The Last Airbender is a 2010 Live-Action Adaptation by M Night Shyamalan based on Avatar The Last Airbender, the word "Avatar" being omitted to prevent the title from bumping into the film Avatar. It was planned to be the first film in a trilogy matching the three seasons of the show.The world of The Last Airbender consists of four societies, the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes, the Fire Nation and the Air Nomads. Each society has people capable of manipulating or "bending" the element that is their namesake. Only one person in each generation is capable of bending all of the elements, The Avatar, and whose duty is to be a mediator and peacekeeper of the world. The film's hero is Aang (pronounced "Ahng"), a young Avatar and Air Nomad found in an iceberg by Water Tribe teenagers Katara and Sokka (pronounced "Soh-kah"). Aang learns that his people were massacred by the tyrannical Fire Nation who have been warring with the other societies since Aang was in the iceberg, 100 years ago. Seeking to take his calling seriously, he journeys with his new friends to the North Pole to find a Waterbending master to learn the art. But news that the Avatar has returned spreads quickly, and he is hunted by both Prince Zuko, the disgraced son of the Fire Lord, and Admiral Zhao, the Fire Lord's second in command.Despite recouping its budget, it was a critical flop, panned by the Avatar fanbase, and won 5 Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture. The film holds a 6% approval rating at review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes as well as widely believed to be Shyamalan's worst movie.
The Last Airbender provides examples of the following tropes:
3-D Movie: The 3D effects were slapped on at the last moment.
In the series, the Earth Kingdom prisoners are trapped on a rig out at sea, and need Katara's help because they have no obvious earth to bend. In the film, the Earth Kingdom prisoners are in a garden-variety landbound prison camp, and need Aang's help because it apparently just hasn't occurred to them that the ground here also counts as earth. Admittedly, both explain that the Earthbenders had their spirits broken and no longer wanted any trouble (even in the show when given access to their element the Earthbenders didn't want to fight the prison guards). It's only that the explanation for their broken spirits (no earth to bend) wasn't present.
Adaptational Wimp: The entirety of firebending gets wimpified. While the series portrays summoning fire from one's hands as basic firebending, the movie reserves this ability for only the best, most experienced benders. Those who have not mastered firebending must bend from an already-lit fire source, putting them on a more even keel with benders of the other three elements.
Ascended Extra: While he is the Big Bad, before the third season of the show Ozai had almost no direct involvement with the storyline; he was The Faceless in the first season and a Face Framed In Shadow in the second, with only one brief scene that wasn't a flashback. The movie, based on the first season, gives him several scenes with Admiral Zhao, including being the driving force behind Zhao's "kill the moon" plan. Though oddly enough, there's still one scene that's clearly trying to hide his face, after we've already seen it. Presumably the decision to show it occured midway through production and Shyamalan just forgot to redo it.
As You Know: The primary mode of exposition (Zhao even uses these exact words on multiple occasions). One major example is that the audience learns about how Zuko received his scar by a child who he had asked to relate the story to make a point to his uncle, as he needed the Avatar to gain any peace of mind before thinking about settling down or "pretty girls". (Zuko was traveling incognito at the time.)
Beauty Is Never Tarnished: As mentioned above, some feel that Zuko's scar is this because of how downplayed it is. Others feel that it is more realistic than the wildly exaggerated scar from the cartoon.
Big Damn Heroes: Katara shows up just in time to rescue Aang from Zuko after Zuko had taken him from her earlier.
Big "NO!": Aang let out a huge one after finding out his mentor Monk Gyatso died.
The Dragon Spirit serves as a stand-in for Roku, Koh and even Guru Pathik with the appearance of Roku's pet dragon Fang.
According to the novelization, the Kyoshi Warriors (who are sadly removed in the final cut), rather than protecting the Kyoshi Island from intruders, they took over the roles for Jet and the Freedom Fighters.
The film version of Yue is composed of the series Yue and Arnook, by having her father written off as dead at the start of the movie.
Along with roles originally played by the animated Ozai, he played many roles of the animated Zhao. In some cases, the roles are jointly shared with the film Zhao, particularly the plan to eliminate the Ocean and Moon Spirits in the Siege of the North. The characterization for the animated Zhao is more closely depicted with this Ozai than with the film Zhao, e.g., sinister and devious, rather than cocky and ambitious.
On the other hand, the film version of Zhao is a spun-off character, personifying a younger Zhao who served as a junior Lieutenant under General Shu (and then found the hidden library), and apparently an illegitimate son of Zhao-Ozai composite, turning the relationship dynamics between "Zhao Jr." and Zuko similar to Edmund and Edgar in King Lear.
Compressed Adaptation: This is inevitable when you consider that Shyamalan is trying to fit ten hours of a TV series into a regular-length movie. The movie manages to condense episodes 1-3, 13, and 19 and 20 (the first season two-part finale) into a rather tight series of events. Episode 4, in which the Kyoshi Warriors and Suki were introduced, was originally present but cut for the theatrical release. Everything else in the show is either simplified, vague, or presented through montage and voiceover.
Dawson Casting: Jackson Rathbone (24) as Sokka (15-16). Although that is the only example, as the others are played by actors of a closer age. Rathbone apparently had a good screen test with Peltz and very much looked like her older brother. He looks awkward playing opposite Dev Patel, who is six years younger despite playing a character one year his senior. Suki would like to have a word with you.
Momo shows up long enough to be introduced, then occasionally shows up in the background a couple times. You could be forgiven for not believing him to have followed Aang after the introduction.
Appa was also demoted. He doesn't get a lot of screen time and is more of a mode of transportation than an actual character.
Arguably, Katara and Sokka. Neither of them get many scenes in the spotlight, nor do anything of much importance, especially when compared to their TV show counterparts. At least Sokka gets his girlfriend.
Haru and Tyro... ahem, Earthbending Boy and his father.
Dull Surprise: All the main characters. Aang in particular Katara as well At least Aang shows some emotion for about 2 seconds in the Water Tribe. Katara, however, is (to quote a fan review) "like the secret love child of Keanu Reeves, Kristen Stewart, and a brick wall." Sokka as too. He has some moments of emotion, but not as much as is probably appropriate. Even Aasif Mandvi's Zhao, who somehow manages to be this and a Large Ham.
Elemental Baggage: Firebending was the only bending art in the series that created their element, which the movie altered to require a fire source. The explanation, as provided by Iroh in the first episode, was that firebending came from mixing air with your own body heat and energy. To some degree the same thing is true in the movie, except only masters can create fire. Firebenders can, without a flame source, generate sufficient heat from their fingertips to melt through ice.
Family Unfriendly Death: Zhao via onscreen drowning from the hands of four random Waterbenders. Complete with seeing his lifeless body plopped down on screen.
Fantastic Racism: The Fire Nation believe themselves superior to the other elements, which was directly patterned off of Nazi Germany/Imperial Japan motifs in the show. Ironic, considering Shyamalan's changes to the source material render them the most hindered by Elemental Baggage — extent fire is much rarer than water, earth, or air.
Flynning: In many cases it takes a lot of movement to produce very small amounts of bending, while the show's style had it as a natural extension of the body. It does appear to be a visual shorthand to differentiate the master benders from the novices: Aang, Pakku and Zuko are significantly more efficient in their respective element. If you look closely at her fight scene with Zuko, Katara's movements are far smoother and more efficient than her early attempt at bending when she wound up freezing Sokka, showing that she's made some progression. Shyamalan's reasoning is that he interprets bending as pumping up a lot of chi like an airsoft gun, then releasing it when you have enough.
The entire water tribe at the climax of the movie. Knowing a Fire Nation invasion was imminent, the leader of the water tribe told everyone to put out every flame in the village so that the invading firebenders couldn't have ammunition. None of the fires were put out, including the one near the koi pond(!!).
That pales in comparison to the Earthbenders, who are kept prisoner in a quarry filled with earth!
Infodump: Used as the primary device for backstory and information.
Informed Ability: Zhao was supposed to be a master Firebender. While the series showcased his powers, the movie didn't. For example, there is no Agni Kai between him and Zuko in the beginning and the end (the latter because Iroh talked Zuko out of it) and as he prepares to fight a quartet of unnamed waterbenders, he got encased in a giant bubble and drowned to death.
It Is Pronounced Tro-PAY / Reality Is Unrealistic: One of the more talked about changes Shyamalan made to things was the pronunciation of many of the names, supposedly to be more in line with how they would be pronounced in Asian languages (Aang gets pronounced "Ahng", Sokka becomes "Soak-a", and Iroh becomes "Ee-roh"). The way they're pronounced in the original is, respectively, to rhyme with "gang", like the sport, and as if he were a product by Apple.
Shyamalan also changed the pronunciation of the fire duel, "Agni Kai". It's now pronounced "Agni Ki" (as in key).
He also changed the typical western pronunciation of "avatar" to "ahvatar" (in some of the times it is said, anyway), even though it's still nothing like the original Indian pronunciation, which is something like "uhvathar".
Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Imprisoning Earthbenders in a quarry. The Fire Nation's stupidity is turned Up to Eleven here. At least in the show, they keep Earthbenders imprisoned on metal ships far out to sea, where no earth is available for the Earthbenders to use against their captors. Subverted, in a way, because the Earthbenders spend years in the camp without fighting back. The Firebenders' stupidity was turned Up to Eleven but the Earthbenders' stupidity was turned Up To Twelve.
Logo Joke: The stars from the Paramount Pictures logo are accompanied with splashes of water. The Nickelodeon logo that follows is on fire.
Magic A Is Magic A: An interesting look at how this trope works. While the show never portrayed Firebending inconsistently, the film changed it so that (like the other bending arts) they have to have a source of fire instead of forming it from nothing. Master firebenders can still create their own fire, so all in all only the logistics are different. Their war strategy now involves sending flaming boulders into enemy territory so that their front line troops can bend it, among other things.
Magitek: There is a great deal more emphasis on the Fire Nation technology (made possible by Firebending), frequent mention is made of "their machines" and how difficult it was for the other bending arts to fight against them. The Siege of the North involved a fire cannon that singularly punched a hole through the Northern Tribe wall and soldiers used a drilling device to emerge underneath the feet of Water Tribe soldiers.
Market-Based Title: The movie was going to be called The Legend of Aang in many European markets, to match the original show's Market-Based Title of Avatar: The Legend of Aang. The name was originally changed because "bender" is a British derogatory slang term for a gay person. This did not come to pass; the title remains The Last Airbender in all English-speaking markets.
Missing Trailer Scene: Many; especially anything with the Kyoshi Warriors, whose entire plotline was cut. The entire teaser was not even meant for the original movie. This got to the point where entire TV spots for the film were made of footage never seen in the film itself.
Shaun Toub as Iroh is pleasing in everything he does.
Dev Patel isn't all that bad either.
Mythology Gag: Early in the movie Hama is namedropped by Kanna as the last Waterbender taken away by the Fire Nation. Zhao references ransacking the Spirit Library to get the info about the Ocean and Moon spirits (this was also referenced by the show's Zhao, the characters then visit that library in season two). And though Haru's name isn't actually mentioned, it's pretty clear who he is.
Never Trust a Trailer: TV promo's for the film were dominated by lengthy trailers devoted to showing that the movie was available in "mind blowing" 3D. Even showing an audience gasping and ducking from the four elements jumping from the screen. Despite the fact it was shot in 2D and the tacked on "3D" effects were barely noticeable and earned a Razzie.
Not His Sled: The ending in the movie is radically different from Book 1 of the series. The killing of the Moon Spirit somehow did not trigger anger from the Ocean Spirit. Worse, Aang was busy attacking Fire Nation soldiers when he was supposed to merge with the Ocean Spirit to become Koizilla. With no Koizilla, all we get is a giant tsunami that did not sink Fire Nation ships, mainly because of the Dragon Spirit's "the Avatar is not supposed harm anyone" theory. Just for reference, there is no such rule in the cartoon, though Aang is personally opposed to lethal force.
Pillar of Light: At the beginning of the movie, clueing Zuko of the Avatar's return.
Plot-Induced Stupidity: Everyone who isn't a part of the Fire Nation suffers from this. Unlike the series, Firebenders (who aren't masters) need an available source of fire in order to bend it. This is all well and good, except none of the other characters ever think to put them out! Granted, some of the fire sources are fairly large, but nothing that couldn't be doused with a little effort. Taken to truly ridiculous extremes in the Earthbender camp when several Firebenders are literally bending from a single source they could not conceivably protect. Someone does give the order to douse the flames when the alarm bells sound... but apparently, they never got around to it, because all of the fires are still going during the battle.
Then there's what happens during the Siege of the North. In the planning stage the Water Tribe said that they needed to douse all of the torches in the city. Fire Nation comes, THE TORCHES ARE STILL LIT. Granted it would have made a moot point because of all the flaming boulders the Fire Nation was tossing in, but really?
The Earthbender slave camp was built on solid ground, as opposed to a metal refinery in the middle of the ocean as in the cartoon. That would be like making a prison in a gun factory. The only thing that prevented the Earthbenders from just breaking out of this prison was this trope as well.
Prequel: In the form of the 100-page manga Zuko's Story, which draws Iroh and Zuko in the style of the film's actors but otherwise seems to take place in the world of the cartoon.
Race Lift: While some of the show's character designs are ambiguous as opposed to using typical racial feature cues (think Mukokuseki), there are some clear ethnicity changes:
In the show, the Fire Nation had both people that look like East Asians, both pale (such as Zuko) and tan (such as Jeong Jeong), but the actors in the movie are from a variety of Middle Eastern and Asian ethnicities — Maori, Arab, Persian, and South Asian.
Monk Gyatso, who looked Tibetan (Gyatso is in fact the name of the Dalai Lama), became black in the movie.
Sokka and Katara, like most Water Tribe characters, were darker-skinned than other characters, but are pale white in the movie.
Red Eyes, Take Warning: Just before Iroh gives Zhao a demonstration of just how badass he is, the irises of his eyes take on a very red color.
Scenery Porn: Several scenes do look like they were taken directly from the show.
Separated by a Common Language: In the United Kingdom, "bender" is a derogatory term for a male homosexual. Consequently, the dialogue's frequent reference to characters being benders tended to make British audiences giggle. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase: "I could tell at once that you were a bender, and that you would realise your destiny."
Show, Don't Tell: Inversion — Narration replaces a lot of things from the first season.
Spell My Name with an S: The second word of "Agni Kai" is pronounced like the first half of "kayak" in the show but "key" here, to the point that the Zuko's Story prequel manga ends up spelling it with no "A".
Take Our Word for It: Sokka's relationship with Yue. When they first showed up in the North Pole, both Sokka and Yue instantly lock eyes. Cue a Katara voiceover stating that "my brother and the princess became friends right away." And then the next scene, he's her bodyguard.
Trailers Always Spoil: Most trailers show the climax of the movie, and several have shots of Yue sacrificing herself in the Spirit Oasis.
You Don't Look Like You: Several characters, but especially Ozai. Made even worse when you remember that he looked like he's supposed to on Zuko's family picture earlier...
Uncle Iroh: There are a lot of pretty girls here Zuko. You could settle down here, and you could have a blessed life. You don't have to continue this Zuko. Prince Zuko: ...We'll catch [the Avatar] soon Uncle, then we could think about the pretty girls.