This movie is genuinely awful. I don’t care that M. Night Shyamalan had to turn an entire season’s worth of TV episodes into a single movie — it is perfectly evident that he was just completely inept at making an entertaining movie.
The biggest slap-your-forehead-this-is-dumb problem is that the element-bending dances are often accompanied by no actual element-bending. You’re just watching a shitload of Tai Chi, or “patience-bending” as I call it. Even when this IS accompanied by special effects, the bending lags FAR behind the actions of the bender most of the time (To the point where they will complete their bending dances before any CG shows up. Due to this, it would be faster to walk over and punch them in the face than to throw a fireball). If you’re wondering, the show does this better and the effect is more like watching Jedi use the Force than watching rain dancers wait for rain.
Despite how nice the post-production effects look (Good job, Industrial Light & Magic. You did the only thing that looks professional in this movie), they just don’t decently affect the real world around them. This is mostly shitty for air-bending (Because, well, real air would blow hair around. No hair-blowing here! They didn’t even turn on some fans on the set, I guess). Worst of all, when people are PRACTICING their bending powers, there are no accompanying special effects. Because practice doesn’t count. Or they’re somehow able to practice without doing “the real thing”. Make sense? No. Boring? Yes. And there are a LOT of those scenes. It’s a problem, but one of the least of the problems The Last Airbender has.
A larger problem is that the entire movie is a poorly-edited mishmash of exposition voice-overs, exposition scenes, emotionless scenes to show off scenery, scenes of Prince Zuko being angry (The only mildly-professional emotional displays within the film), and scenes of characters we know literally nothing about pretending that they have forged bonds or grown as individuals sometime during the five weeks that they tell us we just missed. The editing fucking sucked. Example: A voice-over by Katara talks about Aang by name, directly before a scene where she asks Aang what his name is.
And although only fans of the show will wonder why Aang is being pronounced as “Ong”, I think that EVERYONE will wonder what “Ovatar” means. Thanks, Shyamalan. Your forced “Asian flair” pronunciations really classed up the joint.
I was really amazed. Everything I thought that the director MIGHT have trouble with — you know, this being such a huge leap from the type of film he found success with — and everything I thought seemed bad about the casting, turned out to be even worse than anticipated. M. Night seems like the kind of guy who only juggles two balls at a time with any success, and only when those two balls belong to extremely talented, successful actors. This movie had way too many balls for him, and they were too challengingly hairy. I really feel that I must stress that he leaves no ball un-dropped in this film. It is as stilted and laughable of an affair as you could ever wish to avoid.
Back to the cast and characters. You have, I’m sure, heard the phrase “cardboard cutouts” used to deride poor characterization before. Well, let me tell you: It has never been more true than in this movie. Not only is the acting laughable almostacross the board, but they don’t even have anything to work with. The script is just as bad, all exposition and voice-overs and toneless “We need to hit another plot point” scene-setting. All of the sets (Except for the Fire Nation ship) suck. Nobody reacts to other characters; for all I know everyone was filmed separately and then spliced together. Even if they’d all watched their own characters on the TV show, they literally were not ALLOWED to be those characters whether or not they had the acting chops. This is, of course, Shyamalan’s idea of creating a “serious” movie: Populate it with two-dimensional characters who are more “mannequin” than “life-like”! We already saw this in The Happening. I can’t believe that pile of shit was more entertaining than The Last Airbender. It just doesn’t seem fucking possible; especially since The Happening wasn’t TRYING to be entertaining. Then again… neither is Shyamalan’s version of Avatar: The Last Airbender.