by Cherszy (@cherszy)
People from the different nations waited for a hundred years for the avatar, the being who possesses the knowledge and skill of all four elements, to come and defeat the Fire nation… to bring back the balance of the world.
I waited for almost two hours to witness the brilliant unfolding of the avatar’s story, but my waiting ended in vain, with the balance of my world crushed beneath the entangled and addled elements in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender”.
It really brings a frown to my face to say how disappointed I was with the outcome of this film’s production, considering how cool its cartoon series was and how high my expectations were of Shyamalan’s works (remember “The Sixth Sense? Yes, he directed that amazing movie!).
The cartoon series was fun and engaging while this film adaptation seemed like an audio book lulling a child to sleep, especially in its first half. Yes, I know I’m not supposed to compare an original series with its adaptation because most of the time, the latter doesn’t live up to the wonder of the former. But, even if “The Last Airbender” was no adaptation, it’d still be in the list of one of those movies that we can skip.
Aside from a plot that leaves the audience with no striking moment worth remembering after the show, there was nothing spectacular with the cast’s acting skills that could have probably made up for the film’s inability to keep moviegoers entertained. In fact, most, if not all, of them need improvement when it comes to facial expressions because they’ve been keeping almost the same look in expressing different emotions. They’re bland and stiff, as if they were bored themselves.
I always say that an actor/actress is excellent when he/she is able to portray a role naturally as if he/she was that character himself/herself, where his/her feelings, actions, and facial expressions flow freely and without any hesitation. This is where majority of the cast failed, including the lead actor of “Slumdog Millionaire”, Dev Patel (who plays Prince Zuko). His face showed that he was having a difficulty in playing with his emotions, especially in the scenes where he’s mad. He wasn’t also flexible with his movements, as if he was having vacillations on what he’s doing.
And speaking of the cast, the film left me wondering on what really is its nationality. I’m not saying that it should reflect only one nationality in which all the actors must be of because that would be racist, but it should at least have some sort of nationality consistency. You see, the different tribes can be divided or identified with each race, say the fire nation being Indian, the earth nation being Chinese/Korean/Japanese, the southern water tribe being English/American, and the northern water tribe being sort of Scandinavian. The thing is, that’s okay (although it’s quite confusing to watch because at some point, you’ll think that you’re watching a Bollywood movie or a Chinese film, and then you’ll come to realize that it’s a Hollywood creation but not the point), but there are some points of inconsistency. One example? The fire nation. The fire nation can be categorized as Indian, but for some reason, General Iroh (Shaun Toub) looks English (although the actor really is Iranian). And for some other reason, the palace in which the king (who is Indian) lives resembles that of a Chinese pagoda. And it seems quite unfitting that coincidentally, all these races have Japanese-sounding names. The anime series, “Avatar”, is Asian, and as much as we don’t want to be racist, I think it’s still a better idea if we stick with the original concept of it being Asian. Otherwise, we end up with a cast that raises a lot of people’s eyebrows (read: disastrous).
I don’t know if this race categorization of elements is supposed to be symbolic of anything, like probably since India is in control of the fire nation who’s bullying all the other nations, it might be symbolic of it being the next superpower or something, but really, I have no idea with what Shyamalan’s trying to convey through this film. Or, probably he’s just being biased by putting his own race in charge of the strongest empire. Who knows?
Anyway, going back to the film (why did I start talking about Shyamalan again?), apart from a prosaic construction of the flow of the story, mediocre performances from its cast, and a failed attempt in making the intermingling of different races a successful representation of the world, “The Last Airbender” is one that lacks creativity in playing with the different film elements to create the impact of a masterpiece. Looks like the avatar is not all that.
What was probably the only interesting thing (read: interesting but not amazing) in this film was the visual effects, which, to my disappointment again, weren’t much. There was in fact more tai chi and kung fu than “bending”.
Aside from the tattoo-turning-into-a-glowing-arrow scene, there were only a few instances where the visual effects took place, that was during the “bending” scenes. These “bendings” weren’t even really super impressive. They were just simple bending skills, not exactly those that would wow you, that is with the exception of a couple.
With all of these said, “The Last Airbender” can be best described as a film that deals with the magic of elements but is in itself lacking in that element of magic that can capture and conquer an audience’s amazement. And if it’s returning with a sequel (which I’m sure it will because we’re just in the first book), it will take more than just a bald kid with a weird-looking tattoo on his head doing simple tricks with water and air and slow motion actions scenes to blow us away.
And hopefully, it’ll be less darker in its comeback because this film is not meant to be dark. It’s meant to make us feel light and to allow us to fantasize beyond what we know about elements.