THE LAST AIRBENDER 2/4
Paramount Pictures, Rated PG
After twilight comes night. That’s true on a daily basis as the sun sets and the moon enters our field of vision, and it’s also true in the movies, where the third Twilight film—Eclipse—saw a release last Wednesday and an opening gross of more than $160 million. Sitting in its shadow is Night—M. Night Shyamalan, to be specific—and The Last Airbender, an exotic 3-D battle of the boys blockbuster hitting theaters two days later.
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And though both movies share immortal kid protagonists and minors who get to kick adult butt, comparisons and audience preferences end there. For while Twilight: Eclipse, in its third redundant installment, can stand as a story in its own right every time, The Last Airbender, which is based on the popular Nickelodeon animated series, is more likely to appeal to—and be readily comprehended by—its devoted fan base.
Teeming with Eastern mystical sensibilities and Western special effects and lush visuals, The Last Airbender unfolds as a chaotic fantasy world with a mix of ancient and futuristic elements, as antagonistic nations embodying Air, Water, Earth and Fire brace for war. Joining together in the struggle against the Fire Nation for world domination is girl waterbender Katura (Nicola Peltz), her teenage warrior brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, also currently sinking his teeth into Eclipse), and Aang (Noah Ringer). Aang is the gifted airbender boy in question, who can bring ferocious imperialist armies to their knees with a supernatural talent for wind control wizardry, and whose unchallenged superpower leads him to be fast-tracked as the rumored Avatar—the only martial arts magician in eternal existence who can dominate and pacify all others.
For those unfamiliar with the television series, the narrative is not likely to be of much interest or worth the effort to decipher and seems to dangle from the elaborate array of special effects as a mere afterthought. But there’s no denying M. Night Shyamalan is a cinematic Avatar in his own right, and a bender of amazingly crafted, mesmerizing visuals that entrance onscreen. If only the inconsequential story matched the exquisite, dazzling imagery. Instead, it woefully pales in comparison.