The Last Airbender has received negative responses from critics in the United States for Shyamalan's poor direction, pacing, and screenplay. It currently holds a 7% on the tomatometer from Top Critics and a 6% from All Critics, and a consensus of "Despite flashy special effects, The Last Airbender squanders the potential of its popular source material on an incomprehensible plot, laughable dialogue, and a joyless sense of detachment". Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a half a star, stating that the film "is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented". It was also panned by the Huffington Post's critic Scott Mendelson, who gave it a D+; A. O. Scott of the New York Times ("The Last Airbender? Let's hope so!"); and Christy Lemire of the Associated Press, who called it a "muddled, messy bore".
The film's 3D conversion was also poorly received, with critics calling it unnecessary and poorly done. David Roark of Relevant Magazine gave a positive review claiming that many other critics are bias to the director (Shyamalan); he praised it for using fighting scenes that worked in a children's film. They also claimed its special effects and storyline out-weighed the rushed script and noticed how Shyamalan was succeeding against all odds.
The film was also nominated nine times for the Raspberry Awards, or Razzies for short, including: Worst Picture (Paramount and Nickelodeon Movies), Worst Director (M. Night Shyamalan), Worst Screenplay (by M. Night Shyamalan, based on the TV series created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko), Worst Supporting Actress (Nicola Peltz), twice for Worst Supporting Actor (Dev Patel and Jackson Rathbone), Worst Screen Couple/Ensemble (the entire cast), Worse Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel (a combined Category for 2010), and Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3-D (a brand-new category for 2010). It tied with The Twilight Saga: Eclipse film for the most number of nominations.
On February 26th 2010, the film won five out of eight possible awards: Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actor for Jackson Rathbone, and Worst eye-gouging misuse of 3-D. The Worst Sequel and Worst Screen Couple/Ensemble were lost to Sex and the City 2, while Worst Supporting Actress went to Jessica Alba. Razzies founder John Wilson said of Shyamalan "He managed to take a cartoon property and make it even less lifelike by making it with real actors". Canadian comedian Russell Peters accepted the worst picture Razzie on Shyamalan's behalf. Peters joked that, despite his South Asian heritage, he did not know how to pronounce Shyamalan's name any more than most people in North America and said "That brown bastard has made six movies and hasn't cast me once". Peters also said "So on behalf of my community, which spans the globe — in India alone at 1.3 billion people — way to disappoint over a billion people". Jackson Rathbone later on MTV's The Seven, thanked the "wonderful people at the Razzies" for considering him and letting him take home the "amazing award", but he wanted to know if "the golden statue comes with golden whipped cream..."
James Newton Howard was nominated with five awards from the International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA), two of which are related to his work for The Last Airbender: Best Original score for a Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror Film (The Last Airbender, music) and Film Music Composition of the Year (The Last Airbender, 'Flow like Water'). On February 24th, those two awards were won respectively by Daft Punk for Tron: Legacy and by Danny Elfman for "Alice's Theme" in Alice in Wonderland.
Noah Ringer and Seychelle Gabriel were nominated in the 32nd Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Feature Film for Leading Young Actor and Supporting Young Actress, respectively. On March 13th 2011, the first award was won by Jaden Smith in The Karate Kid and the second award was jointly won by Diandra Newlin in Dreamkiller and Stefanie Scott in Flipped.
For the 2011 MTV Movie Awards, Dev Patel was nominated for the Best Villain, Nicola Peltz for Best Female Breakout Star, and Noah Ringer along with Jackson Rathbone for Best Male Breakout Star. On voting day, May 3rd, they were eliminated from the final nominee lists.
British slang for 'bender'
The film was received poorly in Great Britain due to a difference in American English and British English. The word "bender" is British slang for "homosexual". Dialogue, such as "There are some really powerful benders in the northern water zone" were often met with childish giggling. Dev Patel, who played Zuko, is British himself, but chose not to mention this language difference to director M. Night Shyamalan because the word was "too integral to the movie".
- Main article: Casting controversy
There is ongoing controversy in the Avatar fan community over the casting choices, in part because some of the actors were Caucasian, and the original cartoon is largely based on Asian culture.
Demands for a reboot
- Main article: Readapting Avatar: The Last Airbender
Many fans of the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series are unhappy with Shyamalan's film adaptation, so some of them have demanded a remake or reboot of the film. These aspiring fans can work on a fanon reboot using this page as a starting point, as well discussing ideas for a readaptation.
- For some fans of the original series, the negative fan reactions for the movie that were anticipated in the episode "The Ember Island Players" were spot on. A fan had demonstrated the prophetic nature of the episode through this video.
- Some viewers had compared this movie to a more "creative" adaptation, Dragonball Evolution (2009). A typical response is to quote from a video by MybasementReviews: "If this movie was anything like Dragonball Evolution, then Aang would be a 16-year-old high school student living in the city with Monk Gyatso, the apartment complex would be named the Air Temple, and they would have a cat named Momo. Appa would not have been mentioned and Katara would have been Aang's high school sweetheart who could bend magic water. Zuko would be a bully at school; instead of being a prince, he would actually be a rich kid whose father owned a comic book company called Sozin's Comics".
- Due to a strong distaste for the film, many fans have gone as far as denying its existence.