So What Went Wrong with The Last Airbender?
M. Night Shyamalan just can't please you people! For once, he does a movie without all his usual trademarks -- the surprise ending, the Philadelphia setting, the vainglorious directorial cameo -- and still, he can't catch a critical break. What went wrong with his latest effort, The Last Airbender? Here are four of the biggest problems:
A la Clash of the Titans, Airbender got a terrible post-production conversion to 3D that made it look dark and blurry (at worst) and flat and 2D (at best). I watched almost half of it with my 3D glasses off, and in non-action scenes, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference. Actually, that's not true: those scenes looked even better with the glasses off, because they were suddenly brighter and more colorful. "M. Night Shyamalan's retrofit produces the drabbest, darkest, dingiest movie of any sort I've seen in years," complained Roger Ebert in his review. "You know something is wrong when the screen is filled with flames that have the vibrancy of faded Polaroids."
Shyamalan is no Shakespeare, but he knows how to get a catchphrase into the lexicon, as The Sixth Sense proved. Even Signs had some clever lines ("There's a monster outside my room, can I have a glass of water?"). In Airbender, alas, it's like he didn't even try. All the dialogue is expository, leaving no room for character or memorable turns of phrase. It's like watching your least favorite Final Fantasy cut scenes come to life.
By the way, all that expository dialogue? It's spent setting up events that don't even happen in this movie. We're told numerous times that the hero, Aang, has to master bending water, fire, and earth before he can complete his journey. All he gets to is water. The big bad guys? They mostly stay out of the final battle. The teased-at confrontation between Zuko and his evil sister? We don't even meet the sister until the last shot of the movie. Guys, it's pointless to set up the second and third movies if this one isn't any good.
Sense of Humor
Also, why so serious? This is a movie about kids with magic powers, and yet everyone is so freakin' grim all the time. I get that the filmmakers hoped this would be a mythological franchise on par with Star Wars. Unfortunately, instead of learning from the fun and adventure of A New Hope, they've made a CG grind that apes the prequels. Sorry, Night. Maybe next time?