It’s bad. But is it that bad?
I’ll preface my analysis with a little background. I first watched The Last Airbender in 2011, and, having never seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, I knew it wasn’t great, but I really didn’t understand why it got quite the level of hatred that it did. Having since partaken in the beloved Nickelodeon source material, I understand a little more of the fan outrage, but still feel that this movie has a few overlooked qualities that were swept away by the sheer force of its detractors.
Based in a world split into four nations, each named after a core element, The Last Airbender is the live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon series of (almost) the same name.
It’s widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, with criticisms leveled at its every aspect, but having recently rewatched it, I think that this assessment might be a little unfair.
One of the movie’s few irredeemable crimes is its awful, awful dialogue. It plays as though it was written by one of the show’s seven year old fans, and the actors’ delivery of their abysmal lines does nothing to help the poor writing. Its story isn’t without its issues, but no more so than your average young-adult fantasy franchise.
That said, it’s predominantly an action/fantasy heavily inspired by Asian culture and martial arts, and in that respect, there’s a reasonable amount of solid physical acting on display, especially when you consider that the movie’s core cast consists of children.
While the action sequences are far from perfect, they’re fairly well-executed, with solid VFX and plenty of love shown to the source material’s style.
Overall, The Last Airbender looks okay. Not beautiful, but there’s only a handful of times where the CGI is noticeably bad, and its otherwise a passable, colourful, believable fantasy world.
While it’s not a remarkable movie, it’s watchable, and it’s enjoyable. So why did it get such bad press?
If you’ve seen the original show, you’ll likely know the answer. The Last Airbender’s issues almost exclusively came from the incessant tampering with the source material in one way or another, resulting in it playing out less like the well-loved show and more like a generic, uninteresting Hollywood cash-grab. It’s not the movie fans were upset by, as much as the insult it paid to their intelligence.
Summary: It’s not a good movie, but that doesn’t make it inherently bad. It’s got plenty of issues, but it still somehow manages to be objectively entertaining, and it serves a good introduction to the world for those who didn’t watch the Nickelodeon original.