Hollywood has been pooping out an awful lot of superfluous reboots and remakes lately, but perhaps the most superfluous and awful of them all is M. Night Shyamalan’s bastardisation of The Last Airbender (2010). The idea of trying to condense a 20-episode-long season of cartoon adventures into a single 90-minute live-action film is patently absurd, even under the auspices of a competent filmmaker… but to put it in the hands of a hacky has-been like Shyamalan was just asking for trouble. The dialogue is so banal, the performances so wonky, and the plotting so haphazard that the whole thing plays like a badly translated and re-edited English version of a much longer foreign-language film… in fact, it most reminded me of this dubbed version of the infamous Zero Wing game intro that spawned the popular “All your base are belong to us” meme, back in the day.
Aside from the egregious incompetence evident in the scripting and direction, one of the major issues that many fans of the show had with this production was the casting of white actors in the main heroic roles, playing characters the majority of viewers had assumed were Asian up to that point! I’ve never seen the show myself, so I can’t really comment on that, but it does seem rather sad that one of the most prominent Asian-born filmmakers working in the West today seems so oblivious and insensitive to the issues of racial representation and Affirmative Action. In response to the controversy, Shyamalan asserted that “the movie has 23 credited speaking roles – more than half of which feature Asian and Pan Asian actors of Korean, Japanese and Indian descent”… which sounds great until you realise that those roles they’re playing are either straight-up villains, or helpless victims just sitting around waiting for the white kids to come inspire/save them. GAH!!!
The only point I can make in the movie’s favour is that Summer Bishil looks super-cute as the sadistic (and possibly insane) firebending prodigy, ‘Princess Azula’… though she only appears on-screen for a minute at most, so that’s very poor compensation for all the dross I had to sit through between her fleeting appearances. The final scene sets her up as the major antagonist for a hypothetical sequel… which would seem like a dead cert considering how much money this dreck inexplicably brought in at the global box office (over 300 million dollars!!!), but the overwhelmingly negative critical response seems to have given the studio pause for now…
Oh, the DVD also features an interview with the creators of the cartoon, discussing their inspirations and intentions, and it’s made me keen to check out the original show, to see this story told properly. The complete boxset seems ridiculously cheap at the moment, so I may have to add it to my Xmas wish-list.
[“Aang can stay Asian and Still Save the World” T-shirt courtesy of the good folk at RaceBending.com]