The Last Airbender is a 2010 action fantasy adventure film based off the first season (Book 1 - Water) of Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who claimed to be a fan of the show. Years after the movie's release, there has been word that the movie's awfulness wasn't entirely Shyamalan's fault, but that of the movie's producers, who didn't even bother to watch the series.
Fifteen-year-old Katara and her seventeen-year-old brother, Sokka, are near a river at the Southern Water Tribe, a small village in the South Pole. While hunting, they discover an iceberg that shoots a beam of light into the sky. Inside of the iceberg is a thirteen-year-old boy named Aang and a giant flying bison named Appa. Unknown to them, Aang is the long-lost Avatar - the only person on the planet able to "bend" all four elements. One hundred years have passed since the last avatar disappeared and the Fire Nation declared war on the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom and Air Nomads in a bid to conquer the world.
Zuko is the eighteen-year-old exiled prince of the Fire Nation on a quest to find the Avatar and bring him as a prisoner to his father, Fire Lord Ozai, so he can return home. Seeing the light that appeared from Aang's release, Zuko and some Fire Nation soldiers arrive at the Southern Water Tribe to demand the villagers hand over the Avatar. Aang reveals himself and surrenders to Zuko on the condition that he agrees to leave the village alone. On the ship, Aang is tested by Zuko's paternal uncle Iroh to confirm he is the Avatar. After being informed that he is to become their prisoner for passing the test, Aang escapes using his glider and flies away on Appa, brought by Katara and Sokka. Aang and his new friends visit the Southern Air Temple where they meet a winged lemur, who Aang later names Momo. Aang also learns that he was in the ice for a whole century and that the Fire Nation wiped out all of the Air Nomads, including his mentor, Monk Gyatso. In a fit of rage, he goes into the Avatar State and finds himself in the Spirit World where he encounters a Dragon Spirit. Katara's pleas bring Aang back out of the Avatar State.
To seek shelter, Aang's group arrives at a small Earth Kingdom village occupied by the Fire Nation, but are arrested after Katara tries to help a young Earthbender named Haru escape from a band of Fire Nation soldiers. They incite a rebellion by reminding the disheartened Earthbenders that earth was given to them. Aang tells Katara and Sokka that he only knows Airbending and must master the other elements. Katara is given a Waterbending scroll that she uses to greatly strengthen and hone her Waterbending and to help Aang learn as they make their way to the Northern Water Tribe (where Aang will be able to learn from Waterbending masters) and liberate more Earth Kingdom villages in the process, weakening the Fire Nation's food and water supplies.
During a sidetrack to the Northern Air Temple on his own, Aang is betrayed by a Fire Nation sympathizer and gets captured by a group of Fire Nation archers, led by Commander Zhao, a Fire Nation Commander appointed by Fire Lord Ozai. However, a masked vigilante named the "Blue Spirit" helps Aang escape from his imprisonment. Zhao finds out that Zuko is the Blue Spirit, and arranges to have Zuko assassinated, but Zuko survives the attempt on his life with Iroh's help. He sneaks aboard Zhao's lead ship as his fleet departs for the Northern Water Tribe, which is heavily defended, to capture the Avatar. Upon arriving, Aang's group is welcomed warmly by the citizens of the Northern Water Tribe. Sokka quickly befriends the Northern Water Tribe princess, Yue. After a few agreements, a Waterbending master, Pakku, teaches Aang Waterbending. Katara also becomes a much stronger and more powerful Waterbender due to her training with Master Pakku.
Soon, the Fire Nation arrives and Zhao mounts an attack while Zuko begins his search for the Avatar on his own. After defeating Katara in a bending battle, Zuko captures Aang as he enters the Spirit World to find the Dragon Spirit, who gives him the wisdom to defeat the Fire Nation and tells him to let his emotions flow like water. Returning to his body, Aang battles Zuko before Katara freezes him in a block of ice. Before leaving to join the battle, Aang lowers the ice so that Zuko can breathe. As the battle escalates, Iroh watches Zhao capture the Moon Spirit, with which its Ocean Spirit counterpart had assumed the form of a fish. Despite Iroh's pleas, Zhao kills the Moon Spirit to strip all of the Waterbenders of their ability to Waterbend. Yue explains to everyone that the Moon Spirit saved her from dying when she was born, willing to give it back as she sacrifices her life in the process. With the tables turned, Zhao finds out Zuko survived. They almost fight before Iroh appears and tells Zuko it's not worth it. Zhao is drowned by a group of Waterbenders after Zuko and Iroh leave him to his fate. Aang remembers his life before being trapped in the ice, including when he left his home, seeing Monk Gyatso's face. With his Waterbending powers and his emotions "flowing like water", Aang enters the Avatar State and raises the ocean into a gigantic wall to drive the Fire Nation armada back. Aang now fully embraces his destiny as the Avatar as he, Katara and Sokka prepare to continue their journey to the Earth Kingdom to find an Earthbending teacher for Aang. The Fire Lord learns of the invasion's failure and Zhao's death; angry over the betrayal of his brother Iroh and the failure of his eldest son Zuko, he tasks his youngest daughter Azula to stop Aang from mastering Earth and Fire before the arrival of Sozin's Comet.
Why It Sucks
- There was no need for this film to ever be made, since the story had already been told in a much more suitable format.
- Incredibly poor acting, which ranges from being utterly emotionless to obnoxiously hammy.
- Relies too much on exposition without emotion, with the Nostalgia Critic describing the movie as "All explanation, no emotion."
- Unintentionally racist casting choices, some of which was caused by nepotism (Nicola Peltz, daughter of Nelson Peltz, as Katara, a girl from an Inuit-based culture) and name recognition (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame, as Prince Zuko, who is supposed to be from a culture resembling China).
- All of season 1 (20 23-minute episodes, a total of 7 hours and 40 minutes) is compressed into the film (96 minutes long; not counting the credits), forcing a huge number of plot elements to be truncated or outright removed.
- To add insult to injury, 30 minutes of footage were cut out of the movie at the last minute to have the terrible 3D conversion as said below thanks to rushing this movie for its July 2nd launch, and it was probably not worth it as it made the movie much worse with many of the major problems mentioned in this wiki page. To add even more insult to injury, the Last Airbender Movie Novelization has over 20 differences (some major) that got axed because of what happened!
- Several of the characters' names are pronounced wrong, such as Aang being pronounced as "Ong" (and his title as "Ahvatar"), Sokka being pronounced as "Sohka" and Iroh being pronounced as "Eeroh".
- Some say that the names being pronounced wrong was done to give it more Asian-sounding names, but the problem is no one in the movie uses accents.
- It also somewhat explains the title not having the Avatar name because of the unrelated James Cameron movie coming out before this movie, and this will also affect later Avatar universe installments going forward, as even Avatar name in the movie was pronounced wrong!
- Sokka is changed from being the comic relief of the show to a virtually humorless teenager in the movie, while Aang is changed into a whiny, angsty brat. Katara's personality was also insultingly changed from the effective action girl she was in the show into an absolute joke of a Waterbender.
- Bending seems to generally be much weaker and less useful. Firebenders are shown as having to actually carry a source of fire, a rather baffling change from the show where it was an expression of their life energy (Chi) and was very specific the one Bending art which did not require an external source of the relevant element. Meanwhile, in the infamous "pebble dance" sequence, it takes a team of seven Earthbenders to throw one little rock, while in the show, a single Earth-bender can lift a giant boulder with one hand, while four Earth-benders could take down a group of Fire Nation tanks!
- Immense disregard for physics. In one scene, the Fire Nation invades the Northern Water Tribe with "drill helmets" that tear through thick ice in mere seconds. In reality, they would take almost 4 months to drill through the ice. In the show, it took the Fire Nation a few days of constant raiding before they were able to break through the city walls.
- The Earthbender prison camp is in a rocky crater, rather than on a metal ship as was the case in the TV series, which is a horrible plothole as they could very easily escape, yet don't for no explained reason. On the metal ship in the show, no bending was possible, so it made sense for them to be roused and empowered by Katara to not lose hope and fight back because there was a big risk and they had something to lose, but in the movie, they're surrounded by Earth!
- Poorly choreographed fight scenes.
- Terrible 3D conversion that won a special Razzie Award for "Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3D".
- The film takes itself way too seriously, unlike the show that had both lighthearted and dark moments.
- This movie is also the point where Nickelodeon started to disrespect the Avatar franchise immensely, which also affected the later The Legend of Korra series. It is likely the movie's bad reputation led Nickelodeon to start disrespecting the Avatar franchise.
- The trailer showed a scene where Aang is about to fight the Fire Nation by himself, but the scene never actually appears in the final movie (likely because of the movie being cut short as mentioned above).
- Noah Ringer (who played Aang) stated he "had no previous acting experience", proving that he was a terrible casting choice.
- The film nearly all but killed M. Night Shyamalan's directing career until he bounced back with The Visit and Split.
- The bending takes forever. In the show, they perform it very quickly as how action should be, but here, it just looks like they're just doing a silly little dance.
- Even if it tries to have emotional moments, all of those scenes just have more exposition rather than talking about how they feel or express of what they love to do.
- The soundtrack, composed by James Newton Howard, is amazing.
- Seychelle Gabriel's performance as Princess Yue was moderately well-received by fans (barring the "penis hair" meme based on the rather unfortunate appearance she has when seen from behind in one shot), and Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino (the creators of the original TV show) would later cast her as Asami Sato in Avatar: The Legend of Korra.
- Shaun Toub's performance as Uncle Iroh was also well-received.
- The movie's special effects are pretty decent.
The Last Airbender received extremely negative reviews from critics, audiences and fans of the TV series alike. The film currently holds a 6% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average of 2.6 out of 10 and a critic consensus that reads "The Last Airbender squanders its popular source material with incomprehensible plotting, horrible acting, and detached joyless direction." Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film a rare 0.5 out of 4 stars and described the film as "an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented." Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times remarked in his review "By specifically critical and broadly adult standards, this film is undoubtedly a disappointment, but it is disappointing in a way that its intended audience may not notice." And Ty Burr of The Boston Globe described the film as "dreadful, an incomprehensible fantasy-action epic that makes the 2007 film The Golden Compass, a similarly botched adaptation of a beloved property from another medium, look like a four-star classic.
The Last Airbender opened at #2 on its opening weekend with a domestic gross of $40,325,019. The total domesic gross was $131,772,187. In overseas box offices, it made $187,941,694. The film's overall gross was $319,713,881 against its $150 million budget. Despite the large numbers at the box office, the film barely broke even.
Awards and nominations
The Last Airbender received five Golden Raspberry wins and two nominations at the 31st Golden Raspberry Awards ceremony including Worst Picture and Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3D.
- This was the second Nickelodeon film to receive negative reviews since Good Burger (1997), but the very first Nickelodeon film to get horribly panned by critics, fans of the original show and casual moviegoers.