When I saw that The Last Airbender was getting terrible reviews before it was even out of the gate, I got worried. As a big fan of the cartoon and also a die-hard fan of M. Night Shyamalan, I’d almost been certain that this movie would be epic. There was so much story to play with, so many different settings and characters to showcase. And then the critics started doing what they do best: criticizing.
One of the biggest issues that everyone seemed to have was the cast. Almost all of the principal actors were white, when in the cartoon you’d be hard pressed to find a white character. Even if you were going purely off aesthetics, you can’t ignore the names and those alone should have been enough to clue anyone in. None of these characters was meant to be white. Yet in this movie, almost all of them were. In fact, the cast was almost even whiter when the role of Prince Zuko was given to Jesse McCartney. Thankfully, Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel ended up with the part.
So let’s begin with the thing that really bugged me and kept me distracted too many times throughout the entire film – the pronunciation of some of the names. Now, if you’re going to make a movie out of a cartoon that thousands of people are familiar with and love, you really need to make sure you get the names right. Especially the name of the main character. Aang was pronounced Ahhng. Avatar was pronounced Ahhvatar. Not right. There were a few others as well that gave me pause and took me out of the story quite a few times. To someone not familiar with the cartoon it would be no big deal. To someone who is, it’s downright irritating.
Another thing that bothered me because of my familiarity with the cartoon was the script. For the most part, the story was very canon and consistent with what I knew. But, knowing the whole story made the script and dialogue feel rushed. It was as if they made sure to hit key plot points and then moved on to the next without much explanation in between. It felt a little bit like I was on a jerky roller coaster; overall it was a great ride but there were definite areas that needed smoothing out.
As far as the bending went, I felt a little cheated. All the elements except for Air seemed tame. So much more could have been done with these effects, especially Earth. Fire had its moments of real power, but oftentimes felt like it was something done as an afterthought. The only bending done that was something of a marvel was Air, and not because it was so spectacular, but because it had the best visual effects out of the four elements.
Now for the good. There’s a lot more that you would expect, especially if you’ve read Roger Ebert’s review.
The photography was absolutely amazing. I want to go to the Northern Air Temple and the Northern Water Tribe. They were gorgeous, believable, and exotic.
Another thing that captured my attention was the score. Very rarely do I watch a movie and think, several times throughout, “I need this soundtrack.” It swelled in all the right places and was soft when the moment called for it. Each piece of music was appropriately placed and emotive.
Here is where I will likely have many disagreeing with me. I liked the cast. Granted, Dante Basko, who did the voice of Prince Zuko for the cartoon, would have been the perfect cast for the role if he were a tad younger. However, Dev did an excellent job. His role of the sympathetic villain was played well, and I look forward to seeing him and Zuko growing in the next two movies. Because I am holding out hope for the next two books to be made into movies.
Uncle Iroh and Katara were well filled roles, though Jackson Rathbone left much to be desired for a clumsy, sarcastic Sokka. The Avatar himself, Noah Ringer, was a perfect choice. His voice was a little deeper than I was expecting but that aside, I don’t know that anyone could have played the part much better.
All in all, I really enjoyed the movie. A 7.5 out of a possible 10. I’m certain many will disagree with me, but I also know many will not.
One thing about the movie is still bugging me, however. Isn’t M. Night famous for putting himself into his movies, even if only very briefly? I didn’t see him.
Guess that means I’ll just have to watch it again.