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Philly2Philly Reviews 'The Last Airbender'

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The Last Airbender is a step in a different direction for director M. Night Shyamalan; up The Last Airbender photo: www.thecinemapost.comuntil this point, his films have been primarily smaller in scale and more tightly focused. Aesthetically, at least, he’s risen to the challenge. Airbender has quite a bit of spectacle - the cinematography is excellent, the special effects are outstanding, and I’d recommend this movie on the strength of the fight scenes alone. In this, he’s succeeded.

But, unlike a pure martial arts film - which can be carried successfully by the choreography, regardless of how bare the plot - this is an epic film. The pacing must be fluid, the writing effective, and above all, the actors must possess the skill appropriate to the script. In this, it suffers.

The story is straightforward; Aang, a boy of twelve, tries to escape his grand destiny, nearly drowns, and is frozen alive. Discovered a hundred years later by siblings Sokka and Katara, Aang awakens to a world all but under the rule of the Fire Nation. Restoring the balance rests with Aang learning to ‘bend’ all four elements to his will, and becoming the Avatar – which the Fire Nation is determined to stop, by any means necessary.

The movie, adapted from the Nickelodeon animated series, did not make a seamless transition to the screen; elements that were unfolded over the course of a whole season have been compressed into a hundred minutes of film. The pacing, as a result, felt choppy, and while some moments flowed perfectly, others felt stilted. Would it have benefited from an extra thirty minutes? Possibly, but that depended on the writing and the actors – which were, in parts, lacking.

Some moments and actors were brilliant. I was particularly impressed with Dev Patel (Prince Zuko) and Shaun Toub (Iroh). Unfortunately, Nicola Peltz (Katara) and Noah Ringer (Aang) could not muster the same strength in their performances, and other cast members were just as uneven; Jackson Rathbone (Sokka) and Aasif Mandvi (Admiral Zhao) were merely okay, while Seychelle Gabriel (Princess Yue) was quite potent with what little time she was onscreen.

In summation, The Last Airbender succeeds because of its aesthetic strengths, and if you watch it as a martial artist, or with the eyes of a child, you’ll be more able to forgive its flaws. But there is a striking lack of harmony, and Airbender manages to feel both rushed and slow simultaneously – which is an injustice to everything else it does so well.

As mentioned in my previous article, I was an extra in this film. Seeing the completed result was a special kind of thrill for me. But, as a writer, I felt that Mr. Shyamalan should’ve delegated the job to another. He’s a skilled director with a strong visual aesthetic – but this was a movie that he wanted audiences to leave in awe. Instead, it leaves them in contemplation of what could’ve been.

Contact Brian Lynch at brian.andrew.lynch@gmail.com

Photo: http://www.thecinemapost.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/thelastair22509.jpg