The Last Airbender finally appeared on netflix streaming. In spite of the multitude of horrid reviews, I took a chance on it. I’m glad that I did.
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire movie. It was very M. Knight Shyamalan in that is not your ‘normal’ movie experience. The viewer is led through the movie by narration and emotion rather than dialogue and action. Honestly, the whole thing was a very moving experience.
I will say that I had heard of the series, but never watched even a full one. I always wondered about how the airbender had to master all the elements and why there weren’t any other airbenders, so I was pleased that all those concepts were made clear and in a very pleasing method. I was never versed in the lore of the world, so I came into this only having seen the reviews. Personally, I want more, a lot more, just like this movie.
At first, the characters don’t seem especially fleshed out. The ‘leading’ characters seem very flat, even compared to the antagonists. But that’s only if you pay attention to the words and the actors. This movie is very physical in nature and not just watching the quivering lips and sad eyes. You must pay attention to the various kata the characters use and develop. You must pay attention to the surroundings as the characters interact with their elements.
The development of the characters in The Last Airbender is very reminiscent of the characters in The Golden Compass (which I didn’t like at all). In The Golden Compass, you had an instant view into every character, that of their daemon. All the servants had domesticated canine daemons, all the bad guys had snakes or other ‘evil’ creatures, the good guys had felines and birds of prey. Just by looking at their daemon, you could a lot about that character and how they should behave. Likewise, in the last airbender, the main characters (this isn’t really true of the minor characters, because of needed plot points), could be observed emotionally by their bendings.
The, really interesting character of Sokka, was notable by his absence of elemental effects. So I was somewhat disappointed in him. Without the knowledge of the characters gleaned from their bendings, it was difficult to get a handle on him. He wanted to be tough, but kinda wasn’t. He wanted to be fierce and powerful, but he was scared to be.
I could go on about each of the characters in turn. But you really have to experience them for yourselves. If you have even a little knowledge of elemental magic, then you can learn a lot about these characters.
On to the story. It is incomplete and that’s very sad for me, because there probably won’t be any more of these movies and it’s just not worth it for me to switch to the series. This is a journey and, like all journey’s of growth, it is very difficult to tell in a short time. Especially with the depth and breadth that is given to us in the movie.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed in the plot. I was not disappointed in the characters. I was a little disappointed in the acting, it really seemed that the bad guys were better actors than the good guys. But it was minor stuff, and there were these glimpses, if you watch carefully, where you can see the true depth of some of the actors and actresses come out. Nicola Peltz (who plays Katara) was really a standout in the acting arena in this movie. Her emotions were subtle, but very visible.
I don’t know why this movie is so hated. I can offer two reasons. The first is because this isn’t like the series. And that’s kind of a shame. it’s like not liking the X-men movies because they don’t follow the comics (I don’t like them for other reasons, but that’s beside the point). This is a new medium, a new director, live-action, etc. Take it for what it is, a new beginning. A reboot, if you will. Enjoy it for what it is, don’t hate it because it’s not what you expected.
The second reason, and this may or may not be more telling, is that I think this movie is too subtle for 93% of the American audience. It’s not a martial arts flick, it’s not a pure adventure story. It’s a coming of age story, in almost the classic sense. It’s a journey that the characters (all of them, not just the last airbender) must take. The emotion hidden in subtle glances and background effects are difficult for us to see anymore. We’re not looking for subtly and emotional strength. We’re not used to working and thinking while we’re watching a movie anymore. We’re used to being entertained, but the real entertainment in The Last Airbender is finding all those subtle clues that makes the characters really come alive.
As I write this, I find myself laughing. I haven’t really enjoyed a movie this much in a long time. Sure, Thor and the like were entertaining, but this movie was really something else. I don’t know how to describe the feelings I have right now.
Part of it just sheer exuberance from the film, part is sadness that there won’t be anymore like it.
OK, I’ll shut up now. I have to disagree with 93% of the people who’ve seen it.
I loved it.