Earth! Wind! Fire! Water! Heart!
No, that is not in reference to Captain Planet and the Planeteers, it is the foundation of M. Night Shyamalan’s latest cinematic venture, The Last Airbender – well, minus the “heart.” – and I say that literally and figuratively.
Based on the Nickelodeon cartoon of the same name, The Last Airbender is obviously about the last airbender. And what exactly is an “airbender?” Well, I am glad you asked.
In a world that is wedged somewhere between Narnia and Middle Earth there are four nations: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In these nations, people have the ability to manipulate or “bend” the elements on command – but the Fire Nation of badasses don’t like it when people do that; so they’ve conquered the Earth Nation and prohibited them from using their bending powers and the Water Nation is next on their list. As for the Air Nation, it doesn’t exist – until Aang (Noah Ringer), the last airbender is hatched out of a glacier in the Water Nation alongside Appa, his gigantic flying noble furry beaver/buffalo that looks like a descendant of Falkor from The Neverending Story. As inhabitants of the Water Nation, the waterbending Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her bro Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) discover Aang while playing in the snow in their Ugg boots and they all become fast friends.
But wait! There’s more!
Aang turns out to be the chosen one: the Avatar, the only being who can bend all four elements and bring peace to all four nations with his Tai Chi movements and tattooed bald head. But 100 years ago, he escaped this responsibility and hid in the aforementioned glacier instead of manning up to what he was born to do.
The Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) doesn’t want this airbending brat to get in the way of his world domination so, obviously he wants to get rid of him. His son, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) is also after him because he’s been basically disowned by his daddy and he can’t come back home unless he has this Avatar in his possession.
Wow. That storyline explanation was a lot more than it’s worth.
The Last Airbender has been a hot topic amongst my fellow 8Asians.com bloggers and I — like the Avatar himself, shaved head and all — am here to bring balance and peace to the whole ordeal. Actually, I am just here to review the movie the best way I can, by means of a numbered list:
- The non-Asian cast dilemma: Let’s address the first hot button topic: the lack of Asian Americans cast in the main roles of the movie. I, like many, had an issue with this, but after watching the movie, it really doesn’t matter. Shyamalan submits us to a torturous 103 minutes of robotic dialogue, expensive Power Ranger-esque action and actors who had as much charisma as as an empty juicebox at playtime. No amount of Asian casting could of saved this movie. Its downfall was the execution of an engaging story.
- The weak defense: In a really weak defense, I can say that in the movie, the Fire Nation is filled with Indian actors and that the Earth Nation included some Asian extras. But the Fire Nation citizens were the bad guys and the people of the Earth Nation were just a bunch of oppressed prisoners. Go figure.
- Gratuitous 3-D: It was useless. Very useless. Very, very useless.
- Jackson Rathbone is a part of a new franchise! Rathbone, who plays Sokko, can also be seen in the Twilight series as the emotion-controlling vampire Jasper. Airbender was set up to be a franchise. Based on this one, Rathbone may want to search for other options.
- Tai Chi might become a trend: The movements in how the “benders” control the elements mimic that of Tai Chi. Expect classes for these to fill up at your local gym in the near future. I think that might be the bright side of this movie…right?
- Denouncing my M. Night Shyamalan faith: Shyamalan set a precedence for himself with The Sixth Sense; which dubbed him the “king of surprise endings.” He followed that up with Unbreakable – which I halfheartedly enjoyed. I was one of the few who enjoyed Signs and tried my best to put my support behind The Village. Then Lady in the Water happened. Then The Happening happened. Now this? He has clearly lost his ability to connect with the audience on multiple levels of emotion, entertainment and moral. I stood up for M, when no one else would, but this may be the movie that makes me turn in my Shyamalan membership card and decoder ring. However, if the rumored movie he’s making with Bradley Cooper, Bruce Willis, and Gwyneth Paltrow is any good, I will gladly reinstate my membership.
- It’s everything you would expect from a Nickelodeon movie: Actually, no it isn’t. Other movies and TV shows with the Nickelodeon branding are quirky, endearing and have a sense of child-like enjoyment. This movie just gave me gas. I don’t know how, but it did. Maybe it was the name of the movie. Think about it: The Last Airbender — and the movie is exactly that: flatulence in the wind. It makes a noise, is unpleasant to the senses, lingers a bit and then eventually disappears; making the witnesses happy it’s over and done.