Airspeed’s Editorials – The Last Airbender, Why I enjoy it!
Airspeed Prime here once again with an Editorial. The last two seemed to get some nice reactions so I may make them more regular than I originally planned, depends on if I will have a good stream of topics to write about.
With that in mind, I will get straight into the topic.
The Last Airbender, Why I enjoy it!
Given what I am talking about I feel the need to clarify before I begin, I would usually not bother to make it clear how I feel before I get into the post, but with The Last Airbender I feel it is a must. Overall I think The Last Airbender is an Ok movie, I do not think it is great nor do I think it is terrible, the main thing is that whenever I watch it, I enjoy it. For me whenever I enjoy something I can never say that I hated it. So when I say I enjoy the movie it is not that I absolutely love it, it is mainly there to say that I do not hate this movie as many do.
So with that out of the way let me explain what this post is about. My aim is to really analyse this movie and explain why I enjoyed it, which I think should be interesting as I know I am in a huge minority. The main reason I have chosen this topic is because I feel that it is near impossible to actually have a discussion about this movie that does not just descend into a battle to show who hates it more. I actually find that the few times I have had a reasoned discussion about this movie that they have been some of the most interesting back and forths I have ever had. The main example I will give is the episode of The Avatar Online Podcast where we discussed the movie, it is one of my favourite podcasts we have done because we managed to have a really interesting and reasoned discussion when on the outset it looked like it would just be endless arguments.
That podcast featured myself, Callum, Kelly and Rich. I knew going in the roles we would all play in the discussion, I would be the most positive, Callum was neutral in that he neither loved it or hated it and Kelly and Rich both heavily disliked the movie. So what I said in the planning of the episode was for everyone to have 2 lists of points: Positives and Negatives. Meaning that those who hated the movie would have to eventually bring up some moments they liked and I, who would usually focus on the positives, would have to mention my negatives. It worked better than I had imagined, in that I found that I disagreed with many of the positives that Kelly and Rich had and they liked some of the things I did not like. None of this would have happened had I not tasked everyone with being more open when it came to compiling discussion topics.
Yes, I know I have still yet to get to starting the actual topic, but these paragraphs above are there for a reason. Regardless of how good The Last Airbender is, it is an interesting movie to talk about when you get past the crazy amount of hate. So while I have many negatives about the movie myself, the movie has a lot of concepts I like, and it is these concepts that this post will focus on. For those of you who hate the movie you may actually find some of my negatives, which I will also talk about here, interesting.
So let me now introduce why I will mainly be talking about concepts. I think one thing that is often forgotten about the movie is that it is not, and was never meant to be a carbon copy of the show. It is in fact a different continuity, more specifically a new take on the same basic story of ATLA. So while many hate the movie for these exact reasons, anything different than the show is instantly a negative, I enjoy the movie because of these differences. Yes, there are some baffling changes, but this movie does throw a focus on some nice concepts that even the show did not really cover. It is for this reason that I find this movie interesting and thus enjoyable, I would have hated this movie if it had attempted to copy the show in every single way, at that point why bother making a movie, just watch the show again.
Now, at last, the first topic. Waterbending. I think in a few ways the movie explored the philosophy behind waterbending better than the show. Of course no one really struggled with waterbending in the show, but in the end it was the one element we did not really get explored in depth in terms of the ideas behind it. We got push and pull and an episode 1 mention that it was made more powerful by emotions, but the movie in many ways is based around the philosophy behind it and just as important, how it links into Aang dealing with the loss of his people. In the show this ended up being resolved in The Guru when Aang dealt with how he felt about the loss of his people. While in the movie Aang really struggles with his emotions, how he feels about his people which is responsible for his struggle to fully connect with waterbending. He is not letting his emotions flow, he is not letting himself feel the loss, you know there are powerful emotions being held back as shown when he attempts to strike back in a sparring match and nearly waterbends all of the water in the city. So when he is told that the key to ending the siege is to show the power of water, he knows what needs to be done and in an, in my opinion, epic moment he lets his emotions flow, enters the Avatar state and fully connects with the ideals behind waterbending. I feel this is something that could have been explored in the show in this way, this is a concept that the movie created, but has all of its basis in stuff set up in the show, just executed in a unique way. I was fascinated throughout the movie by Aang dealing with his emotions and how it affected his waterbending training.
I know a big criticism of Aang in the movie is that he is too serious and to some extent I agree, but people only say that because the show established that. In my opinion, it makes sense that Aang in this whole movie is not that cheery like he is in the show. This Aang as explained above is more affected by the loss of his people and the movie ends with him letting his emotions flow, which I think would lead to him being more like the show Aang if they did a second movie. That would be good development.
A similar concept is that Aang only fully takes on the role of the Avatar at the very end of this movie. While Aang in the show accepts it much earlier. It is a difference I like, because I loved the idea of him not accepting the people bowing to him as the Avatar and then at the end accepting it. More than that, he is still unsure, he knows he has to be the Avatar, but knows it will not be a difficult journey. Again each concept works because of the way each continuity portrays their Aang, movie Aang is more serious and struggles more to accept the role while show Aang being more upbeat has that extra confidence to take on the role earlier. In short I really like movie Aang because he is so different, I feel like show Aang would not work that well in the movie.
There are 2 concepts I enjoyed, now for something I disliked. Sokka in this movie. Quite simply, he is given no screentime and thus has no time to actually become a character. Again I would have no problem if they had explored Sokka as more of a serious warrior, but they didn’t explore anything about him. I think his relationship with Yue is actually done reasonably well given the silly low amount of time they are given to interact. It is one minor positive in an otherwise negative character.
As for my second dislike, Why on earth did they decided to replace Avatar Roku with an unnamed Spirit Dragon. I can sort of see a concept they were going for, but because the dragon was never named Roku or Fang it just felt so unnecessary. All of the Dragon’s advice would have had so much more impact had they come from a character we knew was the previous Avatar, I would have understood why a past Avatar could give the current Avatar so much advice, but a random dragon he happens to meet in the spirit world, Why should I care about this spirit?
Now on to another concept I liked. Movie Firebending. Yes, one of the most controversial things about the movie, the idea that firebenders require a source of fire to bend and only certain firebenders can create their own fire. I like it because of how nicely linked into another concept I like it is, that being that the movie makes such an effort to make it clear that the fire nation are so powerful and are winning the war mainly because of their technology and machines. Basically their technology makes up for the limitations of their bending, they carry sources of fire around in machines and their first attack is usually to launch fire sources into cities they are attacking. The show implies this, but never really states that technology alone is responsible for them winning. Air techology plays a big role in the end of the show, but before 117 it is never made clear that technology is the fire nation’s biggest strength. I love the way these two concepts combine to make the fire nation super interesting in the movie and again different to the show.
Add to this that instead of exploring lighting redirection, they seem to have replaced it with the power of firebenders creating their own fire. This is the way they show Iroh is crazy powerful and more than likely had the movies continued it would have been the ability that Iroh thought Zuko and that Ozai doesn’t have. It is a nice way of making certain firebenders unique without lightning or redirection. Β Not to mention the idea that the comet grants all firebenders that power in this continuity, that is huge given the concepts outlined in the paragraph above, it makes the race to beat the comet so much more powerful.
In my opinion the worst part of the movie is the script, I think MNS does a reasonable job at directing the movie, but the fact that it is him doing the script is what brings this movie down. For me I see MNS in the same way I see Michael Bay, both can shoot scenes fairly well, but they really struggle with directing actors with dialogue. The one thing I will say about the script is that I think given the insane task of getting Book 1′s story across in just 90 minutes that he just about succeeded in getting the main arcs of Book 1 across. Book 1 also has a format that does not lend itself at all to a movie adaptation since there are so many new places and the general story is “Get to the NWT fast”. It is the execution of the script where the movie falls down a lot. Quite simply the movie is way too short, characters like Sokka are give little to no screentime to actually develop and the movie is so fast paced because it has to cover about 440 minutes of show story in about 90. Meaning there is not that much time to take a break and give the characters a chance to talk and develop.
One criticism of the movie I cannot agree with in full is that the actors are universally bad. Obviously there is controversy over the casting, which I will not discuss here. I too was a bit shocked when I saw the cast, but I then game who was cast a chance. Dev Patel as Zuko for me was the stand-out actor in the movie, he is by far the most accurate to the show and you can tell he knew the character. Sure he had some bad lines, but I would not blame that on the actor, that is the script bringing the actors down. A scene unique to the movie is when he asks a little boy to tell him what he knows about Zuko, he is undercover and trying to show his uncle why he needs to regain his honour, I think it is really effective and explains why he is so eager to redeem himself, so the people no longer only know him as “The Banished Prince”.
Nicola Peltz as Katara I think does a solid job, she is not quite given the same focus as Katara gets in the show, but when she has a moment I think she captured Katara well.
I simply cannot comment much on Jackson Rathbone’s performance as he was given nothing to work with, he is just there. I see so little character with this Sokka and it is not his fault so I don’t know if he is good or bad.
Noah Ringer did a great job in his first big acting role, he had to put in a big physical performance in the action scenes and really surprised me with his portrayal of an emotional movie Aang. Again not helped at all by some of the lines he was given “Some monks can meditate for x days” being a huge offender.
Shaun Toub worked quite well as Iroh, he was not quite the Iroh I expected in terms of appearance, but he did well in terms of the character. He had some nice humour and emotional moments with Dev.
Aasif Mandvi I enjoy simply because movie Zhao is so completely different that show Zhao, the performance is so over the top that it is hilariously good. I love his intro “Ohh the banished prince, lets offer them tea” with his eyes wide open and smiling.
Cliff Curtis as Ozai, I have a big issue with mainly because he is not imposing or scary at all. This is the big villain of the whole series and he is just this well spoken lord in this movie who is a bit cruel. I don’t have too much of an issue with the performance, but I just don’t get what the idea of movie Ozai was. Why did they feature him so much and not stick closer to the show and have him be a mystery up until the end.
I think I will leave it there, I could probably go on for ages about this bring up more positives and negatives, but I think on the whole you can see the way I think about this movie. While I don’t think it is great as a movie, it has a lot of great ideas that made it different, and I can appreciate it for taking a risk and making TLA different to ATLA and not just a carbon copy. For a more analytical view on this let me use critic ratings as an example, on Rotten Tomatoes TLA has just 6%, this I would not agree with at all. That is an insanely low score, If I was to score it out of 100 I would give it somewhere between 45 and 55 out of 100 and that is me being very harsh.
I now await the baffled responses to the shocking revelation that I actually enjoyed the movie!
Please post below if you have a topic you think would make for a good editorial.
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