Should've called it The Hot Air Bender, and this film doesn't so much bend it as it does blow it around. There are a number of adjectives that came immediately to my mind whilst watching the latest claptrap from fallen one M. Night Shyamalan, but I believe the technical term is “God-awful”.
Aang (pronounced “un”, as in “unbearable”) is the Avatar; the last of a long line of Airbenders who has the power not only to manipulate the air around him, but also the elements of earth, water, and fire. Threatened by his potential might, the Fire Nation, and the moody Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), hunt him down from land to land, but Aang gets by with a little help from his friends, Katara and Sokka of the Southern Water Nation, and his pet, a 4-tonne beaver/polar-bear/yak hybrid that can fly.
You'd think a premise as fantastical as that would make for something pretty entertaining, but abandon hope, all ye who enter here, for there's no fun to be had. The action is weak, and the overall tone is solemn yet half-hearted. And who's to blame for this? Much ado has been made over the almost exclusive casting of white actors when the cartoon on which the film is based has a distinct Asian composition (the only foreign actors we see here are the bad guys, figures), but the simple truth is that even with racially sensitive casting this film would still have sucked. It's easy to blame the bad performances, but no actor could've sold the dialogue Shyamalan is peddling here, which is often so atrocious it makes you want to drop whatever you're doing and proceed to kill yourself in the most cinematically gruesome manner possible (a la The Happening, his previous dud). Serves me right for giving M. Night the benefit of the doubt, but it's as much Paramount's fault as it is his own. The studio's have got to stop giving him a free ride. Make him stop writing his own scripts. Tell him “no”. The man's got talent has a director but I'm getting sick of watching him squander every opportunity that comes his way. If he can't make mystical element-bending cool, or at least fun, he needs a wake-up call.
Saving graces? Not many. The ever-proficient Randy Thom provides quality sound effects and a pretty damn good mix now that I think about it, and James Newton Howard's music is acceptable, but that's about as close to complimentary as I can get to this flop. It should consider itself lucky if it manages a single Oscar nomination.
* out of ****