Starring: Noah Ringer, Jackson Rathbone, Nicola Peltz
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”)
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”)
Just when you thought director M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “The Village”) couldn’t get any more incoherent than he did with his last three films, he veers from his usual twisty cinematic offerings and lands somewhere below rock bottom with “The Last Airbender.”
What makes things even worse for the one-hit-wonder is that his new film carries with it a $150-million price tag that could end up professionally crushing the director if Paramount Pictures doesn’t at least break even by the end of the summer. With what “Airbender” delivers, it’s almost inevitable that it won’t.
“The Last Airbender,” which is adapted from the popular Nickelodeon anime cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” could have been exactly what Shyamalan needed to pull himself out of the rut he has been in for the last six years. Instead, the filmmaker who scored two Oscar nominations in 1999 for directing and writing “The Sixth Sense,” comes out of this latest fantasy project more lost than ever.
In “Airbender,” actors Jackson Rathbone (“The Twilight Saga”) and Nicola Peltz (“Deck the Halls”) stars as Sokka and Katara, sibling warriors of the Southern Water Tribe who unearth the legendary Avatar, the only person who can control all four elements – Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire.
In this case it’s 12-year-old Aang (Noah Ringer) who is called upon to bring peace to the world. Missing for over a century, Aang rises from his frozen state in an iceberg and is given the responsibility of uniting the Four Nations before Prince Zuko (Dev Patel in his first film since “Slumdog Millionaire”) and his uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub) of the Fire Nation wage war against their elemental enemies.
While there is enough mythology to create some interesting storylines here, Shyamalan somehow takes a promising narrative and drains it of all its enjoyment by tacking on longwinded narration and uninspired dialogue to a majority of the scenes. The disastrous screenplay is marred by everything from its sluggish pacing to its uninteresting romance.
Moreover, it’s shocking to see that 11 years after Shyamalan directed an extremely memorable Oscar-nominated performance by then-child actor Haley Joel Osment he has absolutely no insight into what young actors can offer anymore. Even worse than Mark Wahlberg’s laughable performance in “The Happening,” first-time actor Ringer (who voiced the character in the animated series) delivered his lines with such stiffness you’ll wonder why no one on the set stood up and pointed out the obvious lack of acting talent.
Besides the inexpressive performances across the board (with the exception of Toub), “Airbender” is a halfhearted and terribly dull adventure and the most disappointing movie of the year thus far. Shyamalan should probably take a step back from making feature films, reevaluate his place in the industry, and see where he should go from here. At this point, it might not even be his choice anymore.