Review: The Last Airbender

(PG) *

Director: M. Night Shyamalan.

Cast: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Toub, Cliff Curtis.

THE fall of M. Night Shyamalan continues with this poorly scripted adaptation of the popular and critically acclaimed Nickelodeon cartoon.

After his early brilliance (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village), Shyamalan is looking less like the next Alfred Hitchcock and more like the next Ed Wood, and as a writer/director/producer he has no one to blame but himself for this amateurish mess.

The Last Airbender is set in a fantasy world of four nations, each centred around an element (air, fire, water, earth), where gifted people are able to control or "bend" the elements to their will.

But the domination of the Fire Nation has brought the other tribes under their control and only the return of the Avatar, who can manipulate all four elements, will bring the world back into balance.

It's a shame this film doesn't work because of the neat premise. Fans of the cartoon are likely to be disappointed by such a ham-fisted rendition which, while close to the plot of the source, turns the story into an endless stream of exposition.

Shyamalan bungles almost everything in this film. Not only is it entirely humourless but it lacks a serious heart or message to go with it, despite the TV show being big on intelligent themes.

Then there's the action scenes. The last-minute decision to go 3D adds nothing to the movie, except dulling the visuals to the point where in the climactic night-time battle it's hard to tell the good guys in dark blue from the bad guys in black, removing any sense of tension.

When we do get an elemental battle in the daylight, the effects are solid but the fights for the most part are poorly staged and lack any real punch.

But the worst part is undoubtedly the script, which clunks and groans all the way under the weight of it's own exposition - tragically and unforgivably, it fails to tell a good story.

It's a shame, because the ideas behind The Last Airbender are promising, and star Noah Ringer has good potential as Aang, the airbender of the title.

But unless Shyamalan lifts his game, its hard to see audiences rushing back for the planned sequels.

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