Since I don’t read reviews before I see a movie, I didn’t really know the scope of the critic hate that was abound. I feel that Night seems doomed to take flack from critics that want another Sixth Sense from him for the rest of his career. However, there is always hope, and I’ve found a few reviews of the movie that I’d like to point out. In some ways they capture what I would have said about the film. I am going to do what I usually do, though, and wait until it really sinks in before I review it. I like to take in Night’s films a few times before I make a final call on them.
The first is from the Salt Lake Tribune: ‘Airbender’ is epic and emotional.
Epics can be ponderous and plodding, but “The Last Airbender” manages the difficult trick of being both epic and exciting, a fantasy adventure that is visually striking and emotionally accessible.
The source material is Nickelodeon’s popular series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” in which Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko melded elements of martial arts, Japanese anime and relatable young characters. That material is neatly transformed by the film’s writer-director, M. Night Shyamalan, into a compelling adventure in which a world’s future rests in the hands of a child.
The epic qualities of “The Last Airbender” will be familiar to any child who’s seen “The Chronicles of Narnia,” with the young protagonist forced to grow up too fast to fulfill his world-saving destiny. Shyamalan embraces that giant sweep, mounting impressive battle sequences and powerful special effects. But Shyamalan also keeps focused on the human story, drawing natural performances from his young cast.
Using the backbone of the Nickelodeon series, Shyamalan succeeds in developing a story with a deep mythology — something he failed to do with “Lady in the Water.” He also understands, as he proved in his comic-book homage “Unbreakable,” the importance of the origin story, and smartly delivers everything this opening chapter needs.
The only “twist” ending Shyamalan provides in “The Last Airbender” is the revelation that this is not a one-off, but the beginning of a franchise. It’s an auspicious beginning, well-done and promising even better to come.
The next is a very honest look at M. Night the Writer vs. M. Night the Director, from CinemaBlend.com: The Last Airbender Reviewed
Aang is the Avatar, which is a lot like the Dalai Lama with super powers, and the casting of unknown 13-year-old Noah Ringer to play him was a stroke of genius. It’s more than just the way he manages to make the movie’s awful dialogue seem nearly credible, there’s a calmness that surrounds him, even when he’s at his most direct and intense. A lot of it is in the way he moves. Ringer’s role is a very physical one, but he pulls it all off with an unbelievable sort of grace. There are moments, great moments, in the movie where M. Night’s camera simply stops and lets him move, performing a complicated martial arts dance on screen as if there’s nothing else in the world but him and the blowing wind.
Dev Patel’s Zuko works too, as the movie’s most complex character. A prince abused and cast off by his father, he wanders the world in search of the Avatar, his only means of regaining a place in his father’s household. Guided by a gentle uncle, Zuko wrestles with a desire to do the right thing, and a burning need to regain his place in the world by doing his father’s bidding. Patel, in spite of the horrible dialogue he’s forced to spout, brings a sort of sympathetic anger to the character.
It’s more than just Noah or Patel’s solid performances that make Last Airbender worth seeing. It’s also how much fun M. Night seems to be having with opportunities the movie’s bending powers afford. Water flies around the screen in perfectly propelled blobs or leaps out of the ground in great, tentacled rivers. Flame artfully gouts from a fire bender’s hands, framing the screen and creating a breathtaking image. Put to use in battle those powers are thrilling, yes, but in Night’s hands also heart-wrenchingly gorgeous. It’s imaginative and immensely creative. Almost every frame of Night’s movie is a work of art, with perfectly used camera techniques and luscious wide shots that let you see what’s going on even in the film’s most frantic and frenetic moments.
These aren’t just stunning, empty images. The Last Airbender uses its visual prowess to push itself beyond the miserable constraints of its script. We learn almost nothing substantive about Aang from the movie’s misguided, exposition filled dialogue, but his enthusiasm for life oozes out of every frame. It’s in the way he walks or the way he goes down a flight of stairs, taking four steps at a time propelled by tiny bursts of energetic air. Aang feels alive and, visually at least, it all seems to happen effortlessly.
This isn’t an easy movie to praise. The Last Airbender seems as though it’s daring people to hate it. It’s hard to believe anything could be this badly written by accident. In order to get to what’s good in it; you’ll have to endure a lot of M. Night Shyamalan missteps. In the hands of a better writer, this could have been the next Lord of the Rings. The material behind it feels that good. Should someone else take charge of writing the heavily teased sequel for him, I fully expect to give it five stars. The Last Airbender though, is the kind of movie that’s only good in spite of itself. If you’re able to get past Shyamalan’s failings as a writer, this is an achingly beautiful film full of stunning special effects, driven by a powerful score, and based on material so good that even the worst script of the year couldn’t entirely ruin it. It’s worth putting up with M. Night the writer to enjoy the work of M. Night the director.
And finally, a middling review from USA Today: Shyamalan’s ‘Airbender’ has some good elements
He hasn’t mastered the craft yet, but M. Night Shyamalan may be on to something with this action-movie thing.
His first film in this genre, The Last Airbender, shows glimpses of the brash director behind chillers like The Sixth Sense and Signs, movies that prompted Newsweek to declare him “the next Spielberg.”
Yeah, it’s kid stuff, and parents aren’t going to be enjoying any Pixar-style dual themes. This is strictly for the preteens who like their heroes young, their morals simple and their villains clear.
And Shyamalan delivers. Credit the director for emphasizing the film’s multiple fight scenes, which crackle, particularly for a kids’ movie. This could have played like Spy Kids Know Kung Fu, but Ringer is a real martial arts prodigy, and co-star Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) trained for months. It shows.
And for a first film, Airbender seems oddly set up for a sequel, particularly considering it’s going to get its brains bashed in at the box office by The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, also out this weekend.
But for a kids’ movie, Airbender delivers on multiple levels. And if the series does continue, Shyamalan may find action a lot less frightening than the reaction to his horror of late.