Pros: Very true to source material. Colourful and action packed.
Cons: Somewhat lacking in character development. Special effects need aftereffects.
The Last Airbender (2010) Written, Produced and Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Katara and Sukko (Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone) are sister and brother living in the southern arctic lands of the Water Bender Nation. Their country has been devastated by war, and Katara is the only Water Bender left uncaptured by the Fire Nation, mostly because she is just coming into her powers. Water bending is the power to move water to your will. Fire Benders shape fire and Earth Benders move the earth and stones.... You get the idea. While Katara is practicing, they disturb something buried under the sea ice, drawing up a sphere. When Katara breaks it to free the form she sees inside, it shoots a powerful light into the sky.
Inside is an odd six legged water buffalo/beaver looking thing, and a small boy. The boy, Aang (Noah Ringer) is marked with tattoos of the Air Bender Nomads, thought extinct for a hundred years. And Aang is indeed an Air Bender, the last of his kind. More than that, he is the Avatar, the one person in the world who can Bend all four elements to his will, and mankind's mediator with the world of the spirits. But Aang fled his responsibilities before he could be trained. Now the Fire Nation is out to bring him down, the last obstacle to their domination.
Fortunately, the Fire Nation burns hot, and fights itself as much as the world. This is best demonstrated by Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) the son of the Fire Lord, exiled for a minor infraction, scarred by flame as a reminder, and told not to come home without the Avatar, the equivalent of sending a knight in search of a unicorn's horn. But here is Zuko's chance, and he is going to take it. Opposing Zuko is Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi), who enjoys humiliating the prince, and who probably aspires to power by marrying his sister, the princess. But Zuko has one unfailing ally and mentor, his uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub). The movie is a three way race; for Aang, Katara and Sukko to find Aang the training he needs, and start a revolution, and with Zuko and Zhao competing to see who can bring in the Avatar's skull. It makes for an action packed romp.
The series Avatar: The Last Airbender on Nickelodeon was noted for its high energy, and it's clear colourful art. It is an excellent series, now adapted to live action.
First, I question the wisdom of going with live action for this particular endeavor; the animation was much of what made the film. Still, Shyamalan has tried to capture the scope and grandeur of the original, and uses strong repeating colour where possible.
A more confusing choice is to recast the Water and Air Nations with White actors. In the original, they were clearly oriental. But here the Earth nation looks Northern Chinese, the Fire Nation, Indian and Pakistani, and the Water Nation, white, if living like Inuits. The Northern Water Tribe look Russian inspired. And the Air Nation looks South East Asian, except for Aang, who looks like any little kid you might find in Texas. Then again, most little kids in Texas don't have those sort of Martial arts moves. I suspect M. Night will catch a lot of flack over this. I will just say I found it confusing.
One of the big failings of the movie though was the lack of after effects of the Bendings. Fire Benders knocked people back with vulcanizing blasts, yet the people they hit aren't even singed around the edges. Sukko's parka was not soaked by water, and the Earth seems to snap back into shape like rubber. The movement of the elements was engaging, but unconvincing.
On the positive side, he stayed very close to the original source material and tried to mix in a good deal of action and martial arts to the more dramatic elements of the story. You can tell M. Night is still more comfortable with the drama than the action, but it still works.
I went into this really wanting to like it, having been rather disappointed by Lady in the Water. And I am not displeased, but I see things that could have been done better. I think one thing one should realize about M. Night Shyamalan is that he is only happy when he is experimenting. Once he has got something down, I think it is time for him to move on. And the end results are frequently movies that work, just not the way you expected them to. I was mostly satisfied with this one; we will give it three and half stars, rounded to four.
Oh, one final note; I have heard a lot of flack about the 3D. It was a retrofit, doesn't seem to add a lot, and makes the movie darker and dingier. I saw it 2D and was quite happy. So save a few bucks.
This is entered into Elvisdo's Funny Pages Write Off.