What's Wrong With The Last Airbender

I don't do movie reviews very often -- or rants for that matter. But I'm so sad. I have to get this out so I can go on pretending this movie never happened.

My family and I ADORE the cartoon of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It felt kiddish at first, but I fell in love with the characters and the fantastic action sequences. I was hooked by the third episode. During the final four episodes I literally sat on the edge of my seat, shushing anyone who spoke.

So. You know where I'm coming from.

I took my older daughters to see the movie because, even though I knew the reviews it got, it was something we enjoyed together and I really wanted them to see the story in Thai. For the record, they liked it (though they both wanted to see Eclipse, so...).

I will grant the movie these two things: (1) the sets were beautiful and spot-on faithful to the series and (2) for a movie accused of whitewashing, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Asian and Indian actors involved. But that's it. Be warned there are spoilers below. Usually I don't spoil, but then usually I'm talking about media I want you to enjoy as much as I did. For this, I just don't care.

The pacing was awful. It felt like all the best, most emotional moments of the TV show were included, but stripped of any context that would make them emotional. Everything happened so fast, there was no time for any real character arcs.

Bending was boring. In the cartoon, bending the elements was a natural extension of kung fu. When a bender struck with his fist, fire shot out. When he drew his fingers delicately through the air, a stream of water followed the motion. The result was martial arts that were fluid, effective, and super-cool to watch. By contrast, the movies felt like watching a turn-based RPG. Zuko does a complicated move while Aang stands still. Then a fireball shoots at Aang who flips away, and it's Aang's turn to do his move.

Aang and Sokka don't smile at all. I mean, come on. In the cartoon, Aang was a playful kid who rejected the weight of saving the world. Halfway through the final season, rather than talk about what to do after their attack on the Fire Lord fails, Aang wants to play around the Western Air Temple. And Sokka... his jokes were their own running gag. He said it himself: "That's pretty much my whole identity. Sarcasm and meat."

The ending sucked. While most of the movie went out of its way to include the cartoon's emotional moments, the ending ripped them out for no good reason. Instead of fighting Zhao, Iroh sets his hands on fire and Zhao just runs away. Instead of obliterating the Fire Navy as the Ocean Spirit, Aang makes a giant wall of water and the navy just...runs away. And instead of facing off with Zuko and the Ocean Spirit, Zhao is defeated by four random waterbenders who kill him with no struggle at all and then walk away.

Maybe the movie's better in English, but I doubt it. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch Zhao and Zuko duel for real while I get excited about The Legend of Korra.

18 comments:

aspiring_x said...

DAH!! i hadn't heard of the legend of korra!!! hooray! (hears to hoping it's half as good as it sounds!)
even though the bending wasn't natural (nor as beautiful) as in the cartoon, i did think that the skill level involved in the martial arts of the movie were breathtaking... but then i think that martial arts are.. well, art...
:)

the lack of the humor... and the pronunciations-those were the worst parts for me. :(

Ricardo Bare said...

So sad. I'm hoping they'll do a reboot like they did with the Hulk.

Who would be a good director choice? Zach Snyder (lots of slomo, shouting and ripped abbs haha)

Taryn Tyler said...

I actually enjoyed the movie but then I've never seen the original anime and don't have a basis of commparison. Perhaps I ought to ammend that.

Adam Heine said...

So glad I could make your day, aspiring. I got the tip from Matt Delman who, I think, has a Google Alert set for the word "steampunk".

Ricardo: I kinda hope they don't do a reboot. I like the show as it is. Though a well-done film could easily change my mind.

Taryn: I was wondering how someone who didn't know the story would react to the film. Good to know it's not completely confusing. But I do highly, HIGHLY recommend watching the show.

Myrna Foster said...

Yeah, my nephew liked the movie too, but then he watched the cartoons with us, last week, and told us everything that was wrong with the movie. And he hasn't even met my favorite little blind girlie.

I hadn't heard about The Legend of Korra either. It sounds great!

Adam Heine said...

"...and told us everything that was wrong with the movie."

That must have been a long conversation ;-)

I love Toph. We're getting a blind girl soon named Pancake, and I really want to rename her. "Cuz it sounds like tough! And that's just what I am!"

Myrna Foster said...

She's Tai, and her name is Pancake?

Adam Heine said...

Thai's do love their English nicknames. And apparently Pancake is a celebrity.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

The movie is no better in English. I seriously cringed through most of it, and the dialogue was some form of torture I'm still trying to identify (pain by emotionless cliche?). But it was gorgeous in the cinematography, so at least it was pretty to look at.

And Pancake is a celebrity! At least in my household. When we got our awesome Thai knife, I explained that it came from the same country as Pancake, and the boys knew just what I was talking about. :)

Adam Heine said...

And now I'm doubly impressed by your boys.

Sherri said...

I'm so disappointed to hear this. That's one of our favorite shows, parents and kids alike. Sokka and Aang are playful, that's what's lovable about them! Why they gotta ruin stuff?

K. Marie Criddle said...

Hear hear! I had all my own reservations about it due to the "whitewashing" of the characters. Perhaps the kid and I will just go watch all the cartoons again and pretend the movie was never made.

Re: racist Hollywood--I didn't write this, but I stick by it nonetheless: http://splinterend.tumblr.com/post/749364670/facepainting

My, this horse is high. I should probably step off.

Adam Heine said...

"Perhaps the kid and I will just go watch all the cartoons again and pretend the movie was never made."

Yeah, that's probably for the best.

Matt Heppe said...

AAARRRGGGH! The movie was horrible. My family loves the TV show. We were soooo disappointed. Where was the humor? The TV show is so funny.

Sozin's Comet (Part 3) is a fantastic episode. I love the battle between Zuko and Azula. One of the great things about the tv show is that there is a true story arc and character development. This is very rare for an animated program.

It was impossible for the movie to cram 20 episodes of character development into a 90 minute movie.

Bah!

Adam Heine said...

Matt, that battle was AMAZING. I especially loved the music choice. It really highlighted the meaning of the whole thing rather than the action.

Anonymous said...

may i just remind the director...
you pronounced sokka and aang's names wrong! i mean seriously! if your gonna make a movie, at least say the names right! it's a short o and a long a, not the other way around.

and i agree that the movie was NOT made at it's best, and could have been done so much better.

maine character said...

I hardly know the series, but I think you hit a key point about how there's a lack of humor and mischief, and how even in drama you need that levity.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that they made the actors say aangs name wrong!!! It might be just me but everytime they said his name i died! They say Arng not Aang!!!