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…
THERE’S MORE, READ THE REST.
— Kenneth Turan
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Photos: Aang (Noah Ringer) prepares to fight. Credit: Industrial Light & Magic
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