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The Last Airbender: You’re Gonna Hate Me

By Noelle Buffam · July 5, 2010

As I entered the theatre to watch M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie, The Last Airbender, I braced myself for the worst. I had heard it was awful. An abomination. The absolute end of whatever film career was still left for Shyamalan. About an hour and a half later I left the theatre in disbelief because…

Yeah, you heard me. I liked the film that is being called “the worst movie of 2010”.

Maybe you just gouged your eyes out after reading that. Perhaps you vowed to never read another one of my movie reviews. I understand. I started to sweat and have heart palpitations when I realized I would be one of the very few to publicly declare that I enjoyed The Last Airbender. But there it is…oh well. Maybe in a few months you will forget this review and we can be friends again.

The movie is adapted from the immensely popular television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The film takes place in a world that has been divided into four kingdoms; air, water, earth, and fire. In each of these kingdoms there are certain people (called benders) who can manipulate one of the elements. The story follows Aang the Avatar (Noah Ringer). The Avatar is the only person capable of controlling all four elements. He also happens to be the only person that holds a link to the spiritual world. Upon learning that being the Avatar means giving up a normal life, Aang runs away. One hundred years later, Aang is discovered by siblings Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone). In the time that Aang has been away, the Fire Nation has taken over and imprisoned most of the benders. As the only hope for salvation, Aang must set out to develop his bending skills and ultimately accept his position as the peacemaker.

There are a few reasons why I did not suffer the excruciating pain felt by many when watching The Last Airbender. First and foremost, I had no prior knowledge of the original television series. I have heard repeatedly that, as an adaptation, M. Night Shyamalan completely botched every element (ha) of the movie right down to pronouncing the character’s names incorrectly. Ouch. For fans of the television show, your outrage is completely understandable. 

Secondly, I did not see the movie in 3D.  The film had a last minute conversion to 3D which is said to make the movie come across as sloppy and unimpressive. It’s even left a few people screaming about never watching a converted 3D film again. Good. Let’s be done with that trend.

Last but not least, I don’t have an extreme opinion about M. Night Shyamalan. I don’t hate him. I don’t love him. I recognize that his films can be classified as “going downhill” after The Sixth Sense. I also recognize that there is a large group of people that can’t wait to see him die in a blazing inferno of failed movie attempts. I don’t really get it. Do you think he is an artistic poser? Self-indulgent? An egomaniac? Are you just tired of your friend making you watch The Village? I don’t know…but feel free to write a blog about hating Shyamalan. You wouldn’t be the first.

So, I watched The Last Airbender without knowledge and the expectations of the television show. I watched it without annoying 3D glasses on and without a vehement hate for Shyamalan. Instead, I watched The Last Airbender as an action film intended for kids and preteens.

The dialogue was definitely awkward, but the plot was different and interesting. The pace of the movie was quick and the special effects were entertaining. Although the characters were underdeveloped, they were still very intriguing. Most of the characters were children and teens. The best performance was by Dev Patel as Prince Zuko  (the Fire King’s disowned son). He was the only character that had enough material to develop throughout the movie…even if that development didn't feel quite complete.

Still, by the end of the film I was immersed in the world of The Last Airbender, which is more than I can say for any other film I have reviewed recently. Maybe my brain was just starved after watching a slew of terrible movies, but I still don't think The Last Airbender deserves the doomsday reception it has gotten thus far. Watched as an action movie for kids, the film is 'interesting and simple'.  And folks, there is nothing wrong with 'interesting and simple'. After all, most people in line at the ticket counter were going to see a film about sparkling vampires. I ask you, does it get any simpler than that?