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Analyze This -:- The Last Airbender

Vulmen November 27, 2010 User blog:Vulmen

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Review for The Last Airbender, by M. Night Shyamalan

First I would like to state that I had not watched the series before the movie came out. I had dismissed Avatar: The Last Airbender as a (quoting myself) Silly Nick cartoon, and that it wasn't worth my time to bother checking out. Then, they made a movie on it. This took me back by surprise, was it really that good? If it wasn't for the movie, I may have never given A:TLA the chance that it deserved.

Now on another note; I do not intend to make this a case-by-case comparison of "A:TLA vs TLA", because we all know live action adaptions can never match the power and depth of its' source material. However, regardless of this suggestion I will reference A:TLA as I proceed. I do not intend on raising the A:TLA flag over the movie in this review, as this review should be focused solely on the movie. So these references will be used as a direct comparison to show elements that are lacking that should have been at least touched upon in the movie.

Two major things that truly turned me off to The Last Airbender were the characters personalities(or lack thereof), and the action. This essentially killed both the Live, and the Action for "Live Action Movie", leaving behind just Movie. Why do I say this? Let's continue.

First let's have a look at character personalities:

Aang

He was a very pouty-lipped downer of a child, and yet he was our main character we were supposed to attach to. He had no life about him, save for one scene when he smiled at Momo. He showed no care or compassion, even so far as a lack of connecting to those closest to him such as Katara and Sokka. This is made evident from the start of the show; "Thanks for bringing Appa to me." - which can be safely rephrased to "Yeah, you weren't needed at all, but thanks anyway." I'm serious, his attitude is so dry and lifeless the rephrase works.
To compare this with his cartoon countepart...
  • He is not a boisterous twelve year old that is in denial of the war
  • He does not display desire to enjoy life to the fullest, "Free and joyous" as an Air Nomad.
  • He lacks any light-hearted, fun-loving behavior. (Series Katara: "Don’t you see? Aang has brought something we haven’t had in a long time; fun.")
  • He never grew out of his lack of responsibility toward the war in the same, believable fashion as series Aang did at the Northern Water Tribe. The movie eluded to Aang growing responsibility (due to flashback of him running away), but it was totally unmoving seeing that he had already portrayed the same dull attitude the entire movie. He shown no change after this.
  • Summary: The main character is no longer the main character of the series, at all. We have a new character bearing a similar name...actually on that note, he seems to be Mai.


Katara

She was quite often a cry-baby through this series, always desiring for Hope but requiring it from someone else. She shown no personal interest or struggle for the events around her, and mainly took a backseat to the story. This led to a main question as to why she was even there, in many scenes.
To compare this with her cartoon counterpart...
  • She lacked her motherly counterpart
  • She was no longer her bold, self-assuring, brave self
  • She doesn't show the same concern for all the lives harmed by the fire nation
  • She is not at wildly headstrong in her beliefs (In fact, what beliefs...)
In summary, she seemed more like the Ember Island Players actress Katara, than Katara herself. MAJOR let-down for me, seeing as she is my favorite character. Katara the female wuss: why did you have to replace the gifted, spirited Katara?

Sokka

He was a very boring, lifeless individual who spent most the journey just standing around without displaying any emotion. He had a special moment with Yue that breathed some life into his character, but this was only prefaced to us the viewers by Katara narrating that the two had fell in love. Their romance seemed cheesy, as well, as the one memorable line being he wanted her to meet his gran-gran.
To compare to his cartoon counterpart...
  • He lacked any and all humor.
  • He acted like he was on nerve-pills the entire movie.
  • His personal witty sarcastic behaviour is lacking.
  • His affection for Yue was over the top, but at least it was there.
  • He had zero believable sister/brother moments.
In summary, he is nothing like his cartoon counterpart. We have a new character (who is not comic relief for the movie), bearing a similar name.

Iroh

He was portrayed as a contemplative, quiet man. He displayed that he had some intelligence about him, but moreso wanted Zuko to stop chasing the Avatar and settle down. He is shown to supposedly be a powerful firebender, though the only thing he ever does is make fire from nothing and not even fight with it.
To compare to his cartoon counterpart...
  • His wisdom is not as believable, and he lacks his wise sayings.
  • They replace his true intelligence and depth with an Avatar Test, which in itself is not believable as these are not the mechanics that define what either the Avatar or bending really is. This can confuse viewers.
  • He is shown to be foolish with his requests to Zuko, telling him to consider the pretty girls of the village. It is later, when the time is right/they have been refugees, that Iroh attempts to tell Zuko to lay the hunt for the Avatar to rest. This is the time he even succeeds, as he knows he could win Zuko over at that time.
  • When Iroh shows his strength in the first season, he really lets loose and there is no stopping him. He doesn't just act all flashy and do nothing.
In summary. Iroh's not as bright as he was, but at least it's somewhat similar.

Zuko

Zuko is a character of blind intentions. He's chasing the Avatar to the ends of the world, without a care for what's going on around him. And yet, he shows remorse for what he's doing.
To compare to his cartoon counterpart...
  • He doesn't display the same intelligence as he did in the series. Example being, we understood why he was asking for elderly in the series, but not in the movie. As a joke: Is he trying to find a date for his uncle?
    • As a further example, we don't know/were never shown why he suspects the Avatar is at this random village.
  • His reply to his uncle is outright laughable. "We can think about the pretty girls after we capture the avatar." This is something series Zuko would never have said. He'd have snapped harshly at his Uncle had he said something like this in season one.
  • He is shown as feeling remorse for others, something he is blind to as of now in the series. This is shown when he apologizes to an unconscious Katara in the movie, whereas in the series he smugly rubs in his victory over her.
In summary. Zuko's somewhat like himself, but not as deadset/blind in his chase of the Avatar.

Ozai

Ozai is shown as a curious individual in the movie. He doesn't appear as hateful and cruel, but contemplative and decisive. He even shows remorse for Zuko, his son's, banishment by warning Zhao that Zuko will be over him when he returns.
To compare to his cartoon counterpart...
  • Don't know where to rightly begin. His character has vastly changed.
  • Zuko's burn is less noticeable by any scale than in the series, so Ozai's burning his son is less of a gut-wrenching feel.
  • Ozai banished his son to chase after the Avatar; something in the series he never expected Zuko to succeed with. In other words, he banished him on a fool's errand to let him roam the world as a fool. In the movie; he seems to have really believed Zuko would succeed and return home a hero.
In summary; Ozai seems more caring in the movie, less of an evil all-powerful villain to fear. I can't see this guy as the Firebending fearsome Phoenix King.

Kanna

Extremely intelligent, down to her spiritual understandings and spirit world knowledge. However, by all means she appears to know WAY too much than she really should, and is used as a plot kick-off starting point for the movie to explain things they would otherwise never get around to. It just didn't add up.

Yue

Skipping to the summary again; she more or less is the same as the cartoon version. She just lacks the difficult choices that made her so torn with her romance for Sokka before, which really added to show her devotion to her people and their culture.
However, at the end she dies and her hair changes colors. Okay, big deal. In the series her eye color was what remained to show her life as having been touched by Tui. Then, after she died, we saw her ascend to become the moon spirit - something that the movie never displayed. So much for her being the moon spirit.

Dragon: Composite Character of Fang/Pathik/Roku / Possibly Koh as well

A spiritual all-knowing dragon, that seems to hold some tie to the Avatar presents itself to Aang when he enters the Avatar State, and crosses into the spirit realm. The creature imparts knowledge to Aang, but not always as clearly as would be expected.
  • This creature is as cliche as they can come in a fantasy story.
  • The creature left me with the gaping wonder of why it was here, or even talking to Aang. It never was explained what it was or why it was talking to him, and where it got the information that it did. It just seemed too cliche and wreaked of typical, average fantasy jargon. Nothing special here.
  • It even stated numerous completely incorrect statements. One being the Avatar cannot have a family. More on that later.


Something else personality-wise that was left out of the movie that made it in the cartoons were character failures, or bad decisions. The series had these moments of character weakness and flaws, which added to their personality to aid their human-like beleivability.

That out of the way, let's look at plot.

Okay, so the basic premise is that Aang has gone missing for one hundred years, and during this time the fire nation has waged a hundred year long war against the remaining nations, having genocided the air nomads. Aang now has returned to the world, and must master the elements and face the fire lord before sozin's comet returns. He has what, three years to do this? Right, basic premise established.
Now we have the main point that causes this plot to feel so weak. Firebenders can't bend unless they have a source. With this they are actually much less dangerous than they at first seem, and should be easily repelled and counter-attacked. The movie supports their idea, such that when they fight no bender/enemy seems to have the brainpower to realize they can snuff out the flame source and leave their firebender foes completely powerless to their bending.
Second gap is, three full years for Aang to master his elements? This is an attempt to hand-waive the problem to solve the issue of aging. But for those who understand this time-frame is closer to allowing Aang the free-time to properly study and train the elements, the threat is much less. Aang should be able to take the time to master the remaining elements and confront the fire lord, sure there can still be pressure involved, but chill - ya got the time to learn what you need to. Practice, get it right, master it, then show your stuff. The imminent danger has been lessened.
I understand the reason this was chosen was to aid with the fact characters will age. A difficult fact of life, but regardless it doesn't change that the plot bit off a bullet with that one. Roku told Aang in the series that "It takes years for one to master the elements, but you must do it by Summer's end."
Now for the final touch; it had slipped my mind until reminded by AvaFan. In the final episode Aang is being shown as having already mastered the Avatar state, capable of using all its' bending powers and extreme potential at a moments' whim, controlled fully. Okay, let's just end this movie trilogy now and let Aang go Glow it up (Quote Sokka, Book 2 Episode 1, "Avatar State"), and stomp that Fire Lord now.

Okay, action. We still have action in this movie, right? Let's just sit back and enjoy the awesomeness of the battles in this movie.

Sorry, lacking here too. The best fight scene didn't even make it into the movie, but is rather a deleted scene with Sokka/Katara at the Northern Water Tribe kicking butt before Aang takes his slow-mo scenes that did make it into the movie. Although that too is questionable since Katara didn't really make heavy use of waterbending but did more in-your-face attacks...not like her normal self.
Anyway, the fight scenes in this movie were very turn-based . I felt like I was watching a RPG play out before my eyes, but didn't see the player. One person made a move that we all got to observe, this caused something to happen/bending, etc. After a moment we get to see the targets' reaction as they perform some counter move or lack thereof, and then the result. Very staged, not reactive or believable. The worst of it was when Katara faced off against Zuko. He launched a fireball that literally went on a sight-seeing tour of their location, one that she could have so easily side-stepped ten seconds before it arrived. Instead, she watched it as it slowly wrapped around mid-air. Somehow, she missed that he sent a second fireball that lazily crept toward her side at like 1 MPH or something. So, she brings water up and puts out the one fireball, turns and "Oh my gosh where'd that snail-fire come from?" Pow. Sigh.

What about bending itself, or the graphics? The movie has numerous scenes where character bend things, such as air, water, fire, and earth. It even animates Momo and Appa.

First, Appa looks like a creature straight from "Where the Wild Things Are". If you don't know what that is, feel free to look it up on google images. Very fitting for description for what was done to Appa. They actually animated Momo quite nicely, however. He looked pretty cool, despite rarely ever being seen in the movie.
The bending moves the people perform are simply awful. Whoever is doing an art generally has to put too much effort into each move to make anything happen with their element. They're all flash and glamour with their moves, and less action and reaction. The absolute worst example that most everyone has already heard is when the group of earthbenders do their little dance for little to no result. For less used examples, in the same scene when firebenders launch fireballs at the earthbenders, they do flashy moves and punches just to send one fireball spiraling slowly toward their adversary. This repetitive dance-to-bend idea is kept throughout the movie...compare this to the fast-paced action scenes of the series, where Katara and Zuko went toe-to-toe, face to face with quick one-move bending techniques for attack and defense, their moves were fast just as if they were throwing punches, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats for the outcome. The movie kept people on the edge of their seats too; but they were leaning over snoring...
The graphics for the moves were decent. During some scenes the water looked absolutely horrible and jelly-like, unbelievable. However the wind was nice, the fire wasn't half bad, the earth looked fine...well, minus the floating rock that was just an enormous scene to simply laugh at...and it wasn't even meant to be a comedic reference.

Now for a final few points that just irritated me about the movie.

Intelligence, or dare I say lack thereof. The characters in the movie were all ill-thought out in many of their choices. When Katara tells Aang they will go with him to the North Pole, it's bland. We see no reason why; why would they possibly leave and travel with the Avatar? There's simply not as strong a connection there to provide any basis that they would. Then firebenders imprisoning earthbenders in a .... canyon?! Where is the sense? Sure, I've heard the earthbenders were willingly submitting so the fire nation would not harm their villages. But it still makes zero sense, seeing as once submitted the fire nation should wisely place them somewhere their bending has no use - such as oh, I don't know, a Prison Rig made of metal sitting over an ocean?! Then there are the equally stupid rest other nations who can't seem to figure out they can douse fires to cripple the firebenders as I already mentioned.
When Zuko nearly faced off with Zhao at the end; that was the one time many fans were likely "Come on, have at it! Take 'im down Zuko!" ...and then he just walked away without throwing a single blow. What do we get in exchange for this? Four no-name waterbenders drowning him then walking away. Boooring. Equally weird that they walked right past where Zuko/Iroh ran toward, so they must have seen and didn't attack them. No sense.
The Avatar test. As I mentioned before, it goes against bending/avatar principles that were defined in the series. Forbid that Aang should go on a random walk, the earth and water and everything would give him heck just trying to peacefully stroll. Rocks, etc, do NOT auto-bend toward the Avatar. In order to control the elements, the persons' chi is involved in a willing, direct act. Plus, if this test existed why did the air nomads bother to use a silly "Pick your toys" test that is not as absolutely accurate as this test? Fail.
Phrases/character lines, those were horrible. As an example, Aang's speech(where it used to be Katara's) to the Earthbender prisoners: "You have earth right under you!" Oh hello, light bulb. Cue facepalm. Then also, "We have to show them we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs!" ...uhm...right. Thanks for that, Ember Island Actress.
Avatar can't have a family? This is more leaning toward the Air Nomad culture; and a complete side-step to what being the Avatar truly means. For those who don't understand, watch all of Escape from the Spirit World, where he's trapped there during his comatose state after being struck by lightning, when Aang is with Avatar Yangchen specifically. She explains to him why the Avatar is not an all-powerful spirit, and must continually be reborn into the mortal world. She explains that it is because the Avatar must share the agony, joy, bliss, pleasure, failures, weakness, sorrow, love, hurt, and the rest of the myriad of emotions that come with mortal life in order to feel the closeness to those around him/her. It is only then, that the Avatar feels one hundred percent connected to the world they live in and this will lead them to willingly defend it with their life. It's quite obvious there is no understanding of this that went into the movie; as the Avatar has become a cliche save-all without this deep-rooted connection. Sigh

All in all, the movie on its' own cannot hold its' own weight, and can easily leave viewers confused by the end.



Acting: 3 out of 10

I can't pit all the blame on the actors, especially due to the script they had to work from.

Script/Lines: 1 out of 10

It was horrible, completely full of ill-thought out discussions.

Character Depth:1 out of 10

Half the time you couldn't believe the characters believed they were in the world we were seeing.

Plot: 2 out of 10

It felt very cliche and loosely patched together, the worst being it couldn't be believed the Fire Nation successfully waged war for 100 years.

Graphics: 5 out of 10

As Sokka phrased it in The Ember Island Players - "The effects were decent"

Action: 2 out of 10

Boring, drawn out, and quite entirely turn based. The on-screen combat is unimpressive.

Overall : 2.5 /10


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