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The Last Airbender




The Last Airbender (PG)


08/03/10



A little kid with a glowy forehead and some CGI martial arts abilities is the last hope for peace between the nations of Fire, Air, Water and Earth in The Last Airbender, a wacky mess of a movie based on Avatar: The Last Airbender, a cartoon on Nickelodeon.

How to sum up this story of monks and oppressed peoples and magic powers to fight with the elements? So, there are this brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, who is totally unrecognizable from his role as Twilight's Jasper), and sister, Katara (Nicole Peltz). They live in the Water nation, in an area that looks like the Canadian tundra with a tribe of people all dressed as Eskimos. Out hunting one day, they find a giant frozen sphere in the semi-frozen ocean. Katara cracks it open and out comes Aang (Noah Ringer), a little bald kid with several tattoos in the shape of an arrow on his head (which glows when he gets excited), and his giant caterpillar-dog, which can fly. When Sokka and Katara return to their town, they find warriors from the Fire Nation there, led by Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), who, as another character woodenly explains, is the disgraced son of the Fire Nation's king. Prince Zuko is trying to get back into dad's good graces by finding the Avatar, a person who is kind of like a Dalai Lama-ish spiritual leader who is also the only person in this world who can control all of the elements. Some other people can control the one element of their land — the Fire Nation people can bend fire, some Water Nation people, like Katara, can bend water, etc. The Avatar, the spiritual leader of all people, has been missing for 100 years, which is curious. If he had died, he would have been reincarnated. The Fire Nation now wants to find him to prevent him from restoring the balance between peoples and allow the Fire Nation to control the world.

Also, there are some magical, glowing Koi fish.

I don't know how faithful this is to the original story because it is hard to discern a story here. Or rather, there are a zillion stories so while you can see that the arc involves a showdown between the Avatar and his followers and the Fire Nation it's anyone's guess what strangeness will occur on the way. And in case you think I'm spoiling something — SPOILER ALERT, though frankly I can't tell you what I've spoiled or if I have spoiled something or how… a girl has white hair because the Koi fish representing the moon gave her life, Aang's other best friend is a flying monkey-lemur. Spoiler alert? Personally, I think I might have enjoyed an alert from the movie anytime something relevant to the plot happened.

So I'm not sure if it was the cartoon this movie came from or not but a few years back I happened to be in TV range when my stepson was watching some vaguely anime-like action cartoon wherein one character gave what felt like a Shakespearean-length soliloquy about honor or duty or something in front of, let's say, a giant, floating, glowing squid-dragon. Now, sure, the cartoon also had a fart joke, I think, but that speech was a long long time to wait for a fart joke. The Last Airbender is like 100 minutes of that — strange, stilted dialogue about duty, a seemingly infinite number of subplots taking place in a vast globe of different countries and, in place of fart jokes, action scenes that mix kung-fu-like movements with CGI involving characters throwing water or fire at each other. The last scene, a horrifying setup for the horrifying prospect that I will have to watch two more of these movies, reminded me of when my stepson, at about age 7, tried to explain the card-and-plastic-monster game Bakugan to me. I remember thinking that it was complicated, mythology-thick and deadly boring. I felt the same way here — in three years some magical comet will allow different people to increase their superpowers and, I don't know, gain extra points or something and our planet Earth will be afflicted with another Airbender film. It is the most dispiriting ending to a movie I've watched in a long time and I include in that the uninteresting post-credits Easter egg from Iron Man 2 and also that Terminator from several years ago where it ended with robots nuking the entire world. A future with two more movies of this exposition-rich, excitement-lacking universe? Give me an apocalypse any day. D.

Rated PG for fantasy action violence. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (from source material by Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko), The Last Airbender is an hour and 43 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.





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