Wow. I’m old!
This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of Avatar: The Last Airbender. That feels oddly surreal! I can still remember when this show was brand new! When I’d watch it with my siblings as a kid and be absolutely blown away by every little thing! This show is a huge part of my childhood, one that I could never forget! I still rewatch it every year or two! It’s one of the best cartoons ever made!
Which makes this movie all the more painful to watch.
M. Night Shamalongadingfuck’s ‘The Last Airbender’ is widely considered to be the worst movie of all time. Or at least it was until Cats came out. It’s an incredibly strange movie to watch. Normally, you’d be able to watch a bad movie and at least find one good thing about it. But there is nothing good in this movie! Not the script, not the actors, not the visuals, nothing! It’s a complete clusterfuck on every level!
Even stranger still is that it’s entirely M. Night’s fault! There was no corporate interference! No drama with the crew or actors that halted production! No script rewrites or reshoots! The only reason that this movie is so fucking bad is sheer incompetence! It’s bad because the person in charge had no idea what he was doing!
Oh hey! That’s something good! It makes me feel better about my own abilities!
Story: Avatar Book One, But Bad
It’s almost like a twenty-episode season of a TV show can’t translate into a two-hour-long feature film! Funny how that works!
We all know how it goes. Long ago, the four nations lived in harmony, then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked, only the Avatar could stop them but he vanished, blah blah blah. Our story begins at the Southern Water Tribe, where Katara and Sokka discover a giant ball of ice containing Aang and his pet/mount/bestest friend, Appa. Soon after, they’re attacked by Zuko, the banished prince of the Fire Nation, and his uncle Iroh. Turns out, Aang is the Avatar, the only man who can master all four elements and defeat the Fire Nation! Now Aang, Katara, and Sokka must travel to the Northern Water Tribe to find a water-bending teacher!
In the cartoon, this shit was awesome! Unfortunately, the movie butchers it in literally every regard! Not only does it cut out important/iconic scenes and episodes in order to make it work for the runtime, thus murdering the pacing completely, but it presents the information here in a completely dull, uninteresting way! It takes this simple, compelling story and makes it boring!
Nothing is told visually, as a movie should do. Everything is given to us through expositionary dialogue. How was it that the monks figured out Aang was the Avatar? He’ll tell us all about it! How did Sokka’s relationship with the Princess bloom into romance? Because Katara told us it did! Why show the audience stuff when you can tell them all about it? It’s like telling your friends about your super-cool vacation instead of just showing them the photos you have on your phone! Telling them about it is far more interesting!
The few scenes that are communicated through visuals are, unfortunately, a complete joke. They’re dragged down by terrible acting, horrible dialogue, visual effects that sucked even at the time, and camera movement that tried really hard to look cool. We’ll get into all that during the presentation segment. But just know that none of them are very good.
It doesn’t help that all of the character development we got in season one of the show was cut out of the movie. Aang is the same at the end of the movie as he was at the beginning. Neither Katara nor Sokka changed. Hell, Zuko’s character arc didn’t even start! The only thing that happened was that Aang learned how to waterbend! More powers equals character development, right?!
Even worse is their personalities. Or, to be more specific: their lack of personality. Aang’s childlike nature blended with his pacifistic ways? Gone. Sokka’s goofy antics and intelligence? Dead. Katara’s motherly nature, pride, and ferocity? Non-existent. Even Zuko’s explosive temper is gone! All of these characters feel like cardboard cutouts of their animated counterparts! They feel completely lifeless!
The setting suffers just as badly. The world of The Last Airbender was such an incredible setting! It felt alive in a way that few other cartoon worlds ever did! Each culture was diverse and incredibly well fleshed out, the Spirit World was just as well defined while still being mysterious, and both the technology and the magic system was interesting and unique! From the Water Tribes to Ba Sing Sei, every single location in Avatar’s world was amazing and rife for exploration! It’s incredible!
Not so much in this movie. Like I said earlier, this movie cuts out a lot of key episodes that the show had in order to save time. Unfortunately, all the world-building went out the door with them! Now, the world feels shallow. Loosely defined. Like a blank slate. The setting has become as bare-bones and lifeless as the characters that live in it.
And that’s before we talk about the actual cinematography!
From a writing perspective, this movie is a complete failure. Not one scene, not a single one, works in any way! From the characters to the story itself, all of it has been completely butchered! I’d call it a shadow of its former self, but it’s not even that! At best, it’s a dotted outline! One drawn by an amateur! That’s never even seen the original self!
This metaphor is flying off the rails, let’s move on.
Presentation: Baby’s First Camera
The camerawork in this is so bad that calling it amateurish would be high praise!
Every shot ranges from static and boring to completely inept! Many conversations rely on shot-reverse-shot, which is about as exhilarating as watching paint dry. When the camera is moving, it feels like a middle-schooler trying to show off! Not only is the camera movements not creative or interesting, but they horribly limit the movement of the actors within the shot!
For example, the Aang/Blue Spirit VS Guards fight during the prison break scene. The camera circles around our two stars as the two battle off enemies on all sides. If you aren’t looking closely, it might look impressive! But the moment you take a closer look, you’ll notice how the placement of the camera restricts the actors. They need to wait for the camera to get into position, so they either try to make up something to be doing or they just stand around doing nothing. It totally ruins the scene, making it look horribly corny and unconvincing!
Then there are the special effects. Holy shit are these bad! Not only do the effects themselves look bad and unconvincing, but the characters being brought to life look awful! Live-action Appa haunted my dreams when I first saw it and it still does to this day!
Now, to say something somewhat positive, the score isn’t that bad. It’s not great, but it isn’t terrible either. You’ll forget every track as soon as they end. But hey! It’s something that doesn’t make me angry! It doesn’t completely desecrate the amazing score of the TV show!
Fuck, this movie is ugly! You’d have a better time clawing your eyes out! The only truly good thing I can say about it is that they clearly had some good equipment on hand!
But if I learned anything from my early years of recording lets plays (don’t look it up), it’s that good equipment doesn’t make for a good product.
Performances: Do I even have to say it?
Yeah, they’re bad. They’re really bad!
Everyone in this movie is a robot. At no point do they make any emotional faces, nor do they put any energy into their lines. You could literally replace every actor in this movie with a text-to-speech program and it would still be more entertaining!
Now, to be fair: it isn’t entirely their fault. If the director didn’t do his job well, how can an actor do theirs? Plus, you have to remember that the script in this movie is really bad! These poor people had nothing to work with!
But still. They are bad. Truly awful. I can only hope that this movie either didn’t ruin their careers or convinced them to pursue other crafts.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the most important cartoons in my life. It’s brought me closer to my siblings, my friends, and even strangers on the street! It greatly influenced my style of storytelling for many years! Plus, it’s just a ton of damn fun to watch! I love every single minute of this series!
This movie is the opposite of all that. It is a terrible film in literally every respect. It’s a total waste of time that should never ever be watched by any human! Especially not an Avatar fan!
If you want to celebrate Avatar’s fifteenth anniversary, don’t watch this movie. Just go watch the original show! This movie is a disaster that, even all these years later, still makes me angry! Sitting down and watching it for this review was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever forced myself through!
Although watching Legend of Korra was a pretty close second.