The Flick Chicks

Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Last Airbender

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The Last Airbender

It was supposed to be called Avatar, but then a little James Cameron film came along. That’s how The Last Airbender received its altered cinematic baptism.

Every baptism starts with water; here Waterbender Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) discover a frozen boy, Aang (Noah Ringer), and awaken him from a 100 year suspension.

Aang is the latest incarnation of the Avatar, a powerful entity that can bend all four elements and communicate with the spirits. His companion is an enormous furry creature. Katara and Sokka return to their snowy water village with Aang just in time to witness an invasion...

But first, a little history…The four elements, in order of their respective power according to the film are air, water, earth, and fire. Each element is supported by a nation and within that nation are citizens who are able to bend, or manipulate that element.

The elemental nations have historically lived in balance and harmony, but the lack of a peace-keeping Avatar for the last century has allowed the war mongering Fire Kingdom to seek world domination. Fire Lords, in fierce ships that belch out ominous black smoke, have globally forbidden the use of any elemental bending powers; they perpetually hunt the Avatar, the sole being who can defeat them.

Now the Fire Lords have come to Katara’s village, rounding up the elders, until Aang intervenes, setting off a chain of events that begins with the discovery that he is indeed the long-awaited Avatar.

Katara and Sokka team up with Aang, who revisits the ruins of his past, piecing together memories and regretting his decision to run away from his destiny instead of embracing it. A period of mourning is followed by Aang’s resolve to honor his past incarnations and mentors by assuming his role as world guardian, no small feat for such a young fellow; it’s not easy having a high voice in a world of testosterone.

Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) is the disgraced son of Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) who can only win back his father’s favor by capturing the Avatar. His rival, Fire Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvin) is also hunting Aang. The two clash in their fiery pursuit of the boy, adding fuel to this already fiery flame of contention within the Fire Kingdom.

As Avatar, Aang has power over all of the elements and his arrival is heralded as a type of messiah for the occupied nations who look to him for deliverance from the hell-bent fury of punitive and restrictive Fire Lords. There’s only one problem; the young boy has never been trained to fully understand, much less use his tremendous power, and so spends much of the film in a badass, martial arts stance that carries no knowledge behind it. Victories are on a trial and error basis, mostly accidental, and full of missteps.

Meanwhile, Prince Zuko and his sympathetic but powerful uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub) continue their independent quest to find Aang. Commander Zhao and his fleet of ships invade territories in hot pursuit as well. With a Fire Lord, is there any other kind? One of the water kingdoms is a battleground, although a fire-dominated earth kingdom is paid a visit as well.

How all of these elements come together, clash, defend, destroy, dominate, protect, vanquish and threaten the various characters makes for an action-packed, visual exercise in the graceful violence of a civilization out of balance. Fire and water as weapons take on an almost ballet-like undulation and their resulting damage is like a dance of willful personalities.

Writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan (Signs, The Sixth Sense) departs from his own mythology to bring the Nickelodeon series to the big screen. He makes no Hitchcock-inspired appearance in the film, but works from source material that’s not his own – for the first time.

The Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko animated series (primarily the first season) is fleshed out with some controversy concerning ethnic casting, an argument which is as superfluous as the 3-D effects. The casting works, the director is not Caucasian himself, and the bad guys have a charisma that the good guys can’t equal. And they get to burn things.

Not being familiar the series, I took the film at face value with no history or expectations attached. The last Airbender has enough majesty to stand on its own with vivid, blue water/red fire contrast unfolding like a moving piece of art in a world which is ancient and futuristic all at once.

You can be sure that Aang, the Avatar will return, wiser, more powerful, and more centered; this time it won’t take 100 years.

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