Director M. Night Shyamalan became a Hollywood success with the hauntingly supernatural Sixth Sense in 1999 before stumbling badly with critical disappointments like The Village and The Happening, and now The Last Airbender, which again veers far from his earlier success. It doesn't help that he's hamstrung himself with the subject matter; this family-friendly adventure flick is based on a successful Nickelodeon animated TV series.
The story kicks into gear when the Fire Nation launches a brutal war, leaving Aang (Noah Ringer) caught between combat and courage. He soon discovers that he's the lone Avatar (not the blue, James Cameron kind of Avatar, though) with the power to manipulate all four elements. He teams up with brother and sister (Jackson Rathbone and Nicola Peltz) and a flying behemoth that looks like a big sheep to restore balance to their war-torn world.
Most of Airbender is dark and hard to see, with some cool but hardly spectacular visuals. The unnecessary 3D is distracting and headache-inducing. An evil ship, gigantic monitor lizards, hoards of showering ice and water, plumes of fire and gushing winds all collide in deafening thuds to little effect. Shyamalan's overblown mysticism attempts to mix spirituality with martial arts and the result is simply tiresome. A bulk of the action includes the characters getting all kung-fu-ey, then shooting one of the elements from their hands and it's hard not to laugh when Aang gets all hopped up on the elements, causing the arrow tattoo on his head to light up into a neon mohawk. As for the dialogue, the three lead kids all confusingly talk like suburban white kids playing in the backyard.
Airbender opens against Twilight's Eclipse, yet Shyamalan seems optimistic, telling reporters, "I'm hoping after they see Eclipse, they'll come see our movie." Hmm. Good luck with that because Airbender is little more than convoluted kid's stuff and even children can spot that.
The Last Airbender
Starring Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Jessica Jade Andres, Dev Patel Directed and Written by M. Night Shyamalan. Rated PG