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Opinionated Guide to The Last Airbender
Korval

[table of contents]
The Waterbending Master
Yeah, remember guys: when you really need to impress that special lady, call her weird-looking.
Todd in the Shadows, The Last Airbender Review

Cut to random Fire Nation village, where Iroh is seated quite comfortably. Zuko walks in, and Iroh says that Aasif's people were looking for Zuko. Iroh told them that Zuko was off with some chick. Zuko doesn't tell him where he was, but he does say that they have to keep moving. Iroh tells him to take a rest, then they'll have some tea (Good God, the Flanderization of Iroh even made it into the film. And it's a season early to boot) before they start the ship's engines.

Naturally, Zuko decides to have his crew leave immediately and then get some rest while they're on the move and... oh no, that would actually make sense. Instead, he agrees to this and the scene ends. I don't get this scene; it's almost like Zuko seems ambivalent about continuing the quest. But why? Because he and Aang fought together and Aang saved his life twice? I'm just not seeing it.

You know what would have made this scene of Zuko seeming somewhat ambivalent about continuing their quest make sense? Some kind of scene where Zuko and Aang had a chat after Aang rescued him. You know, like in the show.

Anyway, as Zuko goes to his ship, we hear Caligula telling Aasif not to harm his son, to leave him to his exile. And Aasif promises not to.

Cut to Zuko getting into his bunk. As he's lying down, he looks over and sees a pipe emitting some kind of gas over a flame. Of course, being a badass firebender, Zuko just grabs the flame and... oh no, that would actually make sense. Instead, he runs for it and makes it out of the cabin. Part of the ship explodes, as Iroh yells a big "ZUKO!"

Cut to our heroes riding the big furry beast around some icebergs. Meanwhile, we cut back to Aasif before Caligula, where we again see Caligula's face. And he's even got the slouch of villainy going on; really threatening guys. Aasif starts talking about how he believes a lot of things. Good old stilted dialog. Basically, he says that he knows Aang can only airbend, so he's gone to the NWT to learn waterbending.

...

We then cut to the group being met by some waterbenders in boats. Hey, that actually makes sense, as we see them using their waterbending to move the boats around. Of course it makes sense; it was in the show. We get shots of the group failing miserably at the art of acting like they're watching something spectacular. We see a bunch of people who I assume are waterbenders doing synchronized movements to bend... I don't rightly know. But that wouldn't be the first time someone did bending without anything actually happening.

Cut to the group walking across a snowy field towards... um... what is that? Is... is that...

I see nothing.

Come on, you have to see it. No, actually; I don't have to see anything. I see nothing. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Her hair is clearly shaped like a giant- NO! This scene? It's over! We're done here; move on!

After... that, Katara starts taking on her narrating duties. Of course, now she's telling us what's happening right now: that they're presenting themselves to the royal court. Yeah, we totally couldn't figure that out for ourselves; we needed that narration. Then she tells us that Sokka and Princess Penis-Hair hooked up immediately. Oh sure, it's not like we'd want to give Sokka something to do in this film or anything. No, just narrate that he hooks up with her; no need to see it happen on camera. People don't need to see things in a movie.

Katara again narrates what's happening, as Aang pulls off his robe to show that he's got airbender tattoos, then shows off some airbending. Katara finishes the scene off by saying that the NWT started preparing for war.

A slow fade brings us to some older man talking about how to defend the city, which he claims was "designed to withstand any assault." Whatever. Their plan involves slowing the Fire Nation down until nightfall, where they get some kind of advantage. Um, what kind of advantage? This is an exposition scene; you might as well have it tell us everything we need to know. Furthermore, who is this guy, and why are we listening to him?

Anyway, the random old guy says that they need to put out the fires in the city when the invasion starts. OK, fair enough. Then he says that Princess No-Penis-In-Her-Hair-This-Time must be guarded at all times. Sokka decides to do it, and the old guy agrees. Of course, let the non-bender protect the important royalty; don't bother giving her a guard who is actually badass or anything. Sokka promises to let nothing happen to her.

Any bets on how long that holds out?

Cut to the Fire Nation palace. Emperor Caligula asks about word from Zuko, but Aasif doesn't know of anything. Caligula starts expositing about how the waterbenders draw power from the Ocean and Moon Spirits, thus making them difficult to defeat. And all throughout this scene, Caligula holds his forearms parallel to the ground, which looks really unnatural.

Caligula then asks after the scrolls that we established that Aasif found before the film. Aasif says that they know the location of the spirits, which prompts Caligula to claim it was their destiny to find the info. Then he tells Caligula to kill the spirits. Cut to a shot of the sun, which pans down to reveal a flotilla of large Fire Nation warships leaving port.

Cut to the NWT, where Katara and Aang are standing in front of the unnamed old guy, learning about waterbending. Apparently, water is the "element of change."At this point, every direct reference to the show is painful, as it reminds me of much better stuff I could be watching. I could really go for one of Toph Bei Fong's sight gags right about now. Mastering it requires following emotions. OK, if you say so, unnamed old guy. He says that water teaches acceptance.

OK, waterbending doesn't actually work that way in the show, but again, I'm not exactly married to the show. So I'm curious as to where they're going with this.

Then he decides to spar with Aang for a bit. The old guy traps Aang in a prison of very fake-looking ice crystals, but Aang breaks free. The bending in this scene looks better, as the old guy's movements aren't overly elaborate dancing, but simple motions like punches and such. Of course, so are Aang's movements, so the idea that masters don't require as much motion goes out the window.

Also, an attempt was made by the filmmakers to try to show the difference between a sloppy, neophyte waterbender and a master. Unnamed old guy's spheres of water are very neat and stable. Whereas Katara's waterbending has been very sloppy, dropping water everywhere (though somehow never losing mass). Of course, this goes out the window the moment Aang blocks some of unnamed old guy's attacks, because the spheres in his control become no less neat and stable.

So that's two ways in which the film tried to show the difference between masters and lesser persons. And it failed at both. Simultaneously.

After Aang blocks several blobs of water, the old guy has Aang go on the attack. Aang does some stuff and pulls up drops of water, but then all the water in the area starts rising up. Aang gets a look on his face, and then stops bending. The old guy looks at him with a look of... neutrality?

The last time that happened, Aang was thinking about his family of Air Nomads. Is that what they're intimating here, that he starts waterbending powerfully when he thinks of them? But he stops himself because it's too painful? Is... is there going to actually be some from of character development in this film?

I mean, this sounds suspiciously like it's actually going somewhere, that there's actual through development of some idea in this film. Waterbending requires releasing emotions, but Aang doesn't want to do that due to his recent loss. Coupled with the establishment of the fact that Aang was having difficulty with waterbending, and it looks suspiciously like actual, honest-to-God character development may be imminent. Does something in this film actually work?

Cut to Aasif on his ship, joined by Iroh. Aasif notes that Iroh is a skilled strategist, but then offhandedly says that he'll overlook Iroh's failure in a "hundred day siege" of Ba Sing Se. Um, did Aasif bring Iroh along just to dick with him? Aasif then infodumps that Iroh's son was lost in that battle. So apparently, Aasif did just bring Iroh along to dick with him. Aasif then offers his condolences on Zuko's death.

Well, that was pointless: next scene. We see Princess What's-Her-Name with Sokka, out among the people. They bow to her as they pass. They head to the outer wall. At which point, they start having some ostensibly romantic banter. She wistfully says that she will visit the Southern Water Tribe, and Sokka says that his grandmother will have many questions for her.

Then we get some semi-romantic infodumping, as Sokka obliquely asks her about her white former penis hair. Apparently she was stillborn, but a trip to the Moon Spirit solved that, and turned her hair white.

OK, that dialog was awkward, but it was probably the best character scene that Sokka gets. Actually, it's probably the most tolerable character scene in the film that doesn't involve Iroh and Zuko. The biggest problem with it is that it's very lighthearted. This movie, up until now, has not had a lighthearted tone, and Sokka has up to this point been an incredibly serious character. So this scene seems really out of place. But hey, at least we get to see some of the couple interacting, which is a far cry from the nonsense of having Katara narrate the fact that they hooked up.

You know what? I could actually buy that the cartoon Sokka might speak this dialog. It has exactly the kind of corny joke that he would appreciate. Did cartoon Sokka go backstage and slip some dialog to his live-action counterpart before filming the scene? Even so, it feels really foreign coming out of this character's mouth, who has up until now demonstrated none of the cartoon Sokka's joking nature.

Cut to Iroh in the belly of the ship, somewhere. Oh look, it's Zuko. Yeah, I totally believed that they randomly killed off one of the main characters of the film who shares the box cover with Aang. Iroh says that Aasif ordered the attack on Zuko. Iroh infodumps that they've reached the NWT. Then he asks if Zuko wants to be there, since Aasif has "no sacredness." I don't know what that has to do with Zuko's purpose in being there. So Zuko just reminds Iroh that he can't go home until he has the Avatar.

And, as we approach the climax of the film, a haze of ennui has set in. When a film approaches a climactic battle, you're supposed to feel tension slowly building. Things are supposed to be getting more and more tense. The heroes should be facing greater and greater difficulties. But that hasn't happened.

This entire section of the film, over 10 minutes, is completely without action or suspense. The villains are all preparing to do something, and the heroes are just sitting around training, without a care in the world. There is no sense that something terrible is looming, no threat from the enemy, nothing. Why do it this way?

Because it was in the show. I'd say that one of the bigger systematic failings of the show, especially in third season, was the lack of appropriate build up to climactic moments. In season 1, the equivalent episode has the same issue. Granted, there's a big Katara sequence, as the NWT is sexist against women using waterbending to fight rather than heal (though healing via waterbending is something that was thankfully removed from the film). At least that ends in a big waterbending fight, so there's some kind of action beat before the finale. But overall, it wasn't a particularly effective lead-in to a climactic two-parter.

To do that in a TV series is one thing, especially one designed to be watched once a week. To do that in a movie is absolutely ridiculous; this is filmmaking 101 stuff here. So once again, the film suffers because M. Night doesn't know how to actually write an adaptation.

28th Sep '11 11:14:20 PM flag for mods
comments
Wow. That hair is... not exactly subtle. Scrolling down on that was a serious "What the...?!" moment for me, without having read the accompanying text.
FreezairForALimitedTime 30th Sep 11
I don't think Iroh mentioning tea once in this film counts as Flanderization. That'd be like calling his line about Jasmine Tea in his first scene that.

I always did wonder why Yue's "belief" line got all the attention when Aasif said it first.

Then he tells Caligula to kill the spirits.

You mean Caligula tells AASIF to kill the spirits, right?
ManwiththePlan 1st Oct 11
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