The Last Airbender – Movie Review

The world is engulfed by the fires of war, and no one has the power to stop the inevitable destruction…until now.

For nearly a century, the Fire Nation has waged its deadly campaign for global domination over its fellow tribal nations of Air, Water and Earth.  They offer but one choice to the tribes who fall to their might—complete surrender, or complete annihilation.

As the villagers vainly attempt to defend themselves, they stand behind the chosen few who can command their nation’s element and ‘bend’ it to their will.  Backed by enormous armies and weapons of destruction, however, the firebenders have already eliminated every airbender on the planet and now, they turn their attentions to the Water Nation, headquartered in their northern fortress.  

One day, young waterbender Katara (NICOLA PELTZ) is out practicing her skills with her brother Sokka (JACKSON RATHBONE) when they discover a young boy named Aang (NOAH RINGER).  But as Aang’s airbending skills become apparent, Katara and Sokka realize that they have found more than just the last airbender.  As the prophesied Avatar—the only one who can control all four of the elements—the young airbender is the lone weapon that can repel the Fire Nation’s onslaught and ultimately restore balance to the war-torn world.  But can he master his bending skills and become the hero he needs to be before it is too late?  

The above write-up alludes to the high concept that forms the kernel of The Last Airbender. Visually stunning with CGI bits that are some of the best that I’ve seen, with a fantastic quest to aspire to, wars and battle scenes galore, this movie really should have ticked all the boxes when it comes to a summer blockbuster, but there is something that prevents it from being a breakout movie and one I’d recommend to you without reservations.

Zukko and Iroh

Firstly, the only characters I felt myself drawn to (and liking) are the firebenders, specifically the emotionally tortured Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) and his Uncle  Iroh (Shaun Toub).  With the Fire Nation’s Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) hot on his trail, Prince Zuko has one goal: find the Avatar and take him home to his father, Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis), thereby redeeming himself in his father’s eyes.  Zuko’s been banished from the Fire Kingdom for daring to oppose his father and through succeeding in this quest will hopefully regain his lost status.

I found the discovery of Aang to be a bit too easy.  Katara and Sokka really just seem to stumble across him where he lay bound within an iced bit of sea.  They immediately take young Aang under their wing and take him to their village and when the firelords turn up in their almost steampunk type iron ships, taking Aang, they are quick to leave their family and friends behind to follow the firelords to rescue Aang.  It felt implausible.  There had been no real connection or friendship formed between Aang, or the two siblings Katara and Sokka, nothing that I personally thought would encourage them on this massive task of freeing Aangh from captivity from the firelords.  Admittedly, they suspected he may have been the Avatar but they weren’t sure. 

Katara doing some Waterbending

Young Aang as the Avatar is not really an interesting character.  He is pretty one-dimensional and bland and is not the charismatic leader of a rebellion he should have been.  I don’t deny Noah Ringer’s martial arts skills here, those are pretty impressive, but it’s more like the script was toned down to make Aang a less interesting character.  Now, I have never watched the TV series this is based on, apart from maybe four episodes, but I doubt that his character is portrayed clearly in the movie.  The TV show would not have done as well as it has done with dull characters.  

Katara as the waterbender holds some potential of being a really strong kickass female character but again, the script and her lines don’t do her justice.  A lot of the dialogue is of a very “as you know, Bob” variety and she also does the voiceover bits, the exposition becomes a bit much.  And it’s not just Katara’s character that suffers from this “as you know, Bob” syndrome, but it can also be seen with the Fire Lord himself and his chief commander.  It is one way to drive the story forward but it’s not the right way for Night M. to make me a fan of this movie.  Sokka is the physical non-magical warrior in this and he gets to throw a few punches and fling his boomerang-weapon-thing quite a bit, but he just never convinces me either.

Aangh, The Last Airbender

Taken all the parts into consideration, I felt that The Last Airbender, really let me down as a viewer.  Yes, the pyrotechnics are excellent, the scenery is breathtaking, the scope is epic, but I just never connected to the story or the characters, except for Prince Zukko and to be honest, I was hoping he would get Aang and do nasty things to Katara and Sokka so that they could break out of their stilted roles and kick some butt, but sadly, this didn’t happen. 

The final battle scene in the northern water kingdom felt way too long as so much happens within it.  It felt as if the director and scriptwriters really pushed the boat out on this scene, throwing everything they had at it, but unfortunately, instead of it being a fantastically epic thing, it merely smoulders and peters out.  However, however, and this is the kicker, and this is what’s going to make me go back to watch the sequel is at the very end, the Fire Lord instructs a brand new Big Bad to take control of the search for the Airbender.  And it’s that pure malicious evil grin of the Big Bad at the end that really made my heart lift and say yes, this is what I’ve been waiting for the whole time.  Someone who thinks outside the box, someone who will tear things up and bring Aangh, Sokka and Katara into themselves.  Or so I hope.

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  1. Oh boy. When I watch this on DVD it’s going to really depress me. The cartoon is really strong. I almost wish I could erase my memory of the cartoon, watch this, vomit, and then watch the cartoon again.

    • serenity /

      I am soooo glad i am 1 of those who haven’t watched the cartoon series because it made me appreciate this movie more. I love this movie, period. watched it over 3x. especially Noah “Aang” his tai-chi-like movements and the soundtracks.

  2. dwgrampus /

    i think may be the most favorable review of Last Airbender i’ve read.

    i really enjoyed the cartoon though; it is worth checking out.

    • serenity /

      I love the movie already, everybody’s saying the cartoon is really good. yes I will definitely check that out.

      • I feel that you may like the cartoon even more, especially since you get to spend more time with the characters.

  3. PY /

    I really loved this movie.

    Thanks for writing an objective review filled with constructive criticism and appreciation.

    Frankly I am sick and tire of the cartoon purists/critics who expressed pure hatred and brute vulgarity in their criticism. Come on, how many of them really care about character development in this particular movie versus the other ones they like, eg Transformers and GI Joes?

    I am sure the creators of this great animation must be very disappointed when they read through the reviews and realized that many of its die hard fans could be so classless in their reviews wishing the director to die, mocking the young actors, etc, when a main theme of the animation is about acceptance.

  4. Good that you loved this movie, but I feel that there was a lot more depth to the characters of Airbender than GI Joe and Transformers. Even though the GI Joe and Transformers cartoons aren’t seen in the same way in my eyes as Airbender, I still think that the live action versions of those cartoons were lacking.

    I hope to have a positive reaction to this movie when I see it, but it doesn’t seem like that is going to happen. It’s not just “cartoon purists” or critics, it’s regular people who have not seen the cartoon who say that some of the acting is lacking, as is the direction and writing.

    I do agree that people get carried away with their negativity, but if they were overwhelmingly positive about it, I hope you would raise concern as well. I dislike exaggeration on both ends.

  5. @vichussmith – thanks for the comments, dude! I think that Airbender may surprise you actually – it’s an okay movie but one I felt so much more could have been done with with the characters as they are all actually very interesting on their own.

    @dwgrampus – I am working on getting hold of the series. I may have to hire them all to watch in a big marathon soon. Oh, the hardship! 🙂

    @PY – thanks so much for your comment – it made me feel very proud of my review. I worked very hard at it, wanting to be fair. One thing reviewing books and graphic novels has taught me is to shove my preconceptions very far away – go in blind and make up your own mind. I’m really interested in the series too, but am happy to wait until the furore about it dies down.

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