Since one of the most financially successful directors & producers of all that is time snatched the title Avatar away to describe his mega-tall blue people, M. Knight had to simply call his film The Last Airbender. Adapted from the very popular animated series created by Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko. The story plays off of aspects of Chinese culture including martial arts. The central viewpoint of the story is composed of the four main elements of our world: Air, Water, Earth & Fire. Many of the characters within both the series and film have the ability to “bend” or manipulate these elements as they see fit.
Our hero of the series and its’ film counterpart is Aang (Noah Ringer) who is the last airbender alive. At the beginning of the film he is found frozen within a block of ice by a brother and sister duo, Katara (Nicola Peltz) & Sokka (Jackson Rathbone). The two children accidentally free him and eventually learn of his legendary identity. This being that he is the Avatar, a special member and last of a clan of air nomads whom have mastered the ability to bend the air around them. After learning of his destiny to protect the world from evil and maintain peace throughout it, he fled his village and became suspended in ice for a hundred years until he was freed.
Unknowing to him, the leader of an evil force who call themselves the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Ozai wishes to prevent him from fulfilling this destiny so that he may rule the four kingdoms of Earth himself. After deeming his son, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), unworthy of ruling in his place, he banishes him from the Fire Nation unless he can capture and return with the Avatar. Aang reveals that although he is the only being left who can airbend, he has not yet learned to bend the other elements. So along with his new friends, he sets out on a journey to develop these skills.
This was to be the first movie in a trilogy of films. One for each season that the animated series produced and also one for each element that Aang needs to learn. This film covers Book 1: Water. But the sequel is yet to be green-lit to begin production as of yet. Having not paid attention to the series, the world of element bending was completely new to me. All I knew about it from friends and acquaintances was that it was one of the best shows on television. The film seems to follow suit with the combination of element manipulation and martial arts which mostly resembles kung-fu that the animated series flourished on (from what I understand). I liked the back and forth switching between the battles that consisted of just element usage and the fight scenes that used martial arts.
I did not have the pleasure of seeing this film in the 3-D format that it was shot in but the special effects were very well done and not too over the top as I expected them to be. The story, although sometimes a little slow at times, flowed pretty smoothly throughout the movie without confusing the audience. I found it a little difficult at times to remember all of the fantasy-myth style character names but was able to catch on eventually.
I think my favorite character was that of Prince Zuko. From the introduction of the tortured prince, the audience can tell that he is not simply just your average bad guy. He is battling his own inner demons and when his back story is finally explained, you can see that he actually has a good heart lying somewhere within him. Also, his warrior talent isn’t yielded by the fact that he is a prince. Some of his scenes are a little over played by Patel, but on a whole he does a good job.
The main character, being Aang, was perhaps portrayed a little more serious than his animated persona. According to the series, he is a fun-loving child who kind of tries to hold off on his destiny of being the Avatar. The film’s version is determined from the get-go to do what is needed to protect the Earth.
I can’t help but think that because I haven’t seen the Nickelodeon series that this is the reason why I think the film was so good. There has been many an audience that didn’t care for M. Night’s version but I disagree. I felt it was a complete film in many aspects. The visual effects were spot on, I enjoyed the fight scenes and the story was very engaging. I generally did not see why it did so poorly but to each their own. Hoping Book 2: Earth gets the go ahead, I give The Last Airbender “4 powerful elements to master before one can save the world out of 5”.
“He will begin to change hearts, and it is in the heart that all wars are won.”