Choreography trumps, well, everything else, apparently
Not having seen the original Avatar animated series, which I hear is quite the sensation, I had no point of reference going into M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender.
Avatar is praised for its mature themes (for a kids show), zesty writing and quality animation. It rises above the fray. Transport those very qualities to a film, however, and you end up with something dipping below that same fray. A character that is deep and profound in a cartoon world, can suddenly seem shallow portrayed by a real person. Perhaps Avatar just wasn’t a great fit for live action.
Another problem with adapting long-running series into movies is that condensing the huge story often hurts coherency. The Last Airbender feels rushed and a collection of events rather than a unified whole. Blame must surely fall on Shyamalan as well. It has a cheap feel to it that better writing and direction would have remedied.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself. The film presents a pleasing, if superficial world to take in. Especially the elaborate choreography of the ‘benders’ as they work their magic is a sight to behold, mixing various martial arts disciplines to denote different schools. Waterbenders flow as in a trance, firebenders jump and kick around, Earthbenders stomp the ground Maori-style. It’s visually arresting and the sole lure of this run-of-the-mill and spiritless children’s fantasy.
Enthused at least about the fun universe on offer, I should check out the animated series. I hear it’s quite the sensation.