Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"The Last Airbender" - Snark Review

Let's get something straight right off the bat. This is not a movie, it's a train wreck. It is an absolute mess of bad writing, bad editing, bad directing, bad acting, god-awful special effects, and a serious case of the film makers not knowing what the hell they were doing.

For those of you who may not know, The Last Airbender was the first of what was meant to be a trilogy of films that would take the 3 seasons of the popular Nickelodeon TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender. The original title for the film was the same as the show, but then James Cameron came along with his 250 million dollar CGI blockbuster, and threatened to sue if they didn't change the name, as he was afraid people might get the 2 movies confused. Cameron needn't have worried, as while Avatar certainly had it's flaws as a movie, it was in another pantheon compared to this worthless waste of money and celluloid.

Now, I'm already coming into this a bit biased, as I'm a big fan of the original show. I can honestly say it's one of my favorite shows ever, and easily my favorite animated show. I loved the characters, the mythos, the amount of effort and care that went into crafting the world and culture. The brilliant and beautiful animation and designs. It's a show I would recommend to anyone and everyone. So when I heard they were making a live-action adaptation of the first season, I, along with many other fans, was more than a bit apprehensive. After all, there's been a rather dubious history with taking animated creations and making them live-action.

Dammit Hollywood, what did my childhood do to deserve this?

There's also the inherent difficulty that comes with taking 20 episodes of a TV show and fitting it into a reasonable time period. You've got nearly 7 hours of story and characterization coming from a heavily serialized show, and there's many things that aren't important when first introduced, but later become extremely important. It was clear to anyone that for this to work, they would need to get somebody for the project that knew how to handle everything with a deft, delicate touch. You couldn't just give the job to any old shmuck who offered to do it simply to try and make a buck, especially not one that had a recent history of laughably awful - Okay, screw it, insert your own M. Night Shyamalan joke here.

That's right, the man who's latest movie at the time was about plants killing people and Marky mark running through a field trying to outrun wind, was going to not only direct the film, but write and produce it as well. There was a collective groan from the A:TLA fandom.

Things just got worse as the actors cast for the main roles were announced...
Something seems off...did they change Zuko's hair?
Now I'm not the type of person who tries to start problems or controversies when there are none, but this is just...bad. People gave Power Rangers shit for casting a black guy and an asian girl as the Black and Yellow rangers all the way back in the early nineties! Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, you're stupid enough to try and pull a complete race swap for the main characters? This would have been bad enough on its own, but then casting calls for the film surfaced, with such brilliant lines as "If you're korean, wear a kimono." That banging sound you're hearing? It's the legions of fans that are still bashing their heads against the wall at the sheer ignorance of that sentence. This complete lack of tact or intelligence eventually lead to the founding of the Racebending movement, in an attempt to stop stupid shit like this from happening again.

So we've got an inherently difficult to execute project, being helmed by the guy who gave us this scene:
and with a cast of actors that look nothing at all like the characters they are meant to be portraying. To say that the fans weren't much enthused would such an understatement that calling it an understatement is itself and understatement. There were very few fans of the show still holding onto any hope for this movie.

But still, not ALL hope was lost. It had been announced that the creators of the show were going to be involved in the production, so there was that. Plus Shyamalan said he was a big fan of the series, that he watched it every week with his kids during its original run, and that his daughter loved it so much she wanted to dress as Katara for Halloween. So maybe, just maybe, he'd put a little more effort into this script then he had in the last few.

Next came the trailers, and this shows that at least one person involved with the film knew what they were doing. Most likely somebody on the marketing team knew that they were essentially shipping out a turd of a movie, and so they made sure to have virtually no dialogue or extended scenes in the trailers. Instead they mostly had title cards interspersed with short snippets of random actions scenes with not context. This had the effect of assuaging some of the fans' fears. After all, one of the big draws of the show was the amazing fight scenes, so clearly they were doing something right.

Oh how wrong we were.

The film start's out with a shot by shot remake of the opening credits of the show. And while the show had a quick recap voiceover of the general premise during this, we instead get complete silence as we are left to witness the worthless excuse for bending this film will be giving us. Seriously just look at it, it kind of speaks for itself.

Essentially they just have the actors fake seizures on a green screen for a few seconds while poorly rendered CGI follows the vague path of their movements a few seconds after they're done convulsing. For comparison, here's how it goes in the show:

See how everything flows smoothly? That's how it's supposed to go. What we get is a bunch of CG that would look bad in the 80's that kind of almost sorta moves around the actors. This is not a good way to start things out.

After that load of crap we get a text crawl while Katara, the on-again-off-again narrator of the film, reads it of to us. Then we open with our first shot of the story, more poorly animated "water" being slowly controlled by Katara, who for some reason constantly looks like she's on the verge of tears at all times. I swear M. Night Shyamalan had to have been holding her pet puppy hostage or something, because there is no way somebody's eyes are always filled to the brim of tears naturally. Anyway she accidentally dumps the water on her brother Sokk- I'm sorry, Soak-Uh.

Yeah, for some backasswards reason there are several names in the film that are pronounced differently from the show. Aang becomes Ahng, Sokka; Soak-uh, Iroh; Eeroh, Avatar; Ahvatahr. It absolutely confounds me why they would do this. It doesn't sound any less strange or foreign than the names as they're regularly said, so it doesn't make it more accessible to non-fans. Viewers who haven't seen the show aren't going to notice the difference if the names are said normally, so the only people who WILL notice are fans, who are going to be pissed off/confused at this shit. So essentially it's completely unnecessary change that accomplishes nothing other than to piss off fans of the show your film is based on. Way to go Shyamalan.

Getting back to the story, Sokka and Katara are hunting for food near their home in the South Pole, when they come along a patch of ice that has something glowing beneath it. Being a pair of kids who have spent their whole lives in this type of environment, they immediately decide to break open the ice they're standing on to find out what the shiny thing at the bottom of the water is. These 2 are Darwin Awards waiting to happen.

Somehow surviving this bout of extreme stupidity, they see a large globe of ice rise up from beneath the water and crack open, emitting a glowing beam of light into the sky. Inside the globe they find Aang, a young boy with arrow tattoos and a shaved head, along with his flying CGI bison who will amount to absolutely nothing in this film. A far cry from the character that got an entire episode dedicated to him in the show. Still this IS a film adaptation of a show, so some stuff if going to have to be dropped for the sake of brevity.

Suddenly we cut to Aang inside one of the igloos of the southern water tribe, where we get a nice look at another pointless change they did, this time in the name of Christ allegories!

It's here we're introduced to quite possibly one of the worst young actors I've ever watched on screen. I will certainly admit that Aang would be a difficult character for any actor to carry well, since his brand of chipper optimism and wide-eyed hyper-activity is something that takes a lot of energy to keep up, and you always would want to hold back for fear of coming across as irritating. But this kid? He has 2 expressions throughout the whole film. Slightly happy smile, and "Oh god I just pissed myself and everyone can totally see" face. If there's one thing you don't want the hero of your story to do, it's to look like he's constantly wearing soppy underoos.
He just realized this film is the biggest acting credit he'll ever get.
Next up in the train of humiliatingly bad acting is Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame portraying Prince Zuko. Now, I would say that Patel was a bad choice for the role of Zuko, seeing as he looks absolutely nothing like him at all, but Patel wasn't the first choice for the role. You know who was?
Not even kidding.
But still, Patel not being the absolute worst casting choice is the best thing I can say about his performance in this film. While one of Zuko's main characteristics is his anger and bouts of speech concerning honor, he's also got a much less aggressive side to him, which was prevalent even in the 1st season. Patel, for whatever reason, chose to make Zuko as angry, loud, and obnoxious as possible so he couldn't be taken seriously as an antagonist at all. Plus he gives us this immortal line:
Then of course there's the scar. Now, I'm perfectly aware that the large, stylized scar Zuko had in the show would probably look ridiculous in live action, and so making it more realistic was a good decision. The problem is that you can barely see it. That clip I posted up there? That's the clearest the scar ever looks. Ever. Just to make it clear we went from this:
"Man, what happened to that guy's face!?"
to this:
"Umm, did that guy have pink-eye?"
So let's see, we've got a hero who looks like he still wets the bed, a female lead who appears just moments away from a nervous breakdown, and an antagonist with a mild case of conjunctivitis. But there's still Sokka right? Idiotic pronunciation changes aside, they could at least still get his character right. Sure the actor playing him is most famous for playing a weird-looking sparkly guy, but at least he's got SOME acting experience, they might still salvage something right? Oh wait, no, because this movie is pile of ASS and can't get anything right.

Sokka on the show was a character who, while he certainly had a serious side when things took a turn for the worse, was usually very comedic. Be it with sarcastic quips or just providing some slapstick, he was the go-to of the main cast for comedic relief. In the movie on the other hand, he cracks a smile maybe...twice? Through out the whole 100 minute running time, he's completely serious and looks kind of pissed off just being there. Like the actor was maybe roped into doing this and can't get out of his contract without being blacklisted.

So great, now that it's been firmly established that none of our main characters act anything like their counterparts, we get into the story proper.

Zuko storms into the Southern Water Tribe and demands them to bring him the Avatar, as he knows the beam in the sky has to do with him. Aang shows himself in order to protect them, and he's carted off. Sokka and Katara share some forced exposition that their mother was taken away during a Fire Nation raid years ago. This is another pointless change, as in the show their mother was killed in said raid. You might say they changed it to make it less dark for the kiddies, but that gets thrown out the window near the end when we see somebody get straight-up murdered on screen.

You know what, this review is already long as hell and I'm only through the first 10 minutes. I've gotta start letting the pointless changes slide unless they're absolutely pressing, otherwise I'll be writing a thesis here.

Anyway, Katara and Sokka's Grandmother tells them that she believes Aang is the Avatar, the only person capable of bending all four elements, whose spirit has been reincarnated for thousands of life-times, keeping balance among the four powers. She tells us that Aang must have been frozen in that ice-block for 100 years, as it's been that long since anyone's seen an Air Nomad, since the Fire Nation wiped them all out at the start of the war.

Meanwhile on the ship with Zuko and his uncle Iroh, they perform a test to see if Aang really is the Avatar that is so stupid I can't honestly tell you all the ways in which it makes no sense. BUT I WILL TRY

1. They use a candle flame, and pitcher of water, and a rock to test him. This is stupid.
2. When the flame blows towards him, the water puddles in front of him, and the rock moves in front of him, they believe he's the avatar. This looks stupid.
3. If this is meant to be an unconscious reaction to Aang's presence, shouldn't the snow have been constantly moving with him earlier?
4. If it's NOT unconscious, then that means Aang's just showing off, which would make him dumber than a sack of hammers.
5. None of the people involved can act.

God damn, I'm not even halfway through and this review is already too long.

In an incredibly boring "chase" scene, Aang escapes the ship and meets up with Katara and Sokka. They decide to go with him, since clearly the 5 minutes they've known him is more than enough to justify leaving their village and family. My guess is they were always weirded out that they were the only white people in the entire south pole. The village is probably glad to be rid of them too, what with Sokka constantly talking about his buddy Edward and that weird girl he dated.

Then they reach the Southern Air Temple, Aang's home, which he ran away from after finding out he was the Avatar because he couldn't handle the extreme pressure that comes with essentially being the Christ figure of an entire world and balancing the struggle and difficulties of an ever-changing and growing wor- What's that? They changed his motivation? You say he's now more concerned that he couldn't have a family, even though as he's been raised by and as a monk his whole life that shouldn't bother him in the least? Well fuck me sideways, never mind. It's not like having your characters have struggles and development would make your pile of shit movie at least a little tolerable.

So yadda yadda, Aang finds out he was frozen for 100 years, everybody he loved his dead and his entire way of life has been erased for over a century, and it's all his fault because he wanted to get married. He breaks down and goes into the spirit world where a terrible CGI dragon chews him out for being a fucking moron. Katara snaps him out of it and they move on without anything really being effected. Whoo.

So then we meet Admiral Zhao, played by a hilariously miscast Aasif Mandvi. He's supposed to serve as our final villain of the film, but for now he's just here to shove in all of Zuko's backstory in 30 seconds of dialogue. I've heard it said that if you're writing dialogue for ANYTHING and you use the phrase "as you know" you need to stop right there and make revisions to the story so that isn't necessary. Aasif here uses it so many times here that I lost count. It's a clumsily written mess of a scene and the only reason I don't want it to end is because what follows is the worst scene in the movie.

Do you know how terrifying it is to write that? The worst scene in a film of nothing but bad scenes. It's the Adolf Hitler of movie scenes. If you were a fan of the series, and you had somehow managed to hold onto any scrap of hope that there would be anything that could be even remotely passable, this scene is where you just fucking gave up and resigned yourself to rage and depression for the rest of the film.

Aang and Co. run into a young earthbender who's being chased by Fire Nation soldiers. They're all captured and brought to the prison where the soldiers have been holding all of the earthbenders. Do you know where this prison happens to be? If you guessed a metal rig out in the ocean far away from any rock or soil, you're clearly more intelligent than M. Night Shyamalan. Because in here, the Fire Nation decided to imprison the EARTHbenders in A FUCKING ROCK QUARRY. There are no words. And not only have the earthbenders not seemed to realize that they are LITERALLY SURROUNDED BY THE VERY ELEMENT THEY HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL OVER, but it takes Aang actually telling them they are STANDING ON FUCKING ROCKS THAT THEY CAN CONTROL for them to finally start rebelling. What follows is the worst fight scene I've ever seen in a film. It's done in a single crane shot that exposes all of the idiots in the background just standing around waiting for their cue. And then...and then...

Just watch.

Let's move on.

So we then get a montage of Aang liberating various Earth Kingdom villages as the trio travels north towards the Northern Water Tribe where they hope to find a Waterbending teacher for Aang and Katara. Meanwhile we get a scene with Admiral Zhao meeting with Zuko's father, Firelord Ozai. And good god did the fuck up Ozai. Here's all we ever saw of Ozai in the first 2 seasons of the show:
Pictured: an intimidating villain
And here's what he looks like in the film:
Pictured: Ridiculous Campy Bullshit
Sort of loses the intimidating nature, doesn't it?

Anyway, Zhao tells Ozai that they're tracking the Avatar north, and that they know he's heading towards the Northern Water Tribe. The pair hatch a plan to capture the avatar using spies in the Earth Kingdom, as well as a full scale assault on the Water Tribe. We also get a flashback showing us Azula, who would become the main antagonist in the 2nd season, and again, the translation from cartoon to actress leaves a lot to be desired.
From this...
Man, the casting department didn't give two shits, did they?

Back with Aang and the 2 sacks of water and bone he calls his friends, we see Aang is having trouble dealing with the fact that he's the Avatar, and thus has to one day save the world. So he decides he should try to meditate and meet that kindly old dragon that called him a dumbass earlier and figures he needs to visit the Northern Air Temple that's nearby to do it. Sokka says it's a bad idea, and Katara says she'll try to talk him out of it. Cut to Aang leaving. Guess Katara's talk was so pointless even the film makers thought it was superfluous. That's saying something.

Aang arrives at the temple only to meet a kindly old stranger who says he's been waiting for him, and that he has a special place to show him in the temple.
Aang being the fucking moron he is in this crock of shit excuse for a film follows the man into an inner temple when, suddenly, out of nowhere, nobody in a million fucking years could have seen it coming, it turns out this was a trap set by Fire Nation. I mean really, who'd have thought you couldn't trust an old man you'd just met who just happened to have been sitting there in a temple of a culture not his own who said he'd been waiting for you. Just wow, who CAN ya trust these days?

So Zhao imprisons Aang, but this lasts all of about 5 seconds before Zuko, in an incredibly silly looking disguise, shows up and busts Aang out. This leads to another poorly shot fight scene where all the fire nation soldiers politely wait their turn and attack Aang one at a time. Eventually Aang and Zuko manage to escape, with Zuko getting knocked out and Zhao inexplicably knowing it was Zuko. Really, this scene was only in here as a phoned-in attempt to put a fan-favorite plot point in the story. There's nothing accomplished here, nothing is added to the story, the characters don't learn anything. It's just so strange too that a movie that so far has been so dedicated to telling fans of the show to suck it, with needless changes and rewrites, that it suddenly thinks it can get fans in again by putting the breakout scene in.

So our merry band of idiots finally make it to the Northern Water Tribe, where they are greeting by is that a giant penis on her head?
It is. That's clearly a penis. I don't mean to be crude but it is clear to all who can see that her hair looks like a penis with that shot and that lighting. Jesus Tap Dancing Christ, M. Night Shyamalan just spent the last hour trying to tell a serious story, and then he chooses THAT shot to put in the film? Game over man, game over.

Ugh. As I was saying, they are greeted by Princess Yue, who is leader of the Northern Tribe, and yet she is inexplicably not called "Queen Yue". I would complain about this stupidity, but I'm just glad they didn't have everybody call her Princess You. Then we get a voice-over from Katara telling the audience that Sokka and Yue became "good friends" very quickly, because it's not like good story telling would have us see these characters interact and build a relationship. ATTENTION MANOJ NELLIYATTU SHYAMALAN: NEVER WRITE ANYTHING AGAIN. PLEASE. YOU SUCK AT IT.

Anyway Katara, Mistress of telling us shit we should be seeing, also tells us that the Water Tribe is preparing for battle against the approaching Fire Nation, and that they have a plan to help keep the Firebenders' power low by extinguishing all the lanterns in the tribe when it comes time to fight. You see, for whatever reason, the film makers decided to make it so that Firebenders need a source for the Fire they bend, while in the show they created it themselves using Chi. I don't even care at this point. This stopped being Last Airbender a while ago for me. Still, we at least see the characters thinking strategically, taking what they know about the strengths of other benders and taking into account in their-
Man, those lanterns must be REALLY bright when they're lit.
Fuck it. Let's move on.

Zhao in the meantime tries to have Zuko assassinated by blowing up the prince's ship. This, for whatever reason, only manages to scratch his face a little. Which is still more noticeable than that fucking piddling ball of dollar store make-up they call a scar. Fuck I hate this. Hate. Hate. Hate. HATE.

So Zhao's forces attack the Water Tribe, Zuko sneaks in from under water and emerges miraculously dry. Zhoa reveals to Iroh that the plan is to sneak into the Spirit Oasis in the center of the Water Tribe and Kill the Moon Spirit that lives there, this will rob the Waterbenders of their bending as the Moon is the original source of waterbending. Aang has also gone to the Spirit Oasis, and is meditating in an attempt to contact that Dragon again and while he's zoned out Zuko shows up, beats Katara so quickly it's fucking shameful, and then drags Aang's limp body to a different building.

After the Dragon tells him to stop being a wimp, Aang awakens and attempts to get away from Zuko in one of the most embarrassingly dumb thing I've ever seen. Rather than a bending fight, or a martial arts fight, we get fucking cartoon antics. Aang actually hides from Zuko by STANDING BEHIND HIM. And when Zuko turns his head, AANG JUST LEANS TO THE SIDE TO STAY HIDDEN. This is stuff they pull in comedies precisely because it's absolutely ridiculous and anybody with 2 braincells to rub together knows it wouldn't work. This scene thankfully ends, with Katara finally managing to do something worth a damn by encasing Zuko in ice. They leave Zuko in order to get back to the fight going on outside, and then we get to see Zhao and Iroh just casually stroll their asses through the battlefield without even looking where they're going. Seriously.

They make it to the Oasis, Zhao prepares to kill the spirit that's in the form of a poorly rendered CGI fish, and Iroh tells him that hey, maybe destroying the moon isn't such a hot fucking idea when it comes to how the world works. Zhao, being the perpetual fucktard that he is, ignores this and stabs the fish, then runs off. This inspires Aang to finally join the battle, and so he rushes away to try and aid the now powerless waterbenders.

While Aang's off doing that, we see Iroh, Sokka, and Yue mourning the dead moon spirit, when Yue decides to sacrifice herself to bring the Moon Spirit back to life. Sokka protests, seeing as this is the only chance he's ever going to have of getting some considering they didn't include his other love interest in the final cut of the film. We are then treated to 2 of the outright dumbest lines in this film.

Yue: It's time we show the fire nation we believe in our beliefs as mush as they believe in theirs.
Iroh: There are reason each of us are born.

Now the first line is stupid in an obvious way. This is just an outright poorly written line and anybody who knows how to write lines would write that line differently than the way that line was written. But the second one is dumb in a less obvious way, in that it's essentially implying that Yue was born to die because Aasif Mandvi would one day stab a fish. Can this movie end already?

Yue sacrifices herself, the moon comes back, the tide of the battle turns and the waterbenders start winning. Then Zuko runs into Zhao, and they prepare to fight. Finally, after 90 minutes of the Firebenders looking like complete fools with nothing intimidating about them in the slightest, we'll finally get to see a good old Agni Ki, plus it's a showdown that's been building up even in the movie. Clearly they're going to put forward at least a little effort into this one, right...

I don't know why I'm even surprised anymore. Iroh shows up, tells Zuko some bullshit about how he has to walk away from this fight or some shitfaced pathos that would fit better in a Rocky movie. Zuko leaves and instead, Zhao gets out-right drowned on screen by 4 random waterbenders who leave as quickly and anticlimactically as they arrived.
Fuck it. Let's end this. Aang gets to the front wall of the Water Tribe and raises a big wave of water, then just sort of holds it there for 5 minutes. This is apparently enough to make the firebenders surrender, and everybody bows to Aang. We get some set up for a sequel that, if there is any good in the universe at all, will never get made. Cue end credits and me getting this piece of trash out of my DVD player.

I mean just...WOW. Woooooooow. Everything bad you can do with an adaptation, no, more than that. Everything you can do wrong with a film in general, is done here. People have been joking about M. Night Shyamalan's slipping career for years now, but THIS is the bottom. The absolute fucking rock bottom. If Shaymalan is capable of making a worse film than this, I would actually like to see it, just because I want to see if it's fucking possible.

Fuck this movie with a god damned broom handle. Fuck M. Night Shymalan.

But at least there's one positive thing. This is no longer going to be the last installment in the Avatar: The Last Airbender fanchise. Next year, they're coming out with a 2 season spin-off series Avatar: The Legend of Korra and all signs point to it being the same level of quality as the show. So hopefully, if the creators continue to work with the Avatar universe with the same passion and hard work they've always shown, we'll be able to quietly shoo this atrocity under the rug.

Final Score: 0/10

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