The Last Airbender (2010)

the last airbender

I don’t think you’ve noticed, but we’ve started a rebellion.”

The Scoop: 2010, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, and Jackson Rathbone.

Tagline: Four nations, one destiny.

Summary Capsule: In a world where everyone has daddy issues and war looms on the horizon, 2 Inuit kids find a pre-teen Messiah figure in Shaolin robes destined to kick major A.


Courtney’s rating: You know it’s bad if the Nickelodeon cartoon is more subtle and sophisticated than the super serious film adaptation.

Courtney’s review: Avatar: the Last Airbender, an anime-esque show set in a world where people possess the ability to “bend” the elements with martial arts, told the story of Aang, the most recent incarnation of the Avatar spirit with the ability to bend all four elements and the responsibility to keep peace among humanity. But when the Avatar went missing, the Fire Nation seized the opportunity to take over the other world, wiping the Air Nomads out of existence in the process. A century later, Aang (still 12 years old) was found frozen inside an iceberg by a young waterbender named Katara and her brother Sokka. In order to master water-, earth-, and firebending, stop Fire Lord Ozai’s war for domination, and evade capture by the hot-tempered Prince Zuko, Aang set out on his own hero’s journey. And it was awesome.

Seriously, the show was amazing, and not just by kids’ entertainment standards. It was epic, funny, clever and full of heart. The action was cool and imaginative but never stopped the story, and it combined Eastern and Western philosophies in an interesting way. The cast of characters was remarkable – there were familiar stock types everywhere, but the main characters had believable depth and development along with talented voice actors behind them. It definitely had some flaws, but with that kind of richness in story, setting and character, it could be adapted into a really cool movie someday.

Unfortunately, after M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, it seems that day is still a long way off from now.

It’s not that Shyamalan failed so spectacularly as a director (which he absolutely did) that shocked me. It was that he failed so spectacularly as a screenwriter. Keep in mind, the plot to TLA is actually pretty much the same as A:TLA, and the story cuts that were made were completely understandable and expected. But because A:TLA followed the same monomythic arc that’s been seen everywhere from Lord of the Rings to The Lion King, it wasn’t the story that made it stand out – it was that show creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko made it fun, light, and vibrant. But why should a super-serious guy like Shyamalan want to actually write a fun screenplay with actual jokes included when he could just write one with flat characters, horrible pacing, and heavy dialogue that comes off as a bad Star Wars rip-off, minus everything audiences love about Star Wars? (So basically, The Phantom Menace. Oh, I must be a firebender judging by that burn!)

A bad script can be saved with good filmmaking, so there’s still hope, right? Well, not when the director clearly thinks he’s got a masterpiece on his hands. After casting three decidedly white and untalented actors as the heroes who will save all the minorities from other, darker minorities, (unfortunate implications? What unfortunate implications?)  Shyamalan went on to ensure that they gave the most boring performances this side of Twilight. And with that declaration, I must now make the obligatory note that Jackson Rathbone played Sokka in Airbender and Jasper-the-constipated-Harpo-pire in the Twilight series. I’m guessing he made a deal Mephistopheles for a Hollywood career. Bad move, dude. Noah Ringer (Aang) and Nicola Peltz (Katara) at least have excuses for not being super actors, both being much younger and less experienced than the rest of the primary cast. It’s not their fault the director didn’t want to, uh, direct them.

Dev Patel, who stole a bit of my heart in Slumdog Millionaire, was just awkward as Prince Zuko. Granted, he had the opposite of help from the script. I mentioned heavy dialogue before – his tips the scales against everyone else’s put together, multiplied by The Dark Knight. Shaun Toub as Zuko’s uncle and mentor Iroh was the cast highlight. The character was written all wrong (seriously, the whole point is that this old chubby guy who preaches inner peace and enjoys board games can actually kick everybody’s butt and… okay, I’m getting way too far off here,) but Toub did do a great job of playing a compassionate father figure who just so happens to be a total BA.

But as completely devoid of heart, humor, and awesomeness as Airbender was, it was very nice to look at, especially the first few action sequences. The special effects are adequate, but interestingly they serve more to compliment the actors and stunt fighters than to shift the focus away from them. It’s not just that Aang and his enemies are shooting water and tossing fireballs at each other – they’re really engaging in combat. It’s here that the reason for Ringer’s casting becomes evident; he’s really got a talent for martial arts, and the agility and cunning he displays make his victories over countless adversaries twice his size pretty convincing. The only real problem is that there are just way too many fight scenes and too little variety among them.

In the end, this is just not a good movie. It’s banal and derivative, but worst of all, it’s just boring. Looking back on the TV series and how much fun it was, it’s really a shame that none of that crossed over to the film. Allegedly, Shyamalan started working on the screenplay for a sequel (based off of the second season, Book Two: Earth.) I’m really hoping that thing never sees the light of day. My poor little Inner Fangirl just can’t bear to see awesome characters like Toph, Suki and Azula flattened and reduced to uttering insipid dialogue. I’d rather just keep holding out hope that in a few years, some Hollywood Big Wig will choose to “reboot” the series with a more competent director.


  • Director M. Night Shyamalan’s first adaptation.
  • Jesse McCartney was originally cast as Prince Zuko, but was replaced by Dev Patel due to scheduling conflicts.
  • The release of this movie prompted a group of fans to remodel a 1985 Chevy Astro van into an Appa look-a-like, known as The Appamobile.
  • Voice actor Dee Bradley Baker voiced Appa and Momo in the original animated show “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2005) and reprises those roles uncredited for the live-action film adaptation.
  • A scene involving the Kyoshi Warriors and the introduction of Suki (Sokka’s other love interest) was filmed but removed from the final cut, due to the director’s belief that it was a separate story and would only distract from the movie’s main storyline.

Groovy Quotes:

Gran Gran: He will need you… and you will need him.

Sokka: I don’t think you’ve noticed, but we’ve started a rebellion.

Aang: Some great monks can meditate for four days!

Uncle Iroh: It was not by chance that for generations people have been searching for him, and now you have found him. Your destinies are tied, Zuko.

Katara: Aang? Can you hear me? I knew you were real. I always knew you’d return.

If You Liked This Movie, Try:

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • Star Wars
  • Harry Potter


  1. *gasp* If you liked this movie, try Harry Potter? Bite your tongue!

    Awesome review, dude! Agreed whole-heartedly. One of the things that made A:TLA so great was the humor, and the fact that even though these kids are on a quest to save the world, they’re still KIDS and still act like it. And the whole series just had so much heart and thought and research into it. Hard to believe that it showed on the same network as ‘Spongebob’. XD (Not to be hatin’ on Spongebob, they’re just two different things entirely.)

    Speaking of hatin’, man do I hate M. Night Shyamalan. What a fuckin’ toolbag.

    • Howl’s Moving Castle would probably be a more apt recommendation, since like this movie it’s a film adaptation of another work which bears little to no resemblance to the source material.

      • That movie…I love Miyazki’s work, but that thing was utterly confusing. I think having read the book made it a little more comprehensive, but at the same time made it frustrating to follow. A friend of mine who had never read the book could make no sense of it.

    • I don’t know Courtney’s feelings about Harry Potter, but I took the recommendation not as an insult, but instead as a way of saying “Gee, you like a really crappy movie about a group of kids with powers trying to save the world?. How about trying this far better film about a group of kids with powers trying to save the world?”

  2. I gotta thank you for your glowing recommendation of the series. When A:TLA came out on Nickelodeon I decided it was too “kiddish” for me and didn’t even give it a chance. Since this awful movie came out I’ve been hearing a lot of people feeling angry and disappointed and talking about what a wonderful series it was. Yours was the last nail in my stubbornness coffin and I finally queued it up on Netflix.

    I never say this, but O.M.G.

    I destroyed all three “books” in a little over a week, and then watched them all again in as much time with my husband. Everything you said about the character depth was so true, and I was continually surprised by how this show made for children 20 years my junior could be so moving and mature. I had long given up on good stuff like that being written for kids.

    Thanks again. I will be sure to steer far, FAR away from any of Shyamalan’s adaptations. Like Twilight, Rifftrax is the only reason I could ever watch this movie.

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