If the old saying is true, and you really are only as good as your last movie, M. Night Shyamalan has been dead in the water for going-on ten years. And The Last Airbender should officially be seen for what it is: one last (and entirely futile) gasp to remain relevant. Shyamalan is now second only to Paris Hilton in the I’m-famous-just-because-of-my-name department.
With each year that passes, it’s become more and more obvious that his 1999 instant classic The Sixth Sense was a fluke of monumental proportions. Every two years, Shyamalan puts out a new movie, and every two years we (like suckers) think, “Okay, this is the guy that made The Sixth Sense. We know he has it in him. (Insert title here) will be the movie that gets him back on track.”
The Last Airbender is so absurdly awful that I honestly hoped the famous “Shyamalan twist” would be the fact that this was all just a big joke, and that The (real) Last Airbender would be hitting theaters this Christmas.
Based on the Nickelodeon cartoon series, Airbender opens with a couple of overly emotional kids discovering Aang, the titular savior of the four nations of the world– Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. The poor little guy has been frozen for 100 years in a huge sphere below the ice, alongside his pet (who will amusingly remind 80s folk of Falkor from The Neverending Story). This discovery causes much consternation for the leaders of the Fire Nation, ’cause, you know, they’re the bad guys, and they don’t want any saviors running around messing up their plans for world domination.
The Last Airbender is simply one of the worst-written and worst-acted movies to hit the screen in a long time (I’m talking years, here). The fifth-grade level script may actually have been written by a fifth-grader, including the gem, “It’s time we showed the Fire Nation we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs!” (A) Who writes garbage like that? (B) Who could possibly deliver that line with a straight face, and (C) What kind of director would, upon hearing it spoken, let it stay in his movie? Egad.
When we’re not being subjected to such inane writing, we’re treated to endless amounts of dull back story. The movie opens with a Star Wars-like explanatory crawl, immediately launches into a character giving still more narrative, and then is topped off with even more characters just sitting there giving (rather boring) history lessons of these four nations.
The acting isn’t much better. To a person, the entire cast delivers each and every line as if it’s the most important in the movie. Apparently they all thought that over-enunciating, adding more dramatic pauses than there are words, and always looking like you’re one onion slice away from full-blown tears was a good idea. In your best Captain Kirk voice, say: “Dammit, Spock, I need to do the laundry,” and you’ll have a pretty good idea.
The desperate hope that we’re all just being Punk’d was topped off with the arrival of The Daily Show‘s brilliant Aasif Mandvi, who plays a bad guy (we know this because he wears black leather, has a perpetua-scowl, and often clenches his fist in resolute frustration.) I kept praying he would stop, turn to the camera, say “Gotcha!” and politely chuckle. Alas… no such luck. I sincerely hope Jon Stewart has given (and will continue to give) Mandvi copious amounts of grief for his role in this disaster.
As for the effects and the 3D-ness, well… suffice to say that James Cameron’s The Abyss had more convincing images of water globs frozen in mid-air, and that movie was released 21 years ago. Airbender‘s 3D, as with this spring’s Clash of the Titans, was added post-mortem in a futile attempt to make a flat, boring movie more interesting.
Roger Ebert started his review by writing, “The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.”
Yes, it really is that bad. I’m not sure if I should be offended at Shyamalan’s notion that I would actually find Airbender entertaining, or if I should weep a little at (indeed) how far the mighty have fallen.