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Movie Review: The Last Airbender

Let's get one thing out of the way right now: I love Avatar: the Last Airbender. It was an original, epic story. It had well developed, emotionally driven, memorable and believable characters. The world it took place in felt huge and ancient, with deep, rich cultures and histories of the four nations. This was beyond anything that I could have ever expected from Nickelodeon, or from cartoons in general. So when I heard that there was an Avatar movie in works, I was pumped.
I guess there were some rewrites?
Then there came a few new facts that took some of my excitement out. First: it was live action. Okay, I thought, so it's live action. So what? Special effects technology is really advanced, and hey, the story is the really important part anyway.

Second, I saw the casting choices. Okay, I thought tentatively, So Aang, Katara and Sokka are obviously white, and I guess the obviously Japanese based fire nation are now Indian, but whatever. It can still be good.

Then, I discovered who was behind this project. M. Night Shyamalamadingdong. Okay, I thought, more desperately than anything, it's not like this is a story that he came up with. It's an established mythos. Heck, all he has to do is take bullet points from the show and adapt it to live action. The story has literally been handed to him.
So on the midnight premiere, some friends and I picked up our 3-D glasses (another strike, but hey, I was committed at this point) and sat took our seats. When the lights turned back on, the person next to me threw their 3-D money traps on the ground in disgust. This movie was awful, and I don't mean that just as a fan of the series. This was an objectively terrible, terrible movie.

So what was the problem? Well, the easier question would be what the movie gets right. I did appriciate that Zuko was given the amount of time he had, I suppose the fight choreography is pretty impressive, and the special effects for bending is alright as well. What I don't like is how they meshed them together. Shyamalan said that he envisioned bending as a super-soaker: a lot of pumping air pressure for just a little effect. I guess I get the logic, but that undermines the fluidity of martial arts, and the philosophy of being one with the element in the legend. It's a fundamentally flawed change.

The story was just wretched as well. Shyamalan picked all the wrong scenes to adapt, and seemed to be more focused on giving us flashy action scenes than he was on providing us with a memorable, cohesive narrative. What stuck out to me was the narration. Instead of just showing us what was happening, he has Katara narrate the events, because we were apparently not smart enough to get it ourselves. Most annoyingly, when Sokka meets the Water Princess, they feel the need to narrate “Sokka and the Princess liked each other. This meaningful look they're giving each other is indicating that they are attracted. Get it? Just to reiterate: Sokka and the Princess are falling for each other.”

But beyond that, the characters are just flat. And I mean pancake flat. Their line delivery is deadpan and there's no emotional background or believability. I don't understand how they took such memorable and colorful characters, and just killed them. It was just devastating.
Someone find Kristen Stewart and we can have a bland-off for the ages
Most unforgivable of them all: they destroyed the relationship between the characters. Sokka, Katara and Aang are supposed to form a cohesive and supportive family unit. It makes their pain all the more intense when it's shared with the others, and their happiness is equally magnified. In this movie, I don't think they even talk to each other all that much. They're just three strangers on a bus. Again, this is to make way for more flashy fight scenes.

They try to plug a sequel at the end of the movie, but I hope to whatever holy power is listening that it never sees the light of day. Avatar needs to be a: animated, b: culturally diverse and c: about the characters and their relationships. That's what made the cartoon so good, and it's what mad this movie fall absolutely flat. Stay away at all costs, and just watch the cartoon.