The Last Airbender (live action)

Genre: Action, martial arts
Score: OK

(Forgive the inclusion of a live-action adaptation of a cartoon in this thread, but I’m not sure where else to put it)

The original Avatar series was surprisingly good for a mostly-American cartoon production. It showed the use of supernatural powers from the perspective of a martial artist, emphasising wits and wisdom rather than force, and self-awareness over mere technique.

This film covers the story of the first season of three. In many ways it’s impressive: the visual effects are striking and flawless, both the bending – where earth, air, fire and water around a person is controlled through martial arts movements – and simply the world they live in with its strange animals and striking scenery, its dark steampunky fire nation ships and ice fortresses and air temples. The acting is also quite good, and the characters look as close to their cartoon counterparts as could be hoped for. The boy playing Ang in particular carries off the combination of Buddhist-style wisdom and uncertain youth quite well.

The film doesn’t even bastardise the plot too badly, except for one thing:¬†it’s in fast-forward!¬†Fitting a series into a film inevitably means shortening it in some way, typically by removing and simplying bits of the plot; in this case they just rush straight past the bits they haven’t got time for. Not only is this confusing to watch, you miss out on getting to know the characters and watch them grow, the bits that lay the foundation for emotional payoffs later on.

There’s only one way this could make sense, which is if there was going to be a Lord of the Rings-style extended edition that filled in all the gaps. As is stands this is a pretty illustration for those who already know the series, but a lousy introduction to it.