By Fred Topel | Images property of Paramount Pictures
The Last Airbender
The Last Airbender feels like the more original movie I’ve seen in years. I know it’s based on something that already existed, but I didn’t know anything about the animated series. To me I was just watching something totally new and it captivated my imagination. That context may not be entirely flattering but it worked for me.
Review: The Last Airbender
You get to see really awesome martial arts mixed with elements. The first time you really see the powers on display, they show a long take of extended martial arts ballets impacting visual effects without cutting away. You also get a few of those M. Night Shyamalan shots where the important thing is happening in soft focus in the background.
The mythology really moves. Every new development actually adds to the legend. Most fantasy movies are just characters learning more backstory from a new talking animal or wizard. It doesn’t usually feel like there’s a developing plot, but this one does. I was totally into all the threads of the story, not just waiting for them to get back to the cool bald kid.
I love that it opened with martial artists doing katas in front of a red background. That’s old school. I love that it opens saying “Book One: Water” so I know this is only the beginning of something big. And seeing kids practice water bending in the first actual scene sets a real scene. There’s going to be practice and training and awesomeness, but they’re real kids just trying to get good at stuff.
You get a sense of life lived in this world. It’s not just a place where stories happen. These characters have an existence and we’re only seeing this story because it’s the one where they have to fight to preserve their way of life. They speak a little formally to convey the sense of a historical and mystical world. I’d say it’s a little more formal than Star Wars, but way less so than Lord of the Rings.
Attempts at humor fall a little too flat and it seem self-conscious, like they think there has to be levity but it’s not really true. The film’s strength is its sincerity and most of the time it sticks with that.
The 3-D looks better than Clash of the Titans. I’d still rather watch a movie without wearing glasses it looked all right. The water and fire effects look pretty good for CGI.
10 years ago I called Spy Kids a Home Alone for the Matrix generation. I think this is The Neverending Story for the Harry Potter generation. It’s kids in action, across epic locations full of magic.
It’s also kind of cool that they keep saying “Avatar.” Take that, James Cameron. We’ve got an Avatar too and it means something totally different than yours. I don’t actually have a problem with having two Avatars, but this one’s the underdog so it’s nice to see them put up a fight.