There are two types of people in this world: those who haven't seen the entire Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series from TV and those who have.
Ppl who haven't seen teh series:
You may want to see M. Night Shyamalan's big screen adaptation of The Last Airbender just to get a feel for the series. Otherwise, pass on it. The special effects and action aren't going to impress you compared to other films this summer. The story line is so rushed, you'll catch, at best, glimpses of awesome. (Remember when David Lynch directed the WTF-fest that was Dune?) You'll probably come away wondering if Prince Zuko is supposed to be Edward from Twilight. (Subtract the sparkles, add an itching burning sensation.)
If you haven't seen the animated series, go now. Buy it. Watch it. Love it. (The whole way through, no sleeping, no bathroom breaks. This is srs bsns.)
Done? Awesome. Now you can join the rest of us for the second half of the review, aimed at people who have seen the series.
Ppl who have seen teh series:
Girl, get your cat claws on and prepare for the *****-fest of the summer. If you have seen the series, you HAVE to see the movie. You will hate the movie. Why? Because the series was so incredibly excellent. Fantastic story telling, wonderful characters, humor, philosophy, world building, all with an uplifting and positive message of redemption and peace. THERE IS NO TIME FOR ALL THAT IN A 103 MINUTE FILM.
Yes, Peter Jackson did more justice to Lord of the Rings (and for less money). But Jackson also took 208 minutes to do it. (Don't... just... how... if you only watched the 178 minute version, you are not geeky enough for this review. Shoo. Go see if Mike Posner will write a song about you.) And Jackson hired writers. M. Night Shyamalan loved the story so much, he wanted to do it alllll. I'd have wanted to do that, too!
One of the reasons I loved the series is that they didn't add a whole lot of fluff - they had a story to tell. They got in, got out and then ended the series. Taking a tightly written 489 minute season (Book One: Water) and condensing it into 103 minutes requires choices. Taking animation and making a live action version requires choices. Go forth and gasp over M. Night Shyamalan's choices.
Some may enrage you. (What plan did he have for ethnicity when he was casting? How come they say "aaahng" instead of "ang"? WHY IS UNCLE IROH SO SKINNY? GIVE THAT ACTOR A SAMMICH.) But, while you are having a complete and total hissy about what you would have done differently, remember to pause and savor that which was awesome. I really enjoyed watching Dev Patel as Zuko and (shockingly) Shaun Toub as Iroh. I enjoyed the action scenes. But most of all, I enjoyed seeing the series through M. Night Shyamalan's eyes. M. Night fans will not be surprised that he latched on to the interaction between the mysterious and the mundane, and the wonderful symmetry of some of the deeper ideas. It's also no surprise that Shyamalan didn't seem to take much notice of the humor that infused the animated series. Shyamalan isn't a yuck-a-minute kind of guy.
Shyamalan DID keep what I felt were the most powerful ideas from season one: The avatar's responsibility to save the world through peaceful means. Aang's journey of accepting the role of the Avatar, which requires an almost-priestly sacrifice of giving up one's personal life and worldly comforts to live solely in service to people in need of a spiritual shepherd. Water's lesson of acceptance - both of others and of one's own emotions.
Do not spill your popcorn. Pause to pick one kernel out of your cleavage, and you'll have missed an entire meaningful theme. This is a 103 minute illustration, a table of contents, a piece of live-action fan art. I felt like my money was well spent, and it was neat seeing what M. Night Shyamalan saw in the series. I'll watch him do all four books, if Nickelodeon lets him. I'd also watch Peter Jackson's version. And Guilermo del Toro's. But probably not Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay. The Last Airbender isn't a cross-merchandised franchise written to sell theme park tickets and video games. It's a sensitive, well-told story. (That incidentally happened to be useful for selling things.) Admittedly you'll only catch a glimpse of that from the movie, but I loved what Shyamalan shoe-horned in.
So. GO NOW and see the animated series. Then COME BACK and watch the film. We'll spend HOURS playing armchair director and hashing over M. Night's hits and misses. While we make sandwiches to send to Shaun Taub. And focus our chi in efforts to become the world's first mayonnaise benders.
It will be fun. Almost as much fun as I bet Shyamalan had making his film.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars