As we’re fans of Michael Dante DiMartino’s animated Avatar, my son and I attended Shyamalan’s version today titled The Last Airbender. My first response is, “What was he thinking?” and “It’s not that hard.”
The animated work is an excellent unification story, a journey narrative of impressive complexity, color, and emotional pull. Aang, the last air bender is lost and the nations of the world have descended into war. Aang returns after one hundred years and with the help of some very interesting friends, puts the world back into shape. That’s the story, told in three parts. However, the story is also broken into several subplots, those of Katara, her brother, Sokka, Toph, Suki, Aang’s parallel character, Zuko, and his uncle, Iroh. They’re all interesting and DiMartino takes the time to develop them. However, the essential story is grippingly simple and Shyamalan could’ve told the super story with some nice dips into character, but, alas, the things as it stands is very strange.
What devastates Shyamalan’s version, a barely visually impressive vignette, is that it simply jumps through a portion of Aang’s journey so that unfamiliar viewers will wonder what the heck’s going on, doing so with the feeling that two or three hours of the good material had been slashed. In the film, the characters are little more than thinly rendered shadows, act as a means of carrying unnecessary dialogue or stage direction, and are basically shapeless, drab, and arbitrary. Zuko is treated pretty well, but his part ends before it begins. I’ve been to movies where the story persistently remains in an intro phase, and then it ends, and I wonder, when the hell did this thing start? This is one of those, and so I say, What was he thinking, with such solid material to work with, too. Gee wiz. What a shame.