Remember how at the end of the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy you felt like the movie kind of hit a stop sign rather than reached a resolution? You felt like a graphic stating "pause" should've come up before the credits started to roll. Well, magnify that: "this is a whole movie?!" feeling and multiply it by ten or so, and you'll have the feeling that you are left with when M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender reaches its cliffhanger... Uh... I mean, climax.
Based upon the animated series: Avatar: The Last Airbender (gee, I wonder why they changed that title), perhaps it should've stayed in that realm as this flesh and blood version is about as appealing as a Beethoven symphony played on a saw.
To be a bender (and being on one is the best way to enjoy this film) is to be able to command one of the four elements: Fire, Water, Air or Earth. But, the Avatar (no relation to the James Cameron version that was actually fun to watch) is born to each generation to keep the peace with their ability to control all four elements (while boring an audience to tears).
However, the last Avatar disappeared a hundred years before our story begins, and by the time the film ends it feels like another hundred years has gone by in the theater. At this point, the rather militant folks that control Fire hold this world in an iron grip of tyranny that would make Grand Moff Tarkin proud.
Knowing that the next Avatar was supposed to come from the Airbender contingent of the people, the Fire Lords exterminate all the Airbenders to insure that there will be no new Avatar to keep them in check.
This particular Avatar prospect, Aang (Noah Ringer), wussed out on his duty a century before, ran away, and ended up sealed in a frozen bubble in suspended animation.
Enter Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), a sister and brother from the Southern Icy Water Tribe (or something like that) of former Waterbenders turned Eskimo-like ice hunters. Katara can bend water (sorta), but not very effectively, with her efforts most of the time ending up in a bath for her already damp brother, Sokka. While hunting in the ice, these two unearth Aang and a huge furry, flying beaver-bear, with horns. Aang wakes up thinking only a few days has passed. Silly, silly, boy.
In the meantime, Zuko (Dev Patel) a disgraced prince of the Fire Lords, and his stalwart uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub) must find the Avatar to reclaim lost honor. While that's going on, Aang, discovering the genocide wrought by the Fire Lords, and realizing that he is the last Airbender (hence the title), admits to Katara and Sokka that he decided to scoot and boot before he was fully trained, and does not have command of all the elements, so all he can do is move air around (a talent that really blows).
I won't even mention the sub-plots involving a Princess from the Northern Water Whatzits (or something like that) who was blessed by the Moon God (that looks like a really chubby Koi) causing her to become platinum blond, and her instant love connection with Sokka. Or the Earthbenders of the East-Middle Village of Rocks and Mud (or something like that) where Aang stages the first revolt against the Fire Lords. Or the princess of the Fire Lords being the King's favored son. And if you're getting the feeling that this film has way too much going on to fit into one two-hour film; you're right!
As usual in a Shyamalan film the visuals show that this man knows how to direct a film, but (as usual of late) he goes overboard on "expressive" face close-ups. Here you can count the pores on young Ringer's forehead, and God forbid he gets a pimple while they're shooting the next one!
I never truly got involved with this film, as it plays with such unfettered "drama" that it becomes melodrama, and the characters seem to be more thrown together than bonded by friendship or some other emotional attachment.
Although the action is visually striking, you never care enough about any of these bland characters to have much of a rooting interest in the outcome of the fights. The fights themselves are dominated by this Tai Chi-like, dance movement, posing, which makes every battle sequence where someone is actually using their bending powers look like a scuffle backstage at the Bolshoi ballet! And if I had to see poor little Noah Ringer doing more choreography than they had in the entire first act of The Lion King just to kick up some dust, one more time... You could pull a muscle just watching this kid!
Based on this, "tip of the iceberg," set up for more of the same later, I wouldn't bother with The Last Airbender, and we can only hope that this first one will be the last we see of this Airbender (but alas it won't be)!