It had better be the last. How did M. Night Shyamalan go from being touted as heir apparent to Hitchcock and Spielberg (often by himself) after his trend-setting 1999 jack-in-the-box thriller “The Sixth Sense” to the writer-director of the murky, shapeless, retro-fitted, 3-D bomb “The Last Airbender?”
The film, which is a live-action adaptation of a Nickelodeon Asian-anime-influenced cartoon series, is supposed to be the start of a new movie franchise.
It begins bewilderingly with the brother-sister team of Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, also of “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”) hunting a tiger seal in some phoney-looking, murky, northern waste where the background keeps turning into foreground thanks to a poorly done 3-D conversion.
There they find Aang (Taekwondo whiz Noah Ringer in a role originally conceived as Asian), a boy with a shaved head, arrow-shaped tattoo on his forehead, a burgundy cloak with a hood and yellow pants and shirt.
Aang is an avatar (the film was originally titled “Avatar”). That means he is capable of controlling not just one element -- air, water, fire, earth -- but all four, although not when the audience first meets him. Aang was raised by monks, although he might have said monkeys. The film's unlikely warrior trio sails around their world, on a furry, unaerodynamic creature that looks like a fugitive from “Where the Wild Things Are.”
What follows is a derivative, often unwatchable hash of “Star Wars,” “Dune,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “Kung Fu.” Aang teams up with Katara and Sokka to foment rebellion against evil “Fire Lords” led by hissable Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi). In a parallel narrative, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire”) must prove his worthiness after being rebuked by his father Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis). To do this, he must capture the avatar.
Between computer-generated fights in which characters hurl water, earth, wind and fire at one another, everybody talks like Yoda. Someone kills the “moon spirit” and Aang takes meditative trips to a netherworld where he talks to a dragon.
There is another problem that needs addressing. The Nickelodeon series, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzk, is wholly and inarguably centred on Asian (and Inuit) culture. But Shyamalan, who is of South Indian descent, for whatever reason chose to cast mostly white actors. Two fellow Indians (Dev Patel and Aasif Mandvi) play different kinds of villains, but otherwise this fantasy world is pretty white until you get to the extras.
Compiled by Correspondent