Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Last Airbender: Total vacuum

The Last Airbender (2010) • View trailer for The Last Airbender
Zero stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for really silly action violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.8.10
Buy DVD: The Last Airbender • Buy Blu-Ray: The Last Airbender (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)

Goodness, my cup runneth over... 

The Last Airbender may not be the worst movie Hollywood is capable of unleashing, but it'll do until that one comes along. 

Although he possesses the power to create strong winds and harass
enemies with various atmospheric "weapons," Aang (Noah Ringer,
center) apparently prefers to whack at his foes with a stick ...
presumably because director M. Night Shyamalan believes it looks
cool. (It doesn't. It looks way-dumb.)

In my wildest imagination, I never would have believed that M. Night Shyamalan could have made a movie worse than 2006's Lady in the Water ... but he did. 


Paramount execs must've started a pool, with their competitors at Fox, Universal and all the rest, to see which studio could release the worst film of the summer. 

Paramount won. 

...or, finally, for folks who've been reading me for awhile... 

The Last Airbender is worse than the 2000 big-screen adaptation of Battlefield Earth, and I've been using that one as the ne plus ultra of bad filmmaking for the past decade. 

Adjectives fail me. 

This flick isn't merely bad; it's indescribably awful. It's atrociously written, laughably acted and "directed" by somebody who must have been drunk 24/7 or absent from the set every single day. It's also boring, boring, screamingly boring. Sitting through this mess is torture akin to root canal surgery. Watching paint dry would be more exciting. 

I knew we were in trouble, not even a minute into this flick, the moment young stars Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone uttered their first lines: Rarely have we experienced such stiff, wooden, self-conscious line delivery. They're both bad actors in the manner of the talentless kids who pop up on the worst TV sitcoms. 

They're also visually wrong for this story: fresh-faced, clean-cut California beach kids who look wholly out of place in a saga that screams for Asian faces. Or at least European faces. Or  is it asking too much?  faces that know how to react to joy, fear or any of the other emotions these two are incapable of projecting. 

Shyamalan has taken sole authorship credit for this travesty, which is rather audacious, considering that this live-action film is based on a Nickelodeon cartoon series that has run for several years, during which its quite complex mythology was developed by all sorts of other writers who fail to get mentioned here. 

They should consider that a good thing, but still: Shyamalan clearly leaves the impression that he created this whole alternate reality, which makes him a bald-faced thief and liar, in addition to his worthless attributes as the most useless hack filmmaker working today. 

(Is this really the guy who gave us the brilliant Sixth Sense? Maybe it's his evil clone.) 

Worse yet, Shyamalan's so-called script is nothing more than scattered scenes from what must've been thousands of pages. This is a Readers Digest Condensed Movie: We get a few moments here, then a few moments there, then others all the way over there ... in each case leaving the impression that dozens of necessary exposition scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. 

Not that I object, of course; I can't imagine having endured this travesty if it were longer. 

In order to "help" viewers make sense of this incomprehensible mess, Shyamalan resorts to constant said-bookisms. Characters tell us what they're about to do. Then they describe what they're doing, as they do it (frequently in voice-over). Then they tell us what they just did. 

Sometimes they tell us things they did that we didn't get to see. 

The primary plot revolves around a young boy named Aang (Noah Ringer), who is found entombed in ice by Katara (Peltz) and her older brother, Sokka (Rathbone). Aang, it turns out, is an "airbender": a mystical being able to control all aspects of that element. Katara is an apprentice "waterbender," able to do the same with water, in all its forms. 

Ideally, harmony would be maintained in this realm by airbenders, waterbenders, earthbenders and firebenders, all guided by a supreme "avatar" able to control all four elements. But the last known avatar vanished a century ago, and since then the Fire Nation's Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) has waged war on everybody else. 

Ozai also has issues with his son, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel, recognized from Slumdog Millionaire), being supremely disappointed because the boy failed to fight him for reallies some time back. Ozai thus burned Zuko a bit and then banished the young man from the Fire Nation. Ever since, Zuko has roamed the realm, accompanied by his devoted Uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub), in an effort to find the resurrected avatar. 

Zuko believes that he can win back his father's favors, if he hands over the avatar on a plate. 

Little Aang  surprise, surprise!  is the reborn avatar. But he's incomplete: He only knows how to control air, and thus needs training to master the other three elements. So it's a race, with Aang traveling to the remote earth and water lands  chaperoned and protected by Katara and Sokka  before Zuko catches him. 

Oh, and Lord Ozai also has sent his favorite warlord, Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi), on the same quest. 

You will notice, from the roster of actors just cited, that most of the supporting players are more ethnically suited to this film and its storyline ... which makes the casting of Ringer, Peltz and Rathbone potentially offensive, to boot. Haven't we moved beyond white-faced good guys and dark-faced bad guys? 

Aang, Katara and Sokka get around on a giant furry rug with legs and a tail: easily the silliest-looking flying fantasy critter since the loopy-looking flying thingie in the 1984 adaptation of The Never Ending Story (good movie, despite that). This one "barks" like a wookie. Or a bantha. At the very least, the sound effect was stolen from the Star Wars universe. 

Practicing the various elemental "bending" techniques requires concentration and a lot of exercises that appear to have been lifted from Jack Lalanne's old TV show. We're forced to watch a lot of this bending, stretching and slow hand-waving, invariably accompanied by what I suppose are intended to be looks of concentration, but instead resemble constipation. Particularly on Peltz's face. 

Sokka meets a princess at one point, the lovely Yue (Seychelle Gabriel). Sokka and Yue fall in love. Right away. Can't really tell how long that process takes, since there's no way of determining the passage of time in this misbegotten picture. 

Yue owes her life to the moon spirit, which for some reason inhabits the mortal realm as a fish in a pond in a cave, just so it can be captured by Zhao. 

It's that sort of story. 

Indeed, it truly is: Everything feels as though it's being made up on the spot, from one bewildering scene to the next. And, in the manner of all bad fantasies, all these hyper-powered "bender" characters are only as strong  or as weak  as they need to be, to triumph or fail in any given scene. 

Zhao brings a fleet of Mordor-style ships to the Northern Water Tribe's massive, ice-enshrouded city  home of Princess Yue  and despite the presence of all this ice, ocean, mist and other manner of water, somehow the scores of waterbenders are hopelessly overwhelmed until Aang gets his game on. 

Oh, and one more thing: Every time Aang has a crisis of uncertainty, he goes into a trance and communes with a giant dragon that quite helpfully tells him  in a basso profundo voice  what to do. Aang does it, and we move on to the next chapter. Or skirmish. Or whatever separates one scene from the next. Can't really tell. 

Too bad the dragon couldn't tell Aang how to dim the lights and end the movie. 

Enough. More than enough. I pity the poor fools who wander into this flick expecting a good time. Or a fair time. Or any time at all. 

You've been warned... 

No comments:

Post a Comment