It's Fourth of July weekend and more movies invade the big screen. Of course, with the holiday weekend comes family get-togethers, BBQs and no time to one's self. And with the 4th comes bigger or anticipated movies. Since this is the case, I had to bite the bullet and play for a full priced movie on Friday night. This was all strategic since I wanted the movies out of the way so I could enjoy the rest of the weekend.
SYNOPSIS: The ancient world is made up of 4 Nations representing air, water, earth or fire. Over the course of a century in the absence of the Avatar, the one who unites the hearts and minds of the Nations, the Fire Kingdom has waged war on the other tribes. With the return of the boy airbender Aang, the new Avatar incarnation, tribes start to unite against the Fire Kingdom for their independence.
I have always been a fan of M. Night Shyamalan's work. From the quiet desperation of "The Sixth Sense" to the water fantasy of "Lady in the Water" to the environmental politics of "The Happening", M. Night's writing and direction has been both subtle and classic to me. I am also a fan of Japanese anime from which the source material of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" originates. The question is whether these two forces can co-exist.
Right off the bat, I can tell you that the woman at the box office tried to talk me out of spending the extra money for the 3D experience. I was already going to the 2D show, but it was interesting that Tiffany would go the lengths to save me the extra $4. Shout out to Tif for looking out for me! That's what happens when you go to the movies as often as I do.
This certainly wasn't M. Night's best writing. I think he produces better films that come wholly from his own mind, not from established works. The narrative was sloppy and repetitive at the start, the dialogue was too obvious in trying to set up the back story instead of letting it unfold naturally, and some other dialogue was just unnecessary. For example, when the ice starts cracking under their feet, Sokka tells Katara to move back and avoid the chasms, instead of putting those words into action. This is starting to be a pet peeve of mine, I think.
Noah Ringer as Aang, the last airbender, falls flat throughout the first third of the film. As the movie progresses though, Noah matures as his character matures. By the end of the film, you can just begin to see the Avatar he was destined to embody. But only just. Nicola Peltz as Katara suffers from the same misdirection or misfortune. Dev Patel as Prince Zuko and Jackson Rathbone as Sokka have the most impressive acting resumes, but even they somehow missed the mark for me. Jackson will receive kinder words from me in my next review, I am sure.
The more seasoned actors fair better. Shaun Toub as Prince Zoka's uncle rings true as the fire nation warrior clinging to the old spiritual ways. Cliff Curtis as Fire Lord Ozai smolders with his iron fist bent on conquering all of the other nations. And Aasif Mandvi as Commander Zhao brings a cockiness and arrogance that could only have been bred if not familiar with the actor's skills.
Since the film does concern itself with the four elementals of air, water, earth and fire, we have to acknowledge their roles as well. Harnessing each of the elements are Benders with special ability born into each Nation. Each Bender learns and masters his Nation's element with a graceful martial arts choreography. Each Nation, based on their described element, has developed their culture based on that element. The Water Nation based their culture around water and ice, the Air Nation builds their monasteries high in the mountains to commune with their element, and the Fire Nation builds monstrous mechanical machines bent on domination. CGI has come a long way, and some of the sequences are pretty cool.
Although interesting and sometimes fun to watch, I think M. Night may not have the proper reach for this film. And if you do go to the film, expect an ending akin to the first "LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring" movie. Remember that feeling you had at the end of "Fellowship..." if you did not know that LOTR was in three parts. You are going to get that same disappoint here as well. Good luck.