along with the story line. The 3D did nothing for it either it was piontless, just so you can make more money well in fact your losing money because of people like me who absolutely hated the movie. I've never hated a movie as much as this one and I've never walked out of a movie until tonight. This was mine and my boyfriends first midnight showing we've ever been to and I'm sorry for that because I hated it and so did he. This disappionted our whole night.

  4. John says:

    I would just like to remind you all the Avatar is not just an anime. It was an mixed of American and Japanese culture. If you notice the Water nation resemble the indigenous people of Alaska and the Earth Nation resemble the Indians of the South West. However I knew that the film was going to get panned by the critics because M. Knight has really been making crappy films lately.

  5. Sifiya says:

    Listening to and watching the commercials, I knew this movie couldn't be very good. Sure, pronouncing the names in their correct Asian form is great, but the names should have been left alone. It may confuse younger audience members who had watched the show. And the characters just don't fit. I was most disappointed with Prince Zuko. He really doesn't fit the character to me, and his burn could have been more exaggerated. And there is much protest over the white cast. Avatar fans would prefer them to be Asian, as they were intended to be. As do I. Reading a review from, which is a blog. I read:
    "My first WTF moment: the initial shots showing the people of the Southern Water Tribe. You've got Sokka and Katara, both unmistakably Caucasian… then you've got the rest of their tribe — the darker, more Native American folks filling the background. I honestly thought this would be handled more subtly, but that ain't the case. It's pretty ridiculous."
    And I really couldn't agree more. I am almost hesitant to see the movie, but I am curious to if it is as bad as it is said to be. Wish me luck.

  6. Robert Rock says:

    Dear Mr Kenneth Turan,
    I was listening to my favorite radio station, 90.3 kfme minnesota public radio and I heard your scathing critique on the last airbender. I find the critique remarkably unfair to the cartoon, in particular which has fairly deep moral philosphies embedded with in it. I am a 36yo man, and I fell inlove with the series. I would suggest you watch it, with your eyes closed and ignore that the chosen medium is a cartoon format and listen to the messages imbedded in the storyline. I havent gotten to see the movie yet, so cant comment on that as of yet.
    Much Respect,
    Robert Rock

  7. nudelman says:

    Please boycott this turkey of a movie, the 21st Century version of white actors in "yellow face" like those stupid Charlie Chan movies.

  8. AIDY says:

    I agree. I have to say this as well. I am tired of Hollywood "changing" adapted films to satisfy its executives, stock holders, etc. Does Hollywood really think we are all stupid? Films like these are more popular, when producers, directors, etc. stay true to the original concepts. I had a feeling, while watching the trailers, that I would not like the film just for the review you have written. I guess this will be another movie I will wait until it is out on Netflix. The 3d hype need to go away. If the movie sucks…3d would only make it suck 10 times as much.
    Great review!

  9. Horace Austin says:

    I'm with ya, Nudelman.

  10. felipe says:

    It was awful. It was like they rushed thru the whole movie and in the process DESTROYED, the true feeling and message of the animated show. I also saw the midnight show and hoped this would bring M. Night back to making wonderful movies and sharing his creative visions, but it was just a painful experience. I really don't believe anyone will see his films again. YES IT WAS THAT BAD.

  11. b2sando says:

    I just want to remind this nasty critic that the "blues lyrics" he is refering too are country in origin not blues. In fact, this little song started on Hee Haw back in the early 80s.
    If all this critic is doing is jumping on the bandwagon then shame on him. Because that's what he is doing.
    The airbender heroes are in fact asian indian looking on the cartoon there is no hint of them being Japanese or anything like that in their looks. Beliefs similar but there are differences still. This is a shallow look at this movie going off of cosmetic and politically correctness because he never watched the show himself. In fact this isn't even a movie review. shame on LATimes for printing such shallowness. As a fan of the series, I was just impressed with the trailer. In fact, I'm keeping in mind that this show has spanned over 1-3 seasons on tv and knowing this there's a lot to put into one movie. I rather look at this movie objectively seeing what M.Knight Shyamalan can do with it rather then berating him for attempting it.

  12. Danielle says:

    wow really? some people love the avatar the last airbender.
    I got mad when they put out avatar, as I saw it first in avatar the last airbender.
    I'm 15 and still love avatar the last airbender. so it's not all about 10 and younger.

  13. iu says:

    Would I watch a movie who thinks "my kind" isn't good enough to star in it?
    Would YOU?

  14. Rayon says:

    It's ridiculous that my favourate cartoon is turn into this aweful movie. It's depressing that film was wasted to create this crap. Next time before you mutilate our childhood cartoon, please contact your audience. I am deeply offended by this.

  15. James says:

    I'm not going to watch a movie that promotes discrimination. This movie reminds me of "The Forbidden Kingdom" starring Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and some random White guy as the main character, who travels back in time to China in order to save it from an evil warlord – sounds ridiculous? That's because it is. Imagine a Black guy traveling back to England to save King Arthur and his knights from an evil wizard. How about an Asian guy traveling back to colonial America to save the pilgrims from an evil Native American shaman. That's because we all know that the English and the American settlers are physically inept to save themselves… yeahhh… no thanks! Hollywood is stuck in the dark ages and I no longer have any interest in their whitewashed garbage.

  16. Lynsey says:

    I thought that this was a terrible movie. I went to see this today with my boyfriend, and it was a huge disappointment. Being a huge fan of the original cartoon, I was expecting a lot more. First off, they were not able to pronounce the names correctly. As people have said before, it may confuse the younger viewers. I must admit, it even bothered me to the point that I nearly walked out. Also, prince Zuko's scar was not noticeable enough. At first glance I thought that they had forgotten to put it on him. Last, the 3D… What can I say… It got to the point that I had to lean over to my boyfriend and ask if anything had been 3D yet because I had never been to the new 3D movies.
    Overall, I believe that the movie would have been better if none of the characters had talked and if the director/editors had taken more time to make the movie appear 3D.

  17. Kevin says:

    So disappointing… to say the least.

  18. John Ferraren says:

    Haha.. These Critics are Truly Great! I thought I was the only one who felt disappointed about the movie. I loved the Avatar Animation so I thought this movie would be great. But In fact there are so many things that disappointed me in this Movie such as : Story Line we know that book1 is not enough to for for 1movie so they should have carefully chose the events, Sokka and Katara doesn't resemble the true chararacters, I mean Sokka should have been more of a stupid guy and at least they made his Hair the same with the animation same for Prince Zukko. I was also disappointed about the visual effects of the "Bending" it should have been more powerful and much more faster, in the movie they very looked stupid. Aang's Avatar mode transformation, that was not scene that I saw form the animation. This is A great Movie, could be as great as Avatar "Blue Monkeys" or maybe better. Please make the 3 remaining Books be a Satisfactory Movie! I suggest that M. Knight should listen to Critics Like these.

  19. Alice says:

    I have watched the whole avatar series and really fell in love with the fun of the characters and the meanings behind this. But after watching the new movie realise I cannot help but feel betrayed by the directors of this film, why have they made a film based on a series when it is so different. They've changed the pronunciation of names, the storyline, the characters behaviour and also ethnicity – which I think could be a big mistake as some people may think they changed characters from asian to white to please the audience, which could be taken as a form of racism.
    I wish I could love the film, but I think that I speak for all the fans of avatar when I say that if you have seen the series you most likely won't enjoy the film, as it is so different and to put it simply not as good.
    – Alice, 17.

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