The Last Airbender - Racebending Didn't Help the Acting
A review of the recently released adaptation of the Nickelodeon children series.
The Review of The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender was a hugely popular children’s television series that was 3 seasons long and told the story of Aang the last Airbender. The avatar is a person that can bend all 4 elements to his will. Only the avatar can do this, though the 4 respective nations (Fire, Water, Earth, and Air Nations) have people that can bend their specific element. Aang was frozen in a block of ice for 100 years after running from the responsibility of being the Avatar, and the Fire Nation has since started a war against the other nations. Aang is discovered by two kids from the Southern Water Tribe, Saka and Katara. From there the series is about the kids adventure to get Aang trained in the elements and their fights against the Fire Nation.
So, from this the movie was to be drawn. This movie was the first time M. Night Shamylan wouldn’t be creating the idea, it was based on something. This started the hype about the film, and then the casting was the next coal on the fire. The main character is played by a white kid, and the two people of the Southern Water Tribe are also white kids. Mind you the rest of the Southern Water Tribe are played by Inuit looking people. The villains, the Fire Nation, were cast with Middle Eastern looking people. In the series the water benders are primarily Eskimo looking in nature and the Fire Nation look like they’re East Asian. So why did Paramount switch it up? Because white people sell in the box offices and Middle Eastern bad guys are up in sales right now.
I’m not even going to continue about why that’s stupid, but people have been making a fuss about it since, so was it a good choice to hire Caucasian leads?
Not at all. The performances of the leads was sub par, over acted lines and awkwardly written dialogue met on the screen and created displeasure from the first minute of the film. From there the film goes on to break into several side stories in an attempt to fit the whole first season of a tv series into a film instead of focusing on the characters. By the end of the film you feel more for the fallen prince Zuko of the Fire Nation more than for Aang, the main character. Aang’s friends Katara and Saka are thrown out of the script almost entirely, they moderately help and occasionally even have dialog. Saka who is normally the comedic releif is a serious and brooding teenager, and his love story with the princess is just thrown in your face, there is no set up. The character General Iro from the cartoon is a small fat East Asian man that loves tea and is carefree, but in the film he is a 6′8 skinny Middle Eastern man and the old monk that trained Aang in airbending has been portrayed by a 30 something black male. Most likely in an attempt to detract from the idea that the rest of the cast was hired superficially.
While the acting was bad, the pacing was worse. Several things were either left unexplained or underexplained by quick cut aways or overdubbed dialog. The action in film is quite enjoyable, though everything feels delayed. Every magical motion a bender does has a couple second gap between the motions and the reaction of the element. It could have been a stylistic choice, but it just didn’t pay off. It made the powers seem weaker, as though anyone that had the special powers had to warm up to use them.
I won’t go into the ending at all, but the cartoon ending made a lot more sense and even looked better. The ending sets it up for the sequel, the second season of the cartoon. The series was incredible, and there is potential in the first film, but the emphasis needs to be returned to the characters and their struggles, instead of trying to cram in concepts from the show in a tinier package.
My hopes for the second film: Recasting or acting classes for half the crew (Prince Zuko was played well, as was the acting from General Iro, but he was not the character from the cartoon. I guess I’m saying the bad guys were better actors). There needs to be faster action, the benders need to perform their skills quickly instead of the painful dance they do before being able to control anything. my biggest hope for the next one is the characters of Boomy and Toff, they will dictate the movie with their influence on Aang’s development. Princess Azula and Zuko’s relationship will be important, and so will Aang’s developing crush on Katara which was not even hinted at, though the kid that played Aang felt more natural than Saka or Katara.
If I had stars to give things: 3 Stars
Just go see it if you watched the cartoon