Latest posts by Ash Isaac (see all)
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If, like me, you’re incredibly childish, puerile and liable to collapse into uncontrollable snickering at such lines as, “I could tell at once that you were a bender”, then this film is probably not for you. If, however, you are a mature, reasoned, well-adjusted individual then, to be honest, this film is definitely not for you.
M. Night Shyamalan bravely presses on with the most spectacular directorial career implosion that Tinseltown has ever witnessed. Not content with annoying audiences in The Village, frustrating audiences in The Lady in the Water and finally enraging audiences with the execrable The Happening, Shyamalan opts for a new tack in his one-man campaign to alienate and ostracise the cinema-going public. He downright insults them. Thanks, M. Night.
Based on the cult Nickelodeon cartoon of the same name, The Last Airbender is a fantasy adventure where people are able to manipulate or ‘bend’ the four cardinal elements of fire, earth, water and air. The nations of the world are divided along the same lines with the sabre-rattling Fire Nation declaring war on the Water, Earth and Air nations. It is a dark time with Dev Patel burying his ingenuous Slumdog persona and vamping it up as the dastardly Prince Zhuko, an exiled prince of the Fire Nation. Zhuko wants to capture the mysterious Air Bender, the last of his kind, and return him as a prisoner to the Fire Nation thus ending his exile. He’s a bit like North Korea’s Kim-Jong Un, but just not as cute and cuddly.
The Air Bender is a Buddha-like child named Aang who is believed to have the potential to gain mastery of all the four elements and become ‘The Avatar’, some kind of Supreme Master Bender that will restore balance to the Force. I mean, bring peace on Earth. The war-like Fire Nation is none too keen on this whole peace idea and so they launch into ‘hot’ pursuit, (hoho), of the Airbender to try and stop him before he realises his hippy ambitions. We watch as Aang gallivants around on his giant flying yak, (yes, really), travelling through various territories subjugated or soon to be subjugated by the rapacious Fire Lord and his cohorts. We gasp at the thinly veiled racism on show with the Fire Nation appearing to be of Middle Eastern origin, the Earth nation being Chinese, the Water Nation being a strange mixture of Inuit and white European and the Air Nation being made up of Tibetan monks. We clasp our heads in our hands as the stilted child actors struggle with the hammy script and the clumsy directing.
Anyway, to cut a long and seemingly interminable story short, there’s a lot of bending. Things get bent this way and that, up and down, side to side, out of all proportion, mainly the audience’s patience as the Messianic Aang tries to restore peace and prosperity to the world. The denouement sees Aang bend the ocean itself to repel the marauding Fire Nation navy from invading yet another sappy and peace-loving Water Nation outpost. This tour de force of shock and awe bending sees everyone in Aang’s vicinity drop to their knees, most likely in fear of what an all-powerful twelve year old boy is likely to do once he realises he can do pretty much whatever he wants. But worry not, the beatific Aang breaks out into a tai chi pose as if to signify that deep down he’ll always be the same boy we’ve always known and won’t give into temptation and go all Justin Bieber on us. Which is a shame because that would have enlivened proceedings no end.
The old adage goes that the film is never as good as the book. If that is the case then the criticism is infinitely more damning when the film is nowhere near as good as the cartoon and I’ve not even seen the cartoon. I’ve seen stills and they contain more action than the actual ‘live-action’ version. Despite the negative audience reaction, negative press reaction and negative cast and crew reaction, The Last Airbender was a commercial success prompting debate over whether or not Shyamalan would make a sequel. My advice? Get bent.