by Brad Nelson
I watched The Last Airbender fairly recently. It went against all my Spider-senses to do so. But a friend thought that I might like it. And, granted, it is a visual feast. This far surpasses Avatar in sheer visual delight. The entire movie is the equivalent of stringing together the best images from the game “Myst” and its sequels. But visuals is all it has.
If you took The NeverEnding Story and Lord of the Rings, crammed them into a blender, poured off any character charisma and charm, made the plot about on the level of what a five-year-old could understand and enjoy, you would then have The Last Airbender, a new frontier in sheer stupidity and pointlessness.
The characters are almost completely devoid of personality or charm. Even the villains are boring. Other than the visuals (which are truly fantastic), there isn’t much here that is original. They even rip off the idea of Falkor (the big flying dragon-like beastie) from The NeverEnding Story. It’s all just a bunch of quarter-baked (one level down from half-baked) Eastern mysticism wannabe.
Remember, I’m reviewing this as a person who likes schmaltzy, simplistic kid’s stuff. But Scooby-Doo had far more character development than The Last Airbender which makes Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars seem like Sir Lawrence Olivier in comparison.
No. I lied. Nothing could redeem that awful performance of Christensen. Still, I will admit there’s just enough of a coherent story in The Last Airbender (simplistic though it is) that good characters and acting might have made this work.
The story goes as thus: The world has four basic elements: Earth, Wind, and Fire. [No. Sorry. That’s the musical group. Let me start again.] The world of The Last Airbender is split into Air, Earth, Water, and Fire kingdoms. There are some people of each type who can learn to control these things. They can throw fire, or move funnels of water, blow blasts of air, that sort of thing. (Myself, I’m the “Fartbender,” but that’s another story.)
Keeping this all in balance (and, remember, it’s not about “good and evil”; it’s about maintaining some kind of schmaltzy “balance” in the world) is the Avatar. No, not that god-awful movie from the now thoroughly over-rated Cameron. In The Last Airbender, the Avatar is what they call the guy who is able to control all four forces and keep some kind of schmaltzy harmony in the world. He’s sort of the stand-in for the U.N.
Well, the Avatar guy (who is a child…reincarnated recently in a long line of reincarnations) doesn’t like his role and runs away. The world then goes to hell in a non-character-developed hand-basket. But the boy eventually returns and fights to restore balance by kicking the asses of the Fire people who have dominion over much of the world and who desire to have it all. (They have damn cool fire ships too.)
Following along with the Avatar on his journey are two people-not-of-color (what are they doing in this movie…did they get lost and wander onto the set?) who really don’t have much of a purpose other than to speak inane lines. And they do that well. At some point you begin to appreciate the sheer vacuousness of this movie. If this movie could be atop its own equivalent of the cinematic balance beam, it would get a Nadia Comaneci perfect 10 for airheadedness.
The Last Airbender is just a movie, of course. But I found it to be a wonderful statement on the state of our culture. It can paint really pretty pictures but has absolutely no depth or soul otherwise. It has nothing to say. It’s all comprised of the most surface-level stuff despite pretending at deep mysticism.
If you’re looking for a very fine kid’s adventure story, go rent The NeverEnding Story. But leave this piece of crap alone unless you like getting together with your friends and doing your own version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. If you turn the sound off and just enjoy the visuals, I can squeak the rating for this movie just over the 1.0 threshold and give it a 1.1. But even then, that’s partaking in some serious grade inflation. • (820 views)