The Last Airbender is a visual wonder, rife with gorgeous scenery and eye-boggling action. Obviously producer/writer/director M. Night Shyamalan put a lot of thought into how his latest film would look, and it pays off.
If only he had paid attention to everything else.
While getting all the points in the visual areas, Airbender's plot drags along at a borderline monotonous pace. The writing is a little heavy-handed and there's not a whole lot going on as far as acting is concerned.
The story takes place in a fantastical world made up of four nations: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Normally there is an Avatar - a special person who has powers in all four elements, and connections to the spirit world - who keeps the balance between the nations and it's benders (people who are able to manipulate their particular element). As the movie opens, the audience learns that the last Avatar disappeared a century ago, and in that time the Fire nation has waged war on the other nations.
Things change when two siblings in the Water nation, Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) find Aang (Noah Ringer), find the Avatar frozen in the ice of their country. It isn't long after he's unfrozen that the Fire nation shows up, wanting to destroy the Avatar before he can stop them.
What ensues is a chase across the world, ending in the climatic battle outside of the Water nation's capitol.
The problem with all this? In what is supposed to be a heated chase for a character, the plot lags big time, taking too much time in needless back story and only mildly interesting examinations of guilt and responsibility. Shyamalan - who at his best can ratchet up the suspense like nobody's business - allows the movie to get mired in inaction.
Which is a shame, because when he lets the action cut lose, he can achieve some stunning levels of visual wonder. Even if there's not much to say for most of the acting, points are given to those who play benders, for the ballet-esque moves they pull off.
The first in what is (apparently) a trilogy, The Last Airbender isn't going to light the world on fire or anything. Let's just hope Shyamalan picks it up for the next one, or this really will be the last Airbender.