The Last Airbender (AKA Satan’s Own Movie) Newbie Review

I don’t know if it’s completionism or masochism or what, but after finishing my newbie watch of Avatar: The Last Airbender–and before starting on The Legend of Korra–I had to watch the 2010 M. Night Shyamalan version. Or maybe it’s a justice thing. All the other Avatar fans had to go through their own spasms of disappointment when the movie came out. It didn’t seem fair that I would be able to avoid it.

First things first: I completely understand why people were telling me not to watch this movie, because Jesus fuck. I generally try not to be precious about changes when it comes to adaptations–film is its own medium with its own creative requirements, so I’m not one to get pissed if the director alters a dress color or a character backstory from what it was in the original medium, as long as that new version works in the film. But crispy Jesus Christ snowshoeing lentil damn--even completely disregarding the source material, The Last Airbender is still a deeply shitty movie. Katara’s ham-handed expository voiceover is bogus as fuck. I know twenty 20-minute episodes is a lot to fit into one movie, but if you can’t figure out how to condense without shitting all over the “show, don’t tell” maxim (the “and BTW, then Yue and Sokka fell for each other” moment comes to mind), maybe don’t make the movie.

I don’t know how Shyamalan made bending look boring as fuck, but he did. The movie as a whole looks dingy, and while slow-mo might work for action scenes in some movies, it does not work here. The most visually interesting aspect of The Last Airbender was Appa, and that’s only because I’m pretty sure I’ll be having nightmares about him.

atla movie appa

THAT SAID, though I had been led to believe that The Last Airbender was wall-to-wall condensed movie syphilis, there were parts that I did not hate, in large part because I went in with very, very low expectations. Shaun Toub was legitimately good as Iroh, and I also dug Dev Patel’s portrayal of Zuko, which was a 50/50 split between IMPOTENT RAAAAAGE and looking like he’s about to burst into tears at any given moment. I found myself really enjoying scenes involving the two of them, and only partially because every second I spent with them was another second I wasn’t looking at Sokka (more on him later).  I like the change the movie made re: Iroh’s powers, establishing him as the only one who generates fire, while everyone else has to use fire that already exists, much like the other benders do with their elements. That’s an example of a change done right–it establishes Iroh’s badass quotient effectively and efficiently, whereas the show had multiple seasons to build it up.

A change that makes less sense: Imprisoning the Earthbenders in a quarry, instead of on a ship where they have no access to earth. I knew about this alteration before, but it was no less WTF?! for having had advanced warning. Also: I feel like it was a mistake to show so much of Fire Lord Ozai. He’s a constant, menacing presence in the show due in large part to his lack of screentime. Whenever you see him, he’s being a sneering asshole. In the movie, he’s just… a dude. A dude who’s a war-happy, abusive father, but still. He never came off as a particularly intimidating villain.

And changing the pronunciation of Aang and Sokka’s names. Just… why? What’s the point there?

Speaking of Sokka, I literally winced every time he came on-screen. Because of the racebending thing, yes (inner dialogue that first shot of the back of Yue’s head: “Please tell me she’s not whiOH OF COURSE SHE’S WHITE.” Not white, Latina, my bad.), but also because why is Sokka an adult?! He is the epitome of the goofy teenage boy! At least Katara–for all that she is white, for all that they completely gutted this awesome female character and gave her close to nothing to do (and don’t get me wrong, that royally sucks!)–doesn’t look like she’s old enough to be paying goddamn taxes. Show!Sokka is interesting. He tells bad jokes and struggles with self-doubt. Movie!Sokka is a bland beefcake who looks like he belongs at an Abercrombie and Fitch.

I can’t even say anything about Noah Ringer as Aang. He left no impression. I’m sure Ringer’s a nice kid.

The dialogue’s wooden. The acting’s wooden. OH LOOK, BACKGROUND POC, HOW NICE:

atla background poc

I’ll admit that I like how we first learn about Zuko’s tragic backstory when Zhao announces it at a dinner party, because he would do that, the immature pissbaby turd. That said, I don’t think Aasif Mandvi brought enough oomph to the role. Zhao is essentially the least impressive of all the Avatar villains–he has to be, he’s the one the gaang cut their teeth on, and ain’t nobody holding a candle to Azula–but even he left an impression through being such a pathetic jackass that he’s determined Zuko, a kid, is his nemesis. If I hadn’t known that about the character going in, I wouldn’t have gotten it from the movie. Zhao’s just… there. 

Four minutes into this movie, and my brain was screaming ABORT, ABORT. I should have listened to it. The best part of this travesty, aside from Iroh and Zuko (were they genuinely good, or were they just good-compared-to-Sokka? I’d have to watch this movie again to confidently weigh in on either side, and I refuse to do that) is that it didn’t get its grubby paws on Toph or (for the most part) my queen, Azula.

I’ll close with the truest possible expression of my feelings about this movie:







6 thoughts on “The Last Airbender (AKA Satan’s Own Movie) Newbie Review

  1. Crow Unlimited says:

    The last thing I remember about the movie, and I’m not sure if it was a mid-credits or post-credits sequence or what, was a final shot meant to set-up a sequel, where the incredibly bland Firelord tells Azula to suit up for the job. And I don’t know what it was about the girl they picked to play Azula, or how she delivered the one line she had, or what, but sweet sisters of mercy that girl gave me nightmares.

    My wife and I had to go home and cleanse our respective palates with Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Despite the few good things you mentioned (which I largely agree with, Shaun Toub and Dev Patel were the high points of the film and Seychelle Gabriel completely redeems her performance as Yue with her voicework as Asami in Legend of Korra) this movie was such an unmitigated disaster that I really applaud you for sitting through it.


  2. hmweasley says:

    I’d completely forgotten that they changed the pronunciation of Aang and Sokka’s names, but now I remember how furious I was about that at the time. I think I’d managed to completely block that particular bit from my memory.

    Strangely enough, I think this made me want to re-watch the movie even though I know I’d be putting myself through a painful experience.

    Also, the girl who plays Yue happens to voice Asami in Legend of Korra.


  3. Dan says:

    They changed Iroh’s name too: Earoh. I can only speculate what the plans were for TOAF,

    They did get Azula but it was only for a second.

    Two days ago an 8 page story for FCBD came out called “Sisters.” It’s just a bit of back-story and development for Ty Lee with Toph there as a sidekick. Smoke & Shadow starts in a few months.

    Another word of warning; Nickelodeon didn’t have the greatest time running Korra, resulting in some cracks in the story which I’m sure you’ll see as we go. Ask a friend about the story behind the Remembrances episode.


  4. ushio says:

    Latino is white there is no recognised difference anywhere but the USA likes to pretend there is for some reason.


  5. Rhodoferax says:

    Regarding Iroh generating fire: It’s also possibly an allusion to how at this point in the story, he’s the only character who understands true firebending, and everyone else is using a debased form.


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