The day has finally arrived! M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender finally hits theaters this weekend and last night, the press was treated to a screening for the first reviews. I’m wondering now if Paramount is regretting this decision since almost immediately after the film, critics were quick to tear the live-action adaptation apart, thanks to Twitter! Rotten Tomatoes lists The Last Airbender with a 6% rating (ouch), The A.V. Club warranted it as a reason for a class-action lawsuit against Hollywood (oof) and Phil from Angry Asian Man said the film could boycott itself (oh snap).
Even esteemed reviewer Roger Ebert, who was one of the first people to openly criticize Shyamalan’s casting choices, wrote the most cutting critique of all.
“The Last Airbender” is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that…
Oooooooh, no you didn’t, Roger! Oh, yes he did. Apparently, critics agree that not only were the 3D effects atrocious, but the actors were equally as bad.
Shyamalan has failed. His first inexplicable mistake was to change the races of the leading characters; on television Aang was clearly Asian, and so were Katara and Sokka, with perhaps Mongolian and Inuit genes. Here they’re all whites. This casting makes no sense because (1) It’s a distraction for fans of the hugely popular TV series, and (2) all three actors are pretty bad. I don’t say they’re untalented, I say they’ve been poorly served by Shyamalan and the script. They are bland, stiff, awkward and unconvincing.
Friends of mine who had seen the film last night had the same opinion: the acting was horrible, the 3D was worthless and the storyline was too complicated. Action sequences looked more like Tai Chi routines and the white-washed casting was even more noticeable among the Asian extras. Personally, I’m relieved that the early reviews are bashing Shyamalan’s latest work. He failed the fans before The Last Airbender began production and he failed even the most seasoned moviegoer with the final product. In a way, I’m also relieved that the main characters were cast by non-Asians (aside from Dev Patel). The bad reviews will further distance the API community in Hollywood from such a dismal project and we can now focus on better opportunities. (Though, I will admit that a little part of me is sad that the movie is already being panned by critics. The series had such a strong following, and I can imagine how crushing it must feel to see the live-action adaptation fall so short of expectations.)
The bigger question remains: how will the mainstream public treat the film? Critics may groan all they want over bad Hollywood movies, but Americans still pay good money to see horrible movies (i.e. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Avatar). Fans who don’t care about the racist casting will still check the movie out, and children will always be drawn to big budget fantasy films chock full of special effects. Will Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender still be a box office hit? With The Twilight Saga: Eclipse also opening in theaters this weekend, my fingers are crossed that this film will disappear like Lady in the Water and The Happening.