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Opinionated Guide to The Last Airbender
Korval

[table of contents]
Conclusion
Well, Dave, that was Godawful. Thanks for that.
Todd in the Shadows, The Last Airbender Review

... Reintegration is complete. And now suddenly I'm very grateful that we will never see what happens with that little slip of a girl Caligula just unleashed.

The real, looming question is this: was this movie really that bad?

Good God... no?

Believe me, I'm as surprised as you are. This is a terrible movie; don't get me wrong. But given all of the negative press and reviews, I was expecting true horrors. Legion-level badness. And it wasn't.

This film was inept and incoherent from beginning to end. Things happen suddenly and apropos of nothing, and they are forgotten just as quickly. There is no through development of any idea in this film. The action is terribly directed, the actors can't act, the writers can't write, exposition replaces characterization, and the plot is flimsy and schizophrenic. The film is plotted like a jigsaw puzzle that's been put together all wrong; it has pieces from the series, but no idea where they go or how they're supposed to work with one another.

In terms of the series, this is a snuff film; the characters we know and love being systematically fucked and murdered. Zuko is a mere shadow of his true self, while Sokka barely exists as a character at all. That might be a blessing to Katara, who in this film is de-balled, weak-willed, and useless. And while Aang's characterization could have worked, the failure at the end to actually make it about him as a character ultimately renders all of that useless. Of course, the fact that our actors can't act isn't helping.

Yet despite all of that, I would gladly watch this film three times back to back if it meant never having to see Legion ever again. After watching The Last Airbender, I thought, "Well, that was pretty bad." After watching the absolutely epic Cliché Storm that is Legion, I thought, "Should I ever see another film again? I mean, it could be as bad as Legion; should I chance it?" I had to go watch Ink again to remind myself that movies don't have to suck out a portion of your soul when you see them.

Maybe it's a matter of one's particular pet peeves. Full-fledged cliché storm is pretty much bane for me; I can tolerate some horseshit, but dip too much into the overused and hackney, and I'm gone. And being a proponent of pragmatism in all its forms, I'm generally never so wed to a canon that I won't accept alterations to it that make them more amenable when adapted to another format.

This is a bad film, but I never really felt that it hurt me. I was more confused and bewildered by everything that was going on. Part of the reason it didn't hurt was probably because it was usually a pretty fast-paced movie. And it's easy to swallow things when they come at you non-stop. There's no time to really process each bit of stupid fully before another one comes along.

There also wasn't any one scene I could single out for being utterly reprehensible, even in the context of the movie. I could not find a Dethroning Moment of Suck, some moment that really stood out as being utterly worse than everything else. There was no equivalent of the Kobayashi Maru scene from Star Trek 2009, a scene that after I viewed it, I developed an irrational hatred for the entire rest of the film. This film was just a steady, continuous, uniform wave of stupid.

But there's also the fact that the film benefits from drastically lowered expectations. I only watched this film recently, over a year after its initial release. I went into this film fully prepared for a crappy movie. I was not there on opening day, with hope in my heart for a worthy adaptation. I pretty much knew every bad thing that I was going to see. Indeed, the reason why I was so disappointed with the Aang arc is because it was one part of the film I didn't know about, so I was hopeful that something, somewhere might have actually worked.

Whereas I went into Legion expecting, at worse, a brainless action flick. And I came out the other end with the worst movie experience I've ever had. So expectations matter. I can certainly understand if you feel this film deserves to be considered among the worst films ever. But I'm simply not there.

But at least we can be thankful that M. Night only got his hands on season 1. I'd hate to see how he'd screw up season 2.

The Last Airbender, Revised

As a final conclusion to this review, to show how inept this film really is, here is my idea for how the first five minutes of the film should have gone.

No voiceover, no intro, no exposition; the movie has a title card and starts right up. It's night-time, under the light of the full moon (plot point!). We see a cart being pulled into a building. We see a masked figure under the cart, but he ducks out of sight when one of the guards looks there. The guards wave the cart through. We get shots showing the layout of the building, built like a fortress. The masked figure stealthily steals his way in, avoiding guards and so forth.

Cut to a trio of guards in front of a large, steel door. They hear a sound, so two of them warily approach to investigate. They get taken down out of sight of the camera. The third guard attempts to sound the alarm, but the masked figure appears from around the corner and takes him out before he can.

Cut to a figure in the center of a room, chained at the arms and legs. The person has long, black hair and their hair is down over their face. The door bursts open to reveal the masked figure. The prisoner looks up revealing... Katara! She asks who he is, and the masked figure removes his mask to reveal... Sokka! He quickly frees her.

They have a quick conversation, with Sokka explaining why he was masked (just in case someone saw him, they wouldn't know which prisoner he was going for). She then asks if he brought "it." He jokingly hems and haws for a second, but them pulls out... a water pouch. They give each other a knowing smile, and we get a shot of Katara strapping it on like a Samurai donning his sword.

As they try to make a stealthy escape, an alarm sounds and the gates close. Oops. They run into an open area, and a number of guards approach, several of them apparently weaponless. We see some firebending here, which Katara and Sokka dodge. Sokka takes out one guard, but Katara, pulling water from her bottle and lays the smack down on the firebenders. She then uses her water to form a ladder that the pair climb to get on the battlements.

From there, it's a running battle for them to escape and get to the sea. They get to a boat Sokka had waiting for them, and Katara waterbends the ocean to power their escape, as a group of firebenders look on impotently.

So, what does this do? Like any good film storytelling, many things at once.

1: It's an action sequence. It allows the movie to start with something exciting and dynamic, not infodumping and two kids walking across the ice.

2: It introduces bending without a single word of exposition.

3: It gives our characters a moment to get acquainted with the audience. Through the fight, we get to see how each one acts, and they even get a few seconds of talking time before the big escape. We can even see how they interact with each other.

4: It allows Katara to be badass. She's not a neophyte waterbender in this version; she's got some waterbending skill from the start. Plus, when we deliver exposition later about the full moon's effect on waterbending, it gives the audience something to notice on a second viewing, and it explains why she might not be so powerful in later scenes. Indeed, the full moon thing could even be mentioned in a bit of banter between the siblings during the fight.

5: It raises questions in the audience's minds. Why was Katara imprisoned? Who was she that warranted that treatment? The rest of the film could develop that. For example, Katara might have come across some information on the whereabouts of the Avatar. Indeed, maybe she and Zuko are already well acquainted (no, not that way, Zutarans) as they're both after the same target, and he was responsible for getting her captured. In short: it starts the plot off.

6: It gives fans of the show a "what the hell?" moment, since the scene is clearly staged to look like it's from The Blue Spirit. This lets fans know up front that this will not be a literal adaptation. If they don't like that, they know where the door is.

30th Sep '11 11:09:54 PM flag for mods
comments
Neat idea. I like having Katara know some waterbending at the start— the show could build it up and take its time, but a movie only has so much space. Katara could then take the initiative to teach Aang some waterbending before they get to the Northern Water Tribe, helping explain his quick mastery of waterbending for the next film.

The idea to throw a sucker-punch opening for the fans is good, too. It's easier to accept the necessary changes inherent in an adaptation if we know right at the beginning things will be different, as opposed to watching and thinking, "Why did they change that? Why did they move that earlier? Why did they cut that?" Also, if you're a fan of the show, it's something new to see— you're basically on level ground with the non-fans, since you don't know what's going to happen next. Of course, some fans would be upset no matter what, but I think most would be willing to accept a movie that follows the spirit of the show, and not just the plot.
Ronka87 1st Oct 11
Wow, I did NOT see that final verdict coming. I agree with it. It's been my feelings on the film since I first saw it. It's a crappily made movie but not the absolutely, horrendously, unwatchably horrible movie that most critics make it out to be.
ManwiththePlan 1st Oct 11
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