Avatar: The Last Airbender is an animated series that aired on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008. Widely acclaimed for its animation, story, characters, humor, fight choreography, philosophical/religious/sociopolitical themes, and more, it received a Primetime Emmy Award, a Peabody Award, multiple Annie Awards, etc., over its three-season run.
Its 2010 live-action film adaptation currently holds a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and swept the Razzies.
I was an enormous fan of the series during its original run but had moved on by the time the adaptation hit theaters. News of its release was exciting, but I had moved on at that point and didn’t pay it any attention. It wasn’t until Avatar came to Netflix a few years later that I revisited it all; it quickly became my favorite TV series and remains one of the best that I have seen. Around that time, though, I also heard the film’s reputation: people were calling it one of the all-time worst film adaptations of a TV series. I’m thankful that I was warned, as the tens of thousands of fans who initially saw it in theaters were left horribly, horribly disappointed.
In the world of Avatar, some members of the Four Nations are able to control one of the four respective elements: water, earth, fire, and air. Known as benders, these people can use their skills for travel, construction, and of course fighting. At any point in time, there is one person, known as the avatar, who is capable of bending all four elements. Tasked with keeping the Four Nations in balance with each other, the avatar is reborn into a different nation with each incarnation. The film begins at a time in which the current avatar has disappeared, and the Fire Nation has nearly conquered the world.
Two siblings from the Southern Water Tribe, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz), discover the avatar Aang (Noah Ringer) frozen in a shell of ice underwater. Aang has only learned his native airbending, so they travel to the North Pole in search of a waterbending master. Hot on their trail is Zuko, prince of the Fire Nation, and his Uncle Iroh. Can the kids make it in one piece? Is The Last Airbender less critically acclaimed than Catwoman?
Where to even begin with this film? The idea behind it is a mess. Shyamalan wrote and directed a live-action adaptation of an animated series, attempting to condense a season’s worth of information into a single, 100-minute movie. Beyond this fundamental flaw, almost everything is wrong. The acting, writing, pacing, and characters are all so bafflingly and aggressively bad that I have to remind myself that there were human minds behind the whole project.
Watching this movie is an exercise in tedium. Almost everything on the screen is brown or a dark, washed-out blueish color, and each character’s line delivery is dull and slow. Scenes jump around and then sit for too long. Characters mispronounce each others’ names, and key characters are left out entirely.
There are probably dozens of written and filmed reviews online that offer detailed explanations of every way in which The Last Airbender failed, and trust me, I have only scratched the surface. My job is to tell you that it sucks and to give a sense of why. It can be hilariously bad in the right mindset, but if you have a choice between it and anything else, don’t waste your time.