The Last Airbender
- This is M. Night Shyamalan's representation of the first season of the Nickelodeon cartoon from 2005, Avatar: The Last Airbender
. Trying to stuff a full season of a successful and well-loved cartoon into a couple of hours seems like a difficult task, but Shyamalan surprisingly did it. No, there's no plot twist in this movie, and although it doesn't perfectly follow the cartoon's progress through the first season, it touches on most important bases and stayed true to the fans.
Actually, being a fan is a bit of a requirement for this movie. Hardly any time is wasted on explaining things. Though all things are sort of explained by the end, it's largely in passing, and with no basic understanding of the story you might miss how important things are later on. This said, if you are a die-hard fan you have to keep your expectations to yourself. This is not a cut and paste copy of the cartoon. Although the basic plot is kept, many elements are changed rather dramatically.
The one change that bothered me most is that bending is different from the show. Whereas in the cartoon bending the elements is part of learning a martial art and the element moves with the body; in the movie they make bending more like a summoning art, where the element tends to follow from a source only after the bender has done certain movements.
For those who don't know, the basically plot is this: The world is comprised of four basic nations, Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. The Avatar, the only being who can control all the elements, has been missing for a hundred years. In his absence the Fire Nation has waged war on the other nations. Katara and her brother Sokka live in the Southern Water Tribe and stumble across a boy in the ice. When they free him, it is discovered that his name in Aang and he is the Avatar, and this brings the Fire Nation upon them. Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation has been banished by his father and cannot return home to have his honor restored unless he brings back the Avatar. So he takes to hunting Aang down, chasing them to the Northern Water Tribe where Aang has gone on his journey to master the four elements so he can restore peace.
I am a die-hard fan of the cartoon and have watched it all the way through twice within the last month. It was difficult to not be miffed about the small details changed or left out in the movie from the cartoon. But getting over it, I really enjoyed the movie, keeping in mind that there will logically be two sequels to finish up the plot. That, and the director wanted to keep true to the cultural aspect of the story and pronounced some of the character's names more traditionally to their respective backgrounds than the show did.
My brother, who has not seen the show and knew nothing about it but what I'd ranted about previously, went with me. Having no preconceptions, he said he largely enjoyed the movie. Visually it was spectacular, the acting was great, and the plot was easy enough to follow, though he knew there were details he was missing.
It was the two friends I went with, who had watched the show a while back when it was on TV who enjoyed it then, that liked this movie least. They had problems with the actors and storyline and the concept they used for the bending. After it was over I had to remind one of them that this only covered the first season, which ended in the same place.
The movie is rated PG. It is visually spectacular: arguably the best visual effects to date. The costumes are beautiful, and the set is fantastic. Honestly, if you set your expectations aside and just go with the flow of the movie, you will enjoy it and you won't be sorry you went.