Home > Movies > Avatar – The Last Airbender (Film) Review

Avatar – The Last Airbender (Film) Review

Just re-watch the series. Really.

I will start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the animated Avatar series.  I think it was one of the most well thought out and developed animated series to ever be developed.  It was one of those shows that you could almost feel the love for the series in each episode.  This movie, however, is not.  Let’s start by examining the good of the film.

What Went Right:

The style and effects of the film worked really well in capturing the visuals of the animated series.  All of the cities, temples, and settings were recreated with meticulous detail.  They truly were breathtaking in some aspects and it really helped make the world feel validated and alive.  This is something that was really important to this show so I’m glad they were able to to pull this off.  The other key element that the movie did a good job recreating is the actual bending.  Bending, in the series, is the ability to manipulate the four elements of earth, fire, water, and air via martial arts.  One aspect that was always really great is how they developers of the series took existing martial arts based on the elements and used those movements and techniques to create the elemental bending.  Luckily they matched this well in the series and the effects team did a great job bringing this to life with the film.  So they managed to capture two of the most key elements of the series really well, but why is the movie so meh?

What Went Wrong:

Perhaps the first issue is a bit negligible, but it is weird for them to recast three of the main characters as Caucasian.  In the animated series it was a bit hard to show, but it was still implied that each of the four elemental tribes were separate nations and races.  The carried this over to the film, and that’s why it feels out of place.  The southern water tribe were Inuit in nature and traits, and in the film it’s really really weird when everyone in the background was Inuit except for the two main characters from the southern tribe who were cast as Caucasian.  The earth bending tribes were always interpreted as Chinese by names and premise of being the largest of the nations and the earth benders shown were Asian as well.  So when they introduce Toph in the next film one has to wonder if she’ll be white as well.  I’m not sure if it would bother me more or less if they changed everyone to the same race or not.  Either way it’s still just a bit confusing as to why it was done.

Next up is the fact that they mispronounced the names of Aang, Sokka, Katara , and the Avatar.  Now whether the initial pronunciations in the original animated series were accurate or not to how it should be pronounced is irrelevant.  The point is that there is no excuse to changing the pronunciation from what was held standard in the show, for those who have watched the series it’s really jarring and almost like a slap to the face each time its heard.

The movie also suffers from the trouble of trying to compress twenty-six episodes of the series into under two hours.  While this is a tough problem for any film, they really just went about it all wrong.  Almost 90% of the dialog in the film is the characters telling us what’s happening in the story even to a point of narrating the exact thing that’s happening on screen.  This proves to be incredibly distracting, annoying, and makes the audience feel stupid.  Yes, I understand this is a film aimed at kids, but I feel it’s aimed at that one kid in one hundred who sits at a movie theater and asks their parent “what happened, who’s that guy, what did they just say” after each scene in the movie.

Due to the constant exposition of the plot and premise of the film, we have the other main problem come up.  There is just about zero character development or interaction between the characters beyond telling them what they are about to do at each second.  The movie loses all the heart that the series had because there’s just never any time to develop it.  On top of this there are only two attempts at humor in the entire film.  For those who did not see the series this might be a bit confusing.  For those that have seen the series this makes the film lack one of the other strong elements of the series.  There was a lot of humor and lightheartedness through the show.  Aang himself was always a very happy go lucky character that always wanted to be a kid, and it made it so much more meaningful when he had to deal with the war and strife that was falling around him and the burden of stopping it being placed on his shoulders.

The acting was also pretty mediocre, but that may be due to being forced to only give exposition or simply the fact that the actors/actresses were mainly too young.  The only shining beacons were Dev Patel as Zuko who really managed to capture the frustration and anger that Zuko had in the beginning.  We have to see if he can pull off the calm and collected Zuko we see later in the series.  The other beacons were actually other key members of the fire nation, Cliff Curtis as Fire Lord Ozai, Aasif Mandvi as Admiral Zhao, and though only shown briefly Summer Bishil as Azula who has already helped us show her potential in pulling off the twitchy craziness that Azula is known for.

There were a few other things that were off about the film, but they could be primarily chalked up to me nitpicking as a fan of the series.  Overall I still enjoyed the movie on some level because it was mostly accurate to the series except for having a TON of stuff cut out.  I came out more with regret because I felt bad for the people who hadn’t seen the series.  The one bright side is that all the friends I went with that hadn’t seen the series are now going back to watch it because the film piqued their interest.

One last side note. There was someone sitting a little behind me in the film repeating almost EVERY line in the film or saying it at the same time as the characters.  WHO DOES THAT!?

  1. jettwinlock
    July 5, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Yeah I didn’t have high hopes for this movie with Shyamalalgodingdong doing it. The only good thing that might come out from all this is the director being blacklisted in hollywood.

  2. July 6, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    I’m with Jettwinlock – as soon as I heard who was directing I was leary. Then I heard he actually wrote the movie and all interest disappeared. I think I will stay with the series for this one and just live the movie in my head.

    Oh and the guy who was doing that behind you was the Very Big Fan. You know, the one who is now at home reciting the movie.

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