The Last Airbender

Director    M Night Shyamalan
Starring    Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Cliff Curtis, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub
Release    1 JUL (US) 13 AUG (UK)    Certificate PG
2 stars


11th August 2010

It's easy to ridicule M. Night Shyamalan. The ex- golden boy of Hollywood, with his clever, never-saw-it-coming twists, has been reduced to a laughing stock; his reputation in tatters after the atrocities that were Lady In The Water and The Happening.

The arrogance and insistence of writing, producing and directing his own films has been his downfall - he hit a new low when Marky Mark had a chat with some foliage. Fair enough: the auteur should have complete control over his or her own idea. But writing, producing and directing a movie based on a cult US cartoon series, with its own bounty of expert writers to choose from, could ultimately prove to be Night's end.

In a world of four kingdoms - Fire, Water, Air and Earth - the awkwardly-named 'benders' (*chuckles*) have the power to, erm, bend their respective element and use it for great force. Aang (newcomer Noah Ringer), the last Airbender, is the successor to a long line of Avatars - the planet's only link to the spirit world and the only benders (*sniggers*) with the power to master all four elements. With the Fire Kingdom ruling the world with an iron fist, rounding up and imprisoning benders (*spit-take*), it's up to Aang to master all the elements and save the world from the ruthless fire people.

[gallery]As you can see already, this is a difficult film to take seriously. Not because Shyamalan has become an egotistical little man who doesn't let anyone else play with his toys, nor the fact it's adapted from a kids cartoon made for Nickelodeon. Why? Because the characters call one another 'benders' without so much as a smirk. And with terms like 'Airbender' and 'Waterbender' being tossed about, the film is full of unintentionally hilarious euphemisms. It's difficult not to laugh when you hear the line, "Ever since you were born, I always knew you were a bender."

Not only will you find yourself giggling like a little girl, but you'll laugh at Shyamalan's trademark terrible script-writing, resulting in wooden, unconvincing acting all round. Shyamalan has a knack for getting the worst out of his actors, reducing potentially juicy roles to feeble, unemotional cardboard props. Noah Ringer as the titular bender reads his lines like he's still at the audition, while the usually impressive Dev Patel only manages to conjure a little bit of personality out of his character. Cliff Curtis and Shaun Toub are the only ones who manage to make the best of their terrible lines.

Visually, however, this is Shyamalan's most stunning film yet, though he had plenty of help from Lord Of The Rings cinematographer Andrew Lesnie. It's no surprise then that many scenes looks as if they've been lifted from Middle Earth, with the final battle inviting comparisons to Helm's Deep. It's unfortunate that these dramatic visuals are impaired by the Clash Of The Titans-esque last-minute conversion to 3D that does little more than crap all over Lesnie's hard work.

Shyamalan has missed this opportunity. What could've done great justice to the popular TV series is instead a lumbering, badly-scripted incoherent mess, and ignoring the writers of the series and going it alone proves to be Night's greatest mistake - essentially, the man's one more bad film away from being the next Uwe Boll.

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