I will confess that I am a sucker for movies like this….with the CGI effects that are possible today, making convincing -looking fantasy movies is feasible, but to be candid, M Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Last Airbender’ is anything but convincing once you get beyond the effects, which themselves are never much more than adequate..
Humans usually come out a poor second to effects in movies like these and this one is no exception, especially in the light of the embarrassingly clunky cod-mystical dialogue provided for the cast here. Dev Patel from ‘Slumdog Milionaire’ is the only real ‘name’ here; the rest are a mixture of unknowns and TV stalwarts. Before leaving the topic of the cast, there’s another problem – and that is that if we accept that Fantasy is by its very nature backward-looking, it just doesn’t work when you have leading members of the cast talking like they’ve just escaped from an episode of ‘The O.C.‘ or ‘Scrubs’.
When Peter Jackson made his ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, American actors like Elijah Wood and Sean Astin were coached in delivering their lines in pretty convincing British accents – and it just added credibility to the whole process. Apologies for any offence caused to any US readers, but if Fantasy is retro, then you have to go for European or British accents. ‘The Last Airbender’ is not alone in having American leads, but like many before (anyone remember ‘Willow’?) it just doesn’t work – imagine a Western or a gangster movie where the cowboys and the mobsters all sounded like Brits….
Anyway, a very brief summary of the origins and backstory to this movie reveal that it started out as an animated TV series. It’s set on an earthlike planet where society is split into four factions representing the four basic elements – earth,air, fire, water. Within each of these groups are numbers of ‘benders’ (just don’t, OK?) who are able to do magic tricks with their chosen element. There is a monk-like character called the Avatar (think Dalai Lama; constantly re-incarnated) who is the only person able to manifest control of all four elements and link to ‘the Spirit World’ , which appears to be vitally important for some reason that is never quite made clear.
The Return of the Sugar Puffs Honey Monster…..
Everything is ginger-peachy until the young Avatar goes AWOL because he can’t cope with such responsibility. In fact he goes missing for about a century, by which point the baddies (the Fire Tribe) have wiped out all the ‘airbenders’ (hence the title) and are intent on crushing the whole planet beneath their jackbooted heels. Such interest as there is in this miserable pile of ordure comes from the attempts of the re-awakened Avatar and his new young American-accented buddies to restore the balance disturbed by those nasty Fire-People.
God, it irritates me just trying to explain the basis for this movie. The plot has more holes than Blackburn, Lancashire and the exposition is as wooden as the dialogue and most of the acting. It’s sort of like ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ meets Philip Pullman meets David Carradine’s ‘Kung Fu’ meets ‘Star Wars’ meets ‘The Princess Bride’. Except it’s not that good. The most interesting aspect of the whole thing is that is probably the first major Hollywood movie to be shot partially in Greenland.
This is definitely one to wait for until it crops up on TV in a few years time. If you have low expectations or a bad hangover or maybe both, it’s an inconsequential way to while away a couple of hours. What effect this is likely to have on M Night Shyamalan’s career and reputation (already a bit battered) doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s clear from the way ‘The Last Airbender’ ends that a sequel is envisaged, but let’s hope someone does the decent thing and pulls the plug on that idea.