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The Last Airbender

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

It was kinda risky to do a whole series of unpopular or forgotten summer movies, because I could very well have been forcing myself to watch an all star lineup of all the suckiest failures from across a couple decades. A dirty dozen of squirming and boredom. Luckily, many of the movies I chose have been better than their reputations, or even misunderstood gems, and when they’re not it’s still kind of nice, because I’m seeing them from a better position than the people who saw them their respective summers. I don’t go in with high expectations. I don’t hope for the next great summer movie. Just maybe something that’s more interesting than people said at the time.

In this case I also knew not to hope for an M. Night Shyamalan comeback after THE VILLAGE, LADY IN THE WATER and THE HAPPENING, or a good live action version of the popular cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I haven’t seen anyway. Knowing nothing about the cartoon I was able to appreciate the cool concepts they borrowed from it without knowing they apparently did it all wrong. So I have a higher chance of being pleasantly surprised and a lower chance of feeling like I didn’t get my money’s worth.

Like with the later also unpopular (but I liked it) AFTER EARTH, Shyamalan is doing kind of a serious young adult fantasy here. The source material and/or the movie seem to be influenced by Hong Kong martial arts fantasy, Miyazaki cartoons and Zack Snyder digitally-enhanced action – all good ingredients. It even opens with Shaw Brothers style silhouetted kung fu moves representing the elements of water, fire, earth and air. If that isn’t the most badass possible opening to a PG-rated movie based on a Nickelodeon cartoon, I don’t know what is.

(And that’s after replacing the flying stars of the Paramount Studios logo with flying water – an early example of the studio logo customization that would culminate in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS doing it with throwing stars!)

The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic and/or ancient world divided into kingdoms based on these elements. Our heroes are two kids from the Water Kingdom. They’re white kids who live like Eskimos, because this frozen village was once a major city? I think they said something like that.

One day Katara (Nicola Peltz, TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION) and her pony-tailed older brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, S. DARKO) find a little boy and his giant furry creature friend frozen under the ice. The boy is bald and tattooed like a prophesied chosen one and his name is Aang, played by 2008-2009 Texas State Champion in Traditional Forms, Traditional Weapons, Sparring, X-Treme Forms and X-Treme Weapons Noah Ringer (COWBOYS & ALIENS). Pretty much as soon as they find him the fucking Fire Nation shows up pulling some typical Fire Nation shit (abducting him because he poses a threat to their world domination).

The rules of this world are laid out matter-of-factly. Each tribe has “benders” who do tai chi type moves to control their element. Katara is the last waterbender, so she can make waves and tentacles and balls of water, make them float around, and please note that she can turn it into ice so it works as an actual weapon, she’s not just splashing people and annoying them because their clothes get wet.

The Fire Nation has a whole bunch of firebenders, shooting fireballs, of course, and they’ve tried to kill all the airbenders because they knew the Avatar was one of them. There’s always one person who is the Avatar, a sort of savior who can control all of the elements, and he’s been missing for about a century because apparently he was this frozen little boy the whole time.

So Aang escapes (he has a little glider that he can fly really well on by controlling the air) and he and his new friends travel around together going from town to town, hiding out, practicing their bending and he inspires the people of the Southern Earth Kingdom to reclaim their dirt powers, etc.

Aang has a couple cute creature friends. One is the giant fluffy bison/sloth thing he was frozen with, who wears a saddle and flies Aang and friends all around the world. Another is a pet lemur-bat thing. It would be cool if that thing was just on his shoulder at all times, but I’ll take the couple times you see him.

From what I’ve read it sounds like the movie sort of follows the first season of the cartoon, which explains why it covers so much time – there’s narration and montages to explain long periods of traveling, meeting different people. It’s awkward at times and I’m sure it’s part of why the movie is so hated by fans of the show, but I like that it gives it a distinct feel, an epic without a three hour running time. Sometimes a myth takes place over years without going into detail about everything.

One character that has a pretty drastic arc within this time period is Prince Zuko (Dev Patel, CHAPPIE), son of the Fire Lord (Cliff Curtis, LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD). Zuko speaks in a cartoonishly evil voice, but we hear the tragic backstory of his facial burns, caused by his father, and know there is some potential conflict there. Later, a masked monkey-kung-fu hero called The Blue Spirit rescues Aang from captivity, is shot with an arrow and turns out to be Zuko. Is he having a change of heart?

Well, no, he just wants to catch the Avatar himself to impress his father. But younger Aang keeps being the bigger man: having a window to escape, he sees masked-Zuko surrounded and goes back to help him. Later, after Katara has defeated Zuko and completely frozen him, Aaang could just leave him but instead defrosts his face. “You won’t be killed by waterbenders if you stay in here,” he advises. Then, over his shoulder as he walks out, “We could be friends you know.”

If they’d made a sequel I’m sure they would’ve been. BEST OF THE BEST 2 type shit.

With such wisdom, his chosen one status, bald head, Asian-inspired clothes and past training by monks, Aang seems like a Little Buddha or a Golden Child. I like that although he’s The One and (potentially) more powerful than everyone else he has a heavy burden of shame on him, which we learn is from running away in fear when told of his destiny. To him it was only a couple of days ago, but his monk friends were all murdered almost 100 years ago after he got frozen.

Whoah, this is kind of like DEMOLITION MAN. Katara is Sandra Bullock.

There’s a good scene where a vision leads him to a temple where an old monk (Randall Duk Kim, THE MATRIX RELOADED) shows him golden statues of his many reincarnations before saying, sadly, “You seem like a nice young man. You really do. You will forgive me, won’t you?”

“For what?”

“For luring you down here. I have lived in poverty because of your absence, Avatar. So you will understand my actions today.”

This guy seemed genuinely proud to meet the Avatar and tell him about his legacy, but also willing to trap him for the Fire Nation because of the way Aang fleeing his responsibilities ruined his life. He betrayed him more willingly than, say, Lando betrayed Han, but at least he is clearly ashamed of himself.

As Aang and friends navigate a series of cliffhangery encounters and battles, Shyamalan (with cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who did the BABE movies and the LORDs OF THE RINGS) weds his deliberate camera move style to large-scale-special-effects-fantasy. They have many complex, long take camera moves, turning and floating across various factions, large groups doing their different martial arts styles, usually in conjunction with digital flames or gusts of wind or ice crystals or whatever.

Ringer could’ve been the Ernie Reyes Jr. of the 2000s. His martial arts background definitely helps – you watch a shot of the kid really spinning and jumping and kicking that goes on long enough that when a mini-tornado forms between his hands it might as well be real because the rest of it was.

Of course there’s plenty of trickery involved too, including some wire work and what not to make him super-humanly nimble. In one scene he has his hands tied behind his back and he does a flip and then runs up a wall.

In the most complex battles there’s alot of speed-ramping to show proper awe of these impressive powers. Fight choreographer Ben Cooke is a frequent stunt double for Jason Statham and Daniel Craig, and he played Kit Fisto in REVENGE OF THE SITH.

When things come to a head in the, uh, Snow Kingdom or whatever, there’s some good fantasy stuff that kind of reminded me of the exciting parts of the HOBBIT trilogy. Those Fire Pricks invade on smog-spewing iron warships, they scale the walls on lizardback

or cut their way in from beneath the ice, discarding their drills where innocent children could find them and hurt themselves, I mean that is just really irresponsible of the Fire Nation in my opinion although also pretty cool that they have those drills.

Based on the movie’s poor reputation I think I was expecting the dull, repetitive type of fantasy. But this one keeps bringing up cool new concepts. Like, the bad guys capture Aang, and you think they’re gonna try to kill him and fail, but then they explain that they specifically don’t want to kill him, because they know he’d be reincarnated and then they’d have to figure out who the fuck he was again.

The cartoon is definitely inspired in part by Asian philosophies and myths, so the movie version has the feel of a legend that you never heard before. I mean, the bad guys find a scroll that leads them to a meditation cave where there are two fish called “Push and Pull” that circle each other like a yin and a yang and they are spirits and when one is killed the moon turns red and the universe is off balance but a character (Seychelle Gabriel, THE SPIRIT, HONEY 2) sacrifices herself to give her lifeforce to the dead fish and restore everything. And when she dies the color comes back into her white hair and there’s a whole story about why her hair turned white when she was born but I won’t go into that. Anyway, I love this kind of shit.

Going through these summer movies chronologically, it really seemed like I’d gotten past the point where movies had a major merchandising push. Wrong! THE LAST AIRBENDER had a line of action figures and other toys, like a Blue Spirit mask.

It also had a Happy Meal with little figurines, or fans and ribbons (sorry, girls) or a little plush “Momo,” which I guess is the lemur bat guy’s name.

There was a novelization by Michael Teitelbaum, who is the author of over 200 children’s books including tons of Little Golden Books and The Very Hungry Zombie, a trendy parody of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He later wrote kid’s reference books related to the original cartoon.

I would like to apologize to the whole world for saying this but fuck it, I kind of liked this movie like I would a lesser modern Hong Kong fantasy, one that’s not great but has enough cool stuff in it to be worth my 90 minutes. I know you’re not supposed to say anything positive about this movie, but what about freedom of speech, what about politically correct, etc. It’s like Bill Hicks.

I actually only ever talked to one person who said this was good. It was when it was new and when he raved about it I said “Oh, that’s good to hear, I’d only heard people say bad things about it” and he was surprised and upset to hear this, he couldn’t believe people didn’t like it. He has since died, so this review is dedicated to Phil R., The First Fan of The Last Airbender.

He was pretty alone on that. I know Rotten Tomatoes is Rotten Tomatoes, but it’s relevant here to say that they have LAST AIRBENDER at a 30% audience rating and a 6% Tomatometer. Maybe a better indicator that this was poorly received: it made $319.7 million, and they had designed it as the first of a trilogy (even labeling this one “Book One: Water” at the beginning), but they decided not to go through with it.

So were people just being too nitpicky about it not being the cartoon? I can’t say that. For one thing, I haven’t seen the cartoon, and I’m sure they’re right that it’s way better. But there are a couple of other major issues that people may have held against it.

  1. This was an early example of a movie shot in 2D and rush-converted to 3D, when the technology for that really sucked. I remember the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake being a 3D conversion that was unanimously panned, and this was the same year. If the 3D was as bad as many reviews say then that’s a shame, because with all the flying water and fire and people this is ideal imagery for the format.
  2. It was also probly the first movie to receive a major online backlash for whitewashing. The characters in the cartoon are understood to be mostly Asian and Native American, but the movie cast Aang, Katara and Sokka all as white people. The non-white actors are saved for the other nations: the Earth Nation seem to be mostly Asian, while the Fire Kingdom is led by Maori Curtis and Indian Patel and Aasif Mandvi (by the way, it’s weird to see a guy I know only from The Daily Show making evil speeches and shooting flames with his hands). Of course, this is under the watch of an Indian-American writer-director, which makes it hard to see the Fire Nation casting as an attack on brown people, but it’s still weird. I think it’s a fair criticism.

Especially since – and I hate to say this, but I can’t really get around it – the white kid they chose is not quite cutting it. He’s uniquely qualified with his martial arts skills at a young age, and his acting is okay, but he’s not really cool. It’s a hell of alot to ask, but to anchor this movie I think he needed to have a huge amount of charisma and screen presence that at least at this time he didn’t have.

Of the three lead heroes the one who’s quite good is Peltz as Katara. She has this worried look on her face for most of the movie

but it’s a very natural, emotional performance. The movie could use more of that humanity.

Shyamalan apparently wrote a draft of the sequel, and even mentioned it as recently as 2015 as something he could possibly do after SPLIT. But I doubt they’d want to jump from their title character in his early teens to early twenties, so they’d probly recast, and in that case maybe just start over anyway since I am not gonna buy enough tickets to justify a sequel financially.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, August 24th, 2017 at 1:21 pm and is filed under Action, Fantasy/Swords, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “The Last Airbender”

  1. Welp, I’m usually with you on being nice on movies but… this is an awful, awful movie.

    My quote from THE VISIT review:

    “The only Shyamalan movie I think is flat out bad, rather than misguided, is The Last Airbender. Without a doubt the most amateurish big budget movie I’ve ever seen. This isn’t some cartoon fanboy rant because the movie is very bad on its own terms and thus I do not feel it’s credentials as an adaptation should even come up (it’s actually very faithful). On the bright side Airbender is kind of funny, I have never before seen a movie where (almost) literally ever line of dialogue is exposition.”
    -complete with mistype of ever instead of every

    There is no dialogue, only exposition. There is no flow to the plot or story so it’s just one long slog that relies on the constant exposition and bored narration to try and glue everything together. Does not feel like the ninth (give or take) directorial effort of one who was once called ‘The Next Spielberg’, feels like the very first feature-length movie of a guy just out of TV getting his big break because he’s good at taking orders. Bad acting all around except that some of the villains are ham-it-up so much so along with the every line of dialogue is exposition leads to some really funny shit. The CGI (by ILM!) is mostly all bad. There is seriously not a thing this movie does right unless you like watching ‘so bad they’re good’ (ugh) movies.

    *Please note: I’m not really that big a fan of the cartoon. It was okay I guess, maybe I can’t remember it too well other than it kept stealing shit from STAR WARS like every fantasy seems to anymore. So again, not a fanboy rant.

    Sorry Vern, I cannot go down this road with you this time.

  2. I have always had this theory that the film isn’t nearly as bad as people say it is and I’m glad to know that I may be right. Still not going to watch it though.

  3. It is as bad as people say it is.

  4. Then it looks like I’m saving myself by never watching it anyways.

  5. What people say that? There’s nothing more wrong with this movie than a saturday morning cartoon.

  6. Geoffrey – I don’t disagree with your description of the style of the movie, just with the assumption that what you describe is automatically bad. I guess it’s related to my point about it covering a long span of time in a short running time – I think this not-naturalistic style fits the mythic, oral-legend feel of the story and makes it stand out from other movies that agree with you that this approach must be avoided at all costs.

    I don’t know what’s so wrong with the CGI though? The two creatures I mentioned look excellent, and the flying ice and fireballs look real enough. I guess maybe you disapprove of the Zack Snydery stylized landscapes and stitched together stuntwork?

  7. I can’t hate The Last Airbender because I never saw the TV series and so am unable to summon any nerdrage over it…but I have to agree that it’s a pretty poorly-made movie. It feels like a much longer movie that got cut to ribbons in editing. And that’s not so much because of how much material the story covers as it is how sloppy the editing is. The Folding Ideas channel on YouTube has a pretty through video essay on the editing in this film, and once you see a professional editor break down all the problems it has on a technical level, it’s impossible to unsee. In almost every scene there’s issues with continuity of action, bad shot selection, poor choices of where to cut into and out of shots, and so forth. It’s very odd given what an accomplished technician Shyamalan is in all his other movies.

    Then again, I’ve heard rumors that Shyamalan originally had a 7-hour-long screenplay that the studio forced him to cut down for one movie, and then forced the controversial casting choices on him, after which he basically gave up and let the suits walk all over him during production. It would certainly explain why The Last Airbender is so technically shoddy compared with the rest of his work. He just stopped caring.

  8. I haven’t seen The Last Airbender cartoon or this movie but I vividly remember a ton of online discussion about the cartoon and the later huge backlash to this movie.

    This is also the first time I remember any talk of “white washing”, I definitely think it’s fair that if a movie is set in an explicitly Asian type place to expect a mostly Asian cast.

  9. It’s a shame Vern’s probably not going to watch the animated series because everything he liked about the movie was done way better in the cartoon.

  10. This was a pretty egregious example of white washing. It’s also amazing that after the backlash to this film, we still got Gods and Kings, The Ghost in the Shell, and The Gods of Egypt. (The last of which is also improbably the most enjoyable of any of these white washed movies).

  11. I have seen the cartoon, and one of the things that bugged me most is the lack of humor. Avatar was a fun silly show with lively characters and it all became really bland and dry in the movie. Any real humanity was sucked from it. I wasn’t a die hard fan of the show like my friends were, but I still thought it was an incredible waste of good source material.

  12. Wow, if this is the Final Summer Fling, it sure is a doozy! I’m proud to be among the 6% on Rotten Tomatoes, although I’ve never seen it again since.

  13. This is a shitty movie, for a whole bunch of reasons. The performances are bad across the board. Everyone is muted and humourless, struggling with portentous, stilted dialog that sounds completely inhuman, even for a Shyamalan movie. Geoffreyjar hits the nail on the head when he says it’s an endless death-march of exposition. I know this movie has an infamously shitty 3D post-conversion, but I saw it in 2D and it was still dark, drab and unpleasant to look at. The special effects are shitty. That’s all just scratching the surface.

    I’ve seen maybe three episodes of the cartoon and didn’t like it enough to see any more, but I believe the fans when they say this was a waste of the source material. It would almost have to be.

  14. Haven’t seen the movie, but literally every thing you liked in this review was taken straight from the animation, including shaw brothers style silhouettes which begin every episode of the series.

    I think the main thing that could have hurt the movie was just how good and eclectic the animation have been (there was a western episode with Zuko as a Clint figure and it was awesome).

    And whitewashing particularly stings in something that so totally celebrated several asian (and Inuit) cultures.

  15. I don’t remember the special effects being particularly bad, but I remember the action being bland and the dialogue being terrible. I never watched the cartoon, I’m guessing there’s only so much you can do with a source material with a premise as unimaginative as “what if people had magic powers based on the four elements” but still, what a bland and poorly written movie. As geoffreyjar pointed out the dialogue is mostly exposition and it’s even worse than in those UNDERWORLD movies which is really saying something. I mean there’s a scene where the evil prince summons an extra and is like “hey kid why don’t you tell us about the evil prince for no particular reason” and that’s the best excuse they could come up with to start a flashback about the evil prince.

  16. Despite being way out of the target demographic range for Avatar: The Last Airbender, I absolutely loved the show. Every aspect just had so much care put into it, from the script to the character development to the voice acting – plus it was the rare show that didn’t wear out it’s welcome, only lasted for 3 seasons, and actually managed to stick the landing with a satisfying conclusion. Not to get too corny but I liked it so much that I actually wished I had kids so I could watch it again with them (crazy, I know), and I also felt hopeful, like the show single-handedly renewed my faith that corporate Hollywood can actually make something good once in a while worthy of being called “The Next Star Wars” (that is, until the actual Next Star Warses came out and destroyed my faith again).

    My love for the show doesn’t make my opinion on the movie any more or less valid than Vern’s (and in fact helps me understand his hatred for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot a bit more, which he felt was a slick, corporate betrayal of the original and me, not being a big fan of the original, felt was pretty good). So even putting aside the undeniable fact that the movie does alot of things from the show worse, and does zero things from the show better – can the movie be appreciated on its own merits? I still say not really – stripping away all expectations, what you’re left with is basically another entry in an endless line of failed Young Adult franchise starters – just tons of tedious exposition and groundwork laid for future movies that will never happen. It’s probably no worse than Eragon or Seventh Son or Golden Compass or whichever one was Divergent 3, but doesn’t have any of the interestingness from The Maze Runner or the charm of The Mortal Instruments or Beautiful Creatures. I actually didn’t mind the FX or production values and I do think the Zack Snydery action scenes were pretty good, but it’s just not enough to make you enjoy sitting through the next exposition scene.

    ** One nerdrage fanboy note that i do have to bring up – when a friend of mine said “yeah I saw the movie – Sokka’s not funny in it”, I seriously couldn’t believe it. That’s not nitpicking or not being open to interpretation or whatever. Taking the main comic relief character and making him another brooding generic prettyboy literally out of Twilight is one of the few “unforgivable” things that’s actually pretty unforgivable. It’d be like doing a Futurama reboot where Bender doesn’t speak or a John Wick reboot where he’s a giant pussy.

  17. Vern: Aw man, calling me out again! Why do I never get noticed or praised when I’m positive. Just kidding, your site, your rules!

    Anyways I didn’t mean for my post to say position that what I listed made the movie automatically bad. I saw it on standard-definition DVD on old 15″ tube television set so I can say that it wasn’t the reportedly poor 3D post-conversion that distracted me on the movie’s visuals. I will concede that I may be too hard on the CGI, from memory I remember the lizard things being poorly done but your static still shot you have in the review does say otherwise. There is a good chance I’m just remember a single poor shot and my memory is applying to the rest of the movie. As for the Snydery action, I had turned over my opinion of Snyder by that time so I think them trying to ape his style would have annoyed me. I guess I’d have to watch it again to see if I’m being too hard on the choreography.

    Believe it or not, I did not go into it wanting it fail (for me!), I was rooting for Shylaman to prove everyone wrong because even his ‘failures’ are interesting and worth discussing (funnily at that point I only really enjoyed THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE). I also thought the Asian-culture-on-white-bread approach might lead to something at least different from what we usually get (technically, as you pointed out, it IS different from what we usually get at least in regards to setting and the action). So I was disappointed when it didn’t work for me and for once this one lived up to the ‘it’s the worstest EVAH’ hype (again to me).

    So I’m happy you liked it. As per usual you listed off enough good points to make me maybe want to give it a second shot (I did when you reviewed POCAHONTAS and I had to admit the movie was much better than I had been giving it credit for (a few other reviews as well).

    I guess I need to follow Mr. M’s current philosophy and not post negative stuff and just focus on what I enjoy instead.

  18. Haha, sorry Geoffrey. Clearly I wouldn’t have had to single you out had I waited a minute for the rest of the world to chime in and agree with everything you said. This is not a hill worth dying on, I just think the dialogue and some of the other things everybody hates are an intentional style that is a little quirky. Or if not, is something that accidentally kind of works for me, like an outsider art type deal. I don’t think it’s as good as POCAHONTAS and would be very surprised if rewatching it changed your mind. But it would be very interesting if it did.

  19. …and in almost every review there’s a race-theme included. I know it’s 2017 and it’s hip to talk about it, but please…Maybe Shamalyan is closet-Nazi now? Don’t you think? Whitewashing etc

  20. Maybe the more important question is why it bothers you so much.

  21. Hmm, is this the first time Vern has come to the (moderate) defence of an outcast movie, and none of us seem to be in agreement? Or even the first time that’s happened for one of these films reviewed here, regardless of Vern’s take? If so, I wonder if it has something to do with how (relatively) recent this is?

    At any rate, I sadly can’t break the pattern. I don’t believe I ever saw more than a couple of minutes of the series, but I liked the trailers, and even the idea of Shyamalan refocusing his talents in a more collaborative environment. (I might have found that disheartening for many other directors (and often do), but not after his previous three movies. Thankfully it turned out I was wrong and he eventually pulled himself up by his own crazy bootstraps.) Missed this in cinemas, but enthusiastically rented the DVD, and, yeah, people were right, this was close to unwatchable, incomprehensible, poorly acted and totally unengaging. But I don’t remember it particularly well and have no real lingering bitterness. My main memory is that it ended it on “oh shit, it’s on for Part 2 now!” by revealing a character I didn’t remember from earlier was evil because of a reason I didn’t understand.

    I did sort of like AFTER EARTH though.

  22. Oh yeah, I also wanted to say I remember being surprised that Roger Ebert’s review was half anti-3D rant (OK, not so surprising), half fanboy disappointed that his favourite show had been misrepresented.

  23. Vern, I’m really not trying to defend one movie over another since I probably dislike them both equally, but if now a movie where “virtually the entire god damn running time of the movie is devoted to people standing around talking about yet more backstory”, with “so much time talking about the backstory that there’s not much time for actual story” is not something that annoys you anymore, and instead is “quirky” and “something that accidentally kind of works for me, like an outsider art type deal”, maybe you’d really enjoy UNDERWORLD EVOLUTION if you rewatched it.

  24. ahv – My eyes roll at alot of trendy online outrage, (I literally do not understand the “Netflix’s Death Note is WHITEWASHING!” controversy), but I can actually understand it here, since they literally took the 3 main characters from the show and changed them from Asian to white. And again, I understand how business works so I could understand if they were played by three famous or popular white kids with a built-in fan base or something (Justin Bieber IS The Last Airbender…) but Rathbone was like a B-Team player in Twilight and Peltz and Ringer were unknowns, so yeah, there’s no real reason they couldn’t have just cast 3 Asian kids other than the studio felt that American audiences would be more comfortable watching white people onscreen (which might be true, but then again the non-whitewashed show was a giant hit with the same demographic that would probably see the movie so I’m assuming they wouldn’t care?)

    Also (and maybe being Asian* I’m hyper-sensitive about this), the only other Asian* character in M. Night Shyamalan’s entire filmography is the cartoonishly obnoxious Korean neighbor in Lady in the Water who sticks out like a sore thumb and seems straight out of an In Living Color sketch. I’m certainly not saying Shyamalan is racist or a closet Nazi, but I do think one of the facts that get lost in our cycle of binary black/white daily outrage is that alot of times minorities are capable of being insensitive to other minorities as well, casting-wise or otherwise.

    *Yes, I’m also being insensitive and racist by saying “Asian” to mean East Asian; I’m well aware Shyamalan himself is (South) Asian and is also in all his own movies but I’m not going to write out “East” and “South” out every time.

  25. I hadn’t seen any of the show before the film was released, but I still knew enough to think the whitewashing was really blatant. The characters are clearly supposed to be Inuit or Asian, and the show itself takes inspiration from Asian rather than European myth and fantasy. It makes no sense to change the characters’ races like that.

    I also thought at the time that Shyamalan taking over another property might actually be good for him as a filmmaker. But then the reviews started rolling in, and I never bothered with the film.

  26. Unfortunately, in the UK, ‘bender’ is a homophobic insult.

  27. That makes so much sense to hear that the brother is comic relief in the cartoon. In the live action he’s such a bland character, it’s a shame. I also didn’t like that he had to always disagree with Katara and they would bicker about stuff before they did it. I know that’s a standard method of creating drama but I kept thinking how much cooler it would be if instead they were just a badass brother and sister who were on the same page and got shit done.

    ahv – I have always been interested in race issues, and it seems to be more on my mind lately. I CAN’T IMAGINE WHY.

    If you want me to talk about it less then see what you can do about getting rid of Trump, smashing the Nazis of the internet and fixing the systemic racism that plagues our justice system, voting, etc.

  28. “I literally do not understand the “Netflix’s Death Note is WHITEWASHING!” controversy”

    Me neither, it’s no different than the remake of THE RING, in changing the setting to America they cast both a white and black actor as the two leads, so what? It doesn’t have to be anyone in particular if the setting is changed to the US.

    @Beans – I learned about that from Ali G, where Cohen in character as Bruno interviewed a British skinhead who says to him “your mustache, it’s a bender’s mustache.”

  29. Never saw the movie, but I really disliked the cartoon. It’s not just that I already hate the real Anime style, but when it’s done by an American studio to cash in on a trend, it REALLY pisses me off! (I guess calling it “animated yellow face” would go a bit too far, though.)
    Then people praised the writing of the show, but whenever I bothered to watch an episode, I must have picked a wrong one, because the stories were some really basic kids show crap like: “Hero encounters a bunch of imprisoned fighters who gave up fighting, tries to convince them to fight, but they only change their mind after hero fights the enemy alone and almost gets killed”.

    In conclusion: Watch SAMURAI JACK.

  30. ahv – I feel bad about my response before. I should’ve been nicer and more patient. The answer is that I don’t usually see movies as escapism, I love that they can entertain us while also telling us about our world, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Why do you think I’m so obsessed with THEY LIVE? I’m interested in the subtext of action movies, and since we now have a straight up white supremacist as president openly promoting straight up white supremacy it feels more urgent to find and discuss movies about these issues.

    If this was a new thing for me I can understand how it could be disconcerting, but I’ve been writing about this stuff for getting damn near 20 years. And I mean I wrote Seagalogy mainly because of my fascination with the political themes in Seagal’s movies. I hope you will stick around and be open to this type of analysis when it comes up.

  31. I love the cartoon. Having gotten that out, I was at least expecting some of the things that makes it so good to be in the film.

    Apart from the horrible racial casting, they got the Avatar all wrong. Aang is a goofball kid who wants to have fun. Sure he has a big load on his shoulders and eventually he starts to feel it but he is the cheerful one in the group. Yes Soka is the comic relief but Aang is the happy one. He has a sense of wonder and no matter how many times he is dissapointed, he rarely loses his cheerful disposition (and when he does, it is for good reason). He is not the frowning gloomy martial arts fighting kid that is in the film. And it made all the difference in a negative way that is.

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