Who's In It: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Jackson Rathbone, Nicola Peltz, Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi, Cliff Curtis, Seychelle Gabriel, Randall Duk Kim
The Basics: You're a bald 12-year-old boy with tattoos who's just woken up from 100 years on ice. You can control the air with kung fu, which is awesome, but there is a downside: everyone you know has been killed, and it's kind of-maybe-totally your fault. Bummer. Too bad that guilt is preventing you from realizing your full potential as The One (aka the Avatar), the only person on the planet who can control all four elements and stop a bunch of power-hungry fire-throwers from enslaving the rest of the world. Luckily, you've made some new friends, including a girl who can "bend" water and that one guy from Twilight. (No, it's not Edward. Or Jacob.) With them and your trusty flying horned dog-beaver thingy by your side, maybe you can save the world -- or at least, save it part way. Gotta leave something for the sequels. Not that it looks like there'll be any.
What's The Deal: The good news for those eagerly anticipating this live-action, big budget adaptation of the Nickelodeon anime series is that the 3D isn't horrible. The bad news? Just about everything else is. Fans of the series may appreciate The Last Airbender's faithful adaptation of the series' first season (at least in terms of plot; less with its white-washed casting), but laborious storytelling and clumsy performances drag it down. Waaaay down. Helmer M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs) ably manipulates the technical elements to create a fantasy world with scope and cool effects, but he seems to have spent too much time crafting CGI balls of water and not enough writing a passable script. Worse, he fails to keep his cast from drowning in a sea of cheesy, ham-fisted dialogue, instead leaving his actors to suffer valiantly on-screen and us to watch helpless as they bravely tai chi their way to the end. The Last Airbender may not be the worst film of the summer (that honor remains with Jonah Hex), but it's certainly the biggest disappointment.
How We Know It's Shyamalan's Fault: He wrote, directed, AND produced The Last Airbender, which pretty much leaves nobody else to blame. Getting forced performances from newbie actors with no experience is one thing; making that adorable Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire look embarrassingly Razzie-worthy in his only film other than the one that got all the Oscars screams "bad direction." Every single one of The Last Airbender's cast members suffers from Shyamalan's tin ear for dialogue and delivery and the thin, personality-free characters he's written, with one exception: Shaun Toub, the veteran character actor better known as the guy who gave Tony Stark his heart back in 2008's Iron Man.
Questions I Distracted Myself With During The Movie: Why does Aang's giant flying horned dog-beaver look like Falcor from The NeverEnding Story? Why does everyone say "AH-vatar," like "AH-vocado?" What's the deal with this spirit world, and why does a scary advice-giving dragon live there? Does anyone think these wigs look good? What's the girl from Towelhead doing in this movie for all of five seconds? Does Cliff Curtis know that the Airbender sequel he alludes to within the movie (In three years, we'll be back!) may never, ever get made?
On The Topic Of "Yellowface": Shyamalan and Paramount Pictures have rightly earned public scorn for casting Caucasian actors in three of The Last Airbender's four main roles for no apparent justifiable reason. (Jackson Rathbone, as Sokka, is the only actor with some residual Twilight-issued box office draw, but newcomers Nicola Peltz and Noah Ringer are virtual unknowns.) For a thoughtful, in-depth take on the issue, this piece by Q. Le is a must-read.