M. Night Shyamalan's career started great. He released The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, all of which were great. Then he got himself into a string of real stinkers: The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening were all completely awful movies.
However, I was planning to forgive Mr. Shyamalan for his less-than-acceptable recent set of movies if he was able to successfully adapt my favorite cartoon, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Let's just say I am not planning on forgiving him anytime soon. This movie was the last nail in his coffin for me.
The Last Airbender had numerous problems, but the main problems started first and foremost with M. Night's horrific screenplay. When did he decide that he should write? Because he shouldn't. Film-making is storytelling. Anyone who tells you different would make an awful filmmaker. That is why The Last Airbender was so bad--it did a terrible job telling the story, which is always a movie's number one priority. And, like I said, this problem of not getting the story across to the audience began with his disjointed script. Anyone who has never seen the series will be completely lost in a sea of seemingly unrelated scenes and vignettes of familiar characters doing stuff, with only Katara's narration as a weak life vest. There were a lot of times where there'd be a scene that I slightly recognized from the series, but I'd think "Is there something that makes this scene make sense in the context of this live-action version?" And the answer was always 'no'. The Last Airbender was not an adaptation of Book One of the classic series, it was a half-hearted attempt at a plot summary. Movies tell stories, and The Last Airbender has no comprehensible story. And not only that, but he had such a great story to work from!
Characters and Humor
But the problems didn't end there. M. Night Shyamalan's screenplay successfully sucked out all of the wonderful humor and endearing characters that made the series so great. Aang's childlike wonder and love of having fun? He killed it. Sokka's slapstick comedy routines and hilarious love for food? Gone. Even Uncle Iroh's roundabout ways of providing Zukko with advice that would always make me laugh were completely removed. Shyamalan had such great source material filled with thorough character arcs and some of the best humor out there, and he completely removed all of the good stuff. Why? I think it still has to do with his poor writing, and also a little to do with poor acting talent.
However, the action sequences and special effects were good. The airbending was hypnotizing and the water- and firebending did look realistic. The fight scenes where no bending was involved were very well-choreographed, and the big effects, like the walls of water and flying Appa, provided great visuals. What Mr. Shyamalan lacks in story skills, he makes up for in the ability to create great visuals. Unfortunately, great visuals do not make a great movie. (A great story does.)
And the lack of a great story undermined the great effects. If I don't care about whether or not the main character fighting in this battle will live or not, I won't find the fight exciting or entertaining. Peril is a natural instinct we love to watch, and we can't have that without strong characters or story, neither of which were present in The Last Airbender.
If you've put up with my brief but passionate ranting about The Last Airbender until now, chances are that you've already seen the series and the film and agree with me. M. Night Shyamalan had the most funny, exciting, and story-intense series to adapt, and he ended up with an empty shell where happiness and entertainment used to live. And the problems all started with his terrible screenplay. The series had so much suspense when it came to the big chase between Zukko and Aang, but the live-action film lacked all suspense, let alone a comprehensive plot. It didn't even have a real climax. And, the characters didn't even pronounce any of the names right! But, in Shyamalan's defense, this was a lot like The Golden Compass, where they had to fit hours and hours and hours of stuff into just an hour and a half. But it still should have been better than this. Avatar: The Last Airbender will always be one of my favorite cartoons, and Shyamalan's The Last Airbender will always be one of the biggest cinematic disappoints.
I give The Last Airbender a 2 out of 10 (and that's an even better rating than Rotten Tomatoes gives it).