So last night I was invited to a test screening of a "non-sequel blockbuster from a major motion picture studio". After a long ass wait in line, we finally were greeted by some yuppie old guy to tell us we are about to be the first in the world to see THE LAST AIRBENDER. The movie starts out with a voiceover from Katara explaining the four tribes - Water Tribe, Earth Tribe, whatevertheycalledtheairbenders and Fire Nation - and explaining the idea of the avatar, reincarnated soul who can bend all four elements. The flick then dives right in, as within about fifteen minutes the avatar is found, released, captured, escapes, and proven to be the avatar. Katara and her brother Sokka join the avatar and his flying dog as they travel around this world, stopping only to fight some punk ass members of the Fire Nation (who are basically trying to take over the world) or learn how to bend a different element (the movie focuses on him learning to bend water, but it's stated early on that Aang, the avatar, had only learned to bend air before he ended up where we meet him at the start of the movie). The threesome are chased by two different groups in the Fire Nation, one led by the Fire Chief's son, Prince Zuko (played by Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel) and the other by power hungry Commander Zhao (played by for Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi). Zuko wants to capture Aang to get his honor back - Zhao just wants more power. It all builds to a huge battle at a water tribe's city, basically. The film tries to do too much to fast, and many relationships are half-formed or barely formed (particularly the relationship between Sokka and the water tribe's princess), and many of the scenes that include Patel as Zuko The Tortured Teenager were silly instead of dramatic. The film truly felt like it was missing a half-hour's worth of scenes. The good news, for the cartoon's fans: kid that plays Aang is awesome, Uncle Iroh is a joy on screen, and the action kicks some MAJOR ass. If you use this call me Durka Durka.
I was at test screening of Avatar: The Last Airbender in suburban Chicago today. Pretty much the standard deal - incomplete special effects, sound design, likely not the final cut, etc. I've seen a couple episodes of the series before, but I've never been a fan. I know nothing about the story, characters, any of it. When we walked into the theater and were told that we were seeing TLA I didn't have any strong reaction one way or the other. The friend went with is a fan of the show, and she told me it roughly covered the first season. For those who haven't seen the show I'll give a brief non-spoiler review: The Shyamalan Twist is that this universe contains no character development and you have to pay another $20 over the next few years to get any feeling of closure. Not too hot. Moving on… I'll start with the good, don't want to be too much of a downer. First off, the elemental effects (which were… 60% finished?) are fucking sweet. They strike a great balance between realistic and cool. The action sequences are filmed well (though the non-action parts contain some questionable shots) and everything has a very satisfying weight to it. However, once things start to go Helm's Deep in the last third of the movie, they bring in those "300" slow-motion zooms from the Super Bowl spot. I thought they were overused and strangely out of place, since the action up to that point had been shot rather "traditionally," but I suppose it's the current trend in action movies so I'll suck it up and won't hold it against them. For the most part, the action in the movie is pretty good. The not-so-good is most everything else. The child actors are terrible, especially (excuse me while I consult IMDB for character and location names, since the movie rarely pauses to let you care or remember anybody) Aang and Katara. When it comes to doing anything remotely serious the cheese-o-meter goes through the roof. Shyamalan also gets Dev Patel to channel his best Anakin Skywalker. The script is the real problem, though. The dialogue is terrible throughout, often unintentionally funny and occasionally not making sense at all. The whole movie is effectively a bullet-point outline of the first season, and man oh man, does it show. It starts with awkward narration by Katara (who sounds oddly on the verge of tears) which briefly sums up the world before jumping right into her and Sokka finding Aang. At no point in the movie did I feel confused or lost by what was going on, but it always, always felt RUSHED. We're given the information that is directly needed to follow the story, and then it's right on to the next thing. The best example of this comes maybe 2/3 in. Our heroes get to the Northern Water Tribe, and Sokka is immediately hot for Princess Yue. We cut to something else for a bit, and when we get back Sokka and Yue are surprisingly intimate with each other. We understand that time has passed (if only because somebody has a throwaway line akin to "well we've been here a while now, huh?"), but the way these characters are suddenly close felt entirely out of left field. My friend tells me that Sokka chases every girl he sees in the show but this is not conveyed in the film at all, and they've told us quite literally nothing at all about Yue at this point. Shyamalan seems to recognize this, though, and as soon as we cut back to the now buddy-buddy Sokka and Yue we're suddenly given her entire backstory. Sokka makes the mistake of mentioning Yue's white hair and she goes off on her past for minute as Sokka (and the audience) just kind of stand there. The characters and the story ultimately make sense, but the way in which it's delivered feels incredibly rushed - and at many times downright out of order. This point of the movie is also where it went from kind of bad to flat-out BAD. Once the shit starts to hit the fan, it becomes painfully obvious that… it doesn't feel like the shit is hitting the fan. The Fire Dudes are coming to mess up the Northern Water Tribe, but there is absolutely zero sense of tension or danger. The movie hasn't been building up to it. We haven't been given a reason to like any of the Water Tribe people or even our heroes, nor do we particularly hate the Fire people. When Yue has to sacrifice herself at the end, it's supposed to be a huge emotional thing, but I simply didn't give a damn, since she's a cardboard cutout. It's all a bunch of people running around doing stuff with no arc or flow, following their bullet points and ending abruptly. I do have to mention that the a scene from the ending of the movie has set the current bar for the best unintentional punchline of 2010. It involves Aasif Mandvi, a fish, and a zoom into the eyes of a dude doing his best Incredible Hulk face. If you use this, call me never_knows_best
Longtime reader and sometime reviewer here. I was part of the test screening tonight of M. Night Shyamalan's THE LAST AIRBENDER in Warrenville, Illinois. As soon as I saw the non-disclosure agreement said Paramount Pictures, my hopes of it being INCEPTION were shattered. I tried to go in with positivity but it was hard in the wake of THE HAPPENING and THE LADY IN THE WATER. I was a big Shyamalan fan. UNBREAKABLE is one of my favorite movies from the past ten years. I tried to not let my disdain show on my face as we entered the auditorium. We had the standard rigmarole that the film was not complete and it had temporary music. The movie opens with one of the most convoluted and rushed explanatory montages I have ever seen. I am not very versed in the AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER cartoon so I am sure it made sense to fans of the show. Basically, you have the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water and each element has a nation of people. Within those nations are people called Benders who are able to harness the power in a pseudo-martial arts kind of way. They can attack using their element only after performing complicated moves that result in no physical contact. There is one Bender who, like the Dalai Llama, is reincarnated ever generation with the ability to manipulate all four elements. This being is known as the Avatar, or Ahvuhtar, depending on how the actor pronounces it. But, the last Avatar has been missing for 100 years. In that time the Fire Nation has built metal war machines and taken control of the world. It is now time for the Avatar to return. Blah, blah, blah. All of this is explained in the first five minutes, literally. The title card then reads Book One: Water. I was hoping they were going Tarantino on us and dividing the movie into chapters, but the entire movie is Book One. We open in the Southern Water Kingdom which appears to be an Inuit Village. Here we are introduced to Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, mandatory TWILIGHT actor). These actors could quite possibly be the worst two actors I have seen in a long time. I partially hope their is CGI to be added to their acting as they delivered each line as if this was a high school play. They stumble upon Aang, the Last Airbender of the title, frozen in a giant bubble with his weird dragon creature that reminded me of Falkor with Down's Syndrome. I know that is harsh, but when you see it you will know what I mean. We really get little explanation as to why or how he is frozen. Quickly the Fire Nation gets involved in the form of banished Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) who overacts so much in his first scenes I could not forgive him the rest of the film. Aang is taken away and then found again, which seems to repeat through the film. While Aang, Sokka, and Katara venture to help Aang learn all four elements and save the world, Zuko is trying to catch them with his Uncle Iroh (the only excellent performance in the film from Shaun Toub). We also meet Admiral Zhao (Aasif Mandvi from THE DAILY SHOW) who is kind of the Grand Moff Tarkin of this film. He is trying to catch the Avatar for Fire Lord Ozai (always dependable Cliff Curtis) so the Fire Nation can rule the world. Along the way, Aang makes numerous stops at meditation locations to speak with the Dragon Spirit who gives him fortune cookie advice on his path to greatness. The whole film climaxes at the Northern Water Nation (why there are two Water Nations, I have no idea) in a sequence eerily reminiscent of the Battle of Helms Deep, right down to the soldier uniforms and castle design. I mean, it is so much of a copycat sequence that I have to cry plagiarism on the set designers. The film ends with the setup for the sequel along with a final scene with the Fire Lord that is tonally perfect. There is so much wrong with this movie that I can just sum it up with this: Shyamalan is done. He is creatively spent. The film bares little to no visual distinctiveness to set it apart from Percy Jackson or any other generic Harry Potter wannabee. Shyamalan has maintained his trademark shitty dialogue. While Peltz and Rathbone are unforgivablely bad actors, everyone from Dev Patel to Cliff Curtis have no choice but to overact to match the hammy, heavy handed, telegraphed dialogue. And while my wife thought Aasif Madvi was good as the villainous Zhao, he just fell flat for me. When you cast a funny comedic actor from The Daily Show as your primary villain you cannot expect to be taken seriously as a movie. THE GOOD: The final 30 minute "Helms Deep for Kids" sequence was well paced and fun to watch Dev Patel in the final two acts of the film. The action sequences are filmed clearly and without the Bourne shaky cam that pervades in action movies these days. Also a proper and sparing use of slow motion. Shaun Toub in the entire movie is worth watching. The one on one fight sequences are pretty cool visually. Think "Voldemort versus Dumbledore for Kids" THE BAD: Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone are unbearably bad. Shyamalan's screenplay is absolute dreck. His dialogue is embarassingly bad. The editing is atrocious. The movie is not slow, just incomprehensible. THE UGLY: I must highlight this one scene (MAJOR SPOILER!!!!!!!!!) The Fire Nation believes that the only way it can defeat the Water Nation is by killing the Moon Spirit, which takes the form of a Koi fish. General Zhao captures the fish in a bag and, after saying something menacing, PUNCHES THE FISH TO DEATH. I am not joking. He punches the fucking fish to death. The entire audience applauded at the end of the film but I could not bring myself to do it. This was a bad movie. As a movie fan, I hated it. As a film geek, I despised it. As a Shyamalan fan, it ended any hope I had for him as a director or a writer. But, as the father of two young boys, I know they will enjoy this movie. If the studio gets a PG rating, they are swimming in dough. There was zero blood and only two characters die. I honestly do not think I saw a single soldier killed at all in the entire movie, just knocked unconscious by an elemental attack. I know that this will appeal to most kids, but I feel sorry for the parents who have to sit through it with them. If you use this, call me StephenHawkingDiarrhea.