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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Film Review- Avatar: The Last Airbender (2010)

Okay.  I have to ask this question.  Don’t people in Hollywood read screenplays anymore?  Do these studios actually think this crap will be a worthwhile investment?  Maybe there is no meeting to green light projects anymore.  Maybe there’s just a vending machine (similar to a Red Box) outside every studio, you type in your pitch and it just says “Thank you” and prints out a pre-signed check?  I mean, come on!!!  There is nobody, either in the studios, the cast, or the crew who could have possibly thought they were making a good film here.  Even M. Knight Shayamalan, the man behind the Happening, one of the worst films of the previous decade, must have known there was a problem with this material.  Hell!  He WROTE it!  Is he just blinded by his own wordsmith? 

Avatar: The Last Airbender is an idiotic movie about a legendary hero who is the last of a tribe that could wield the power of wind as a weapon.  He is awoken from a ball of ice and is taken in by some Water benders and aids in the overthrowing of the oppressive conquering nation of fire.  I wish I could say “Just kidding!”, but nope, that‘s the plot.  A strange outside person with a unique understanding of a certain force that holds the key in fighting back against an oppressive regime?!  HEY!  It’s every movie ever made!

That is the biggest problem with Avatar: TLA, it is so derivative, so by-the-numbers that it lacks any surprises or imagination.  Everything you’ve seen in just about every other successful action/adventure movie is present and the movie doesn’t even try to hide the fact that they are ripping off Star Wars and just about everything else you can imagine.  At some point it will come to pass that there will be no more original ideas.  Has this time come?

The action scenes in Avatar are equally bland and uninspired.  The fights are poorly framed and even large-scale action scenes are confusing and even silly at times.  The benders wave their arms around and pose goofily as computer animated elements weave around them.  The film often cuts awkwardly making it difficult to see exactly what’s happening, but it doesn’t matter, because you’ll be too busy laughing at the hammy dances done to wield (bend?) the elements.  A large fight just after the hour mark would be climactic, if they showed it.  Instead we get a pre-battle scene taken right out of Helm’s Deep, and a few shots of some poorly animated crap but that’s really it.  The rest of the scene focuses on our “hero” who is wussily hiding out in a cave talking to his Chi dragon thing.

The fact is Aang, the Airbender, our “hero“, is just lame.  He gets kidnapped more than Princess Peach and his power of wind usually just sends dudes stumbling backwards a few steps and occasionally pushes them over, rolling across the ground.  He really presents his true power when he summons a massive tornado in a fit of emotion that blows people’s hair around a little.  At one point he draws the water around a castle, forming a massive wave that hovers over the fighting soldiers.  The stare in awe at the big wave, and then he lets the wave flow gently back into the ocean (So, he wussed out, basically.).  Adding to the weakness of the movie is the tame PG rating.  I know they are adapting a cartoon that is target at kids, but how many good action movies are rated PG?  Not many.  There’s a reason for that: Action is violence, and violence is restricted by the rating.  If you set your limits too low on what you can show, you won’t be able to present the action the audience expects out of dudes who can wield ice and throw fireballs.

Let's pretend, for now, that the action doesn't matter in an action film.  The story is where it counts.  Well the story here is a pathetic amalgamation of just about every cliche of the fantasy/action genre you can imagine.  I've already mentioned how it rips off everything, and how it is shameless about its plot-theft.  The actors don't seem to mind.  Most give cheesy performances and they range from so-so, to absolutely dreadful.  Dev Patel (Jamal Malik from Slumdog Millionaire) probably gives the best performance.  He's almost convincing as a conflicted prince outcast from his homeland.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jackson Rathbone, who plays Sokka, one of the two that finds and aids Aang.  He acts like he wants to eat the other actors most of the time, staring blankly with the depth of a cereal mascot.  It is no surprise to me that one of the actors from the Twilight series would give a terrible performance, because they generally all do in most of their other roles.  However, it's easy to just blame the actors and I have seen how Shayamalan's direction can cause talented stars like Mark Wahlberg and Paul Giamatti to embarrass themselves.  Given the range of actors in this movie however (most are unknowns or B-list), it takes a good director to draw the performance out of them, and while Shayamalan was good early in his career, he has sunk like the Titanic ever since.

The film isn’t helped by the little things that make it even dumber.  For instance (a little nitpicking here at the logic of the story), the arrow tattooed on the ancient hero’s head.  The arrow symbol is reported appearing first sometime in the late 19th century.  It’s kind of hard to be reincarnated 200 some-odd times when you’re only about 130 or so years old.  Then again, the way this wimp of a hero fights, it’s not improbable.  Other things, like the way the film interrupts the flow and tension of the battle scenes to show flashbacks and uninteresting dialogue really slows things down and takes you right out of the action.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the worst movies of 2010.  It is a silly, uninspired movie that carefully walks the edges of the pool of So-Bad-It’s-Good, drawing occasional laughs from the silly performances and the ridiculous fight scenes, but never really jumps in.  For that reason, I can’t even really recommend sitting through this crap for giggles.  It’s just not worth it.  Even worse is the fact that this movie teases a sequel.

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