The Last Airbender opens July 1st

This may sound like I am joking … and maybe I am a little, but honestly, after sitting through all 103 minutes of this film, I feel as though M. Night Shyamalan should be brought up on child abuse charges. There, I said it.

Now we can begin.

“The Last Airbender,” the new film by the once excellent and above mentioned filmmaker, is the live action telling of the extremely popular “Avatar: The Last Airbender” cartoon that you can see almost 24 hours a day on a variety of cable channels. If you are new to the story, it’s actually pretty cool – Aang, a young child of the Air Nation, has been chosen as the next Avatar, a peace-keeping being that can control all four of the elemental powers of this land. After running away from his duties and falling into an underwater sleep, war has come to the world. Now, with the help of his new friends, Katara and Sokka, Aang must learn the ways of all the elements and bring peace back to the land before the Fire Nation can take full control over all the other nations.

Sounds flipping sweet, right? In the animated world it is. But in the once steady, now shaky hands of Shyamalan, it’s a straight-to-video snore.

Bad direction, poor acting, stale costumes, a horrible script and some of the worst action scenes recorded in a big budget film are only the tips of the iceberg on what’s wrong with this film. Awkward is the best word to describe the bad camera angles and confusing edits that plague almost every scene of this film. Where’s the style and finesse that we saw in “The Sixth Sense?” Where is the confidence that kept us intrigued during “Unbreakable?” Not here.

Usually I would go into a few points on the acting, but since most of the actors are young children, I’ll give them a little leeway. However, the director is a grown professional and if young actors need direction, it’s apparent that Shyamalan offered none. This is a real shame, especially as it relates to the main character. Noah Ringer, the young boy who plays Aang, is perfect for the part and has an extraordinary gift for martial arts. It’s clear that in the scenes where he is performing the elemental forms, Ringer is comfortable and confident. Yet, that all falls away because, by the middle of the movie, you just don’t care if his character succeeds or fails.

The only actor character that is able to go beyond the stereotypical, two-dimensional staleness of the film is Uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub, “Iron Man”) As the voice of reason and spiritual guidance for the banished Prince Zuko (a wasted Dev Patel, “Slumdog Millionaire”) Toub brings a calm nuanced performance that gives the fantasy world depth and shape. Unfortunately, he’s the only one and in this case, one man cannot make the difference.

At the same time, I have to ask, where’s the action? The only scenes worth watching were released over the past few months in the official movie trailer that probably only equal less than two minutes of film. It shows cool action scenes with Aang sliding under swords in slow motion and then jumping (sped up and then slowed back down in true Hollywood form) over a soldier while water bends around him. Cool. The rest? Ehh.

While watching martial art forms is hypnotizing and an elegant example of body movement on its own, here, in this film, showing it in combat just looks like bad rave dancing. Not enough action and bad choreography is the best way to describe it.

Worst of all, most of the film hinges on one event. One battle that will turn the tide for the Fire Nation or push Aang into accepting his fate as the Avatar. Clearly it is supposed to be the defining moment of the film. But, it’s not. A battle that should have been a bonanza of water and fire is instead reduced to a poor-man’s version of the Battle of Helm’s Deep from the “Lord of the Rings” and it under delivers in almost every way.

Honestly though, I’m truly saddened by the story. Not in terms of its animated roots or in how the overall story was presented on film. No, it’s because this film basically represents the first season or Book One: Water of the series. This saddens me because, as the credits were finally rolling, I realized, “Ugh, they plan on making more of these.” Not a good idea.

Overall, this is a summer film that tons of children will beg to go see and tons of children will leave theaters angry vowing never to return again. I know I probably sound harsh, but in a time when the economy is tight and people need a little fantasy relief from the troubles of modern society, this film offers nothing but time you will never get back and hard earned money wasted on something that should have been much better.

1 out of 5 Flying Bison

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