Last Airbender, The (2010)

Rated: PG for fantasy action violence.
Length: 103 minutes
Grade: CB+B-C=C
Budget: $150 million
Box Office: $ million (131 U.S., 187 Intl., 13 DVD)

Written and Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (Devil, The Happening, Lady in the Water, The Village, Signs, Unbreakable, and The Sixth Sense)
Starring: Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, and Nicola Peltz

Reborn into his current form as a young boy, the Avatar is the only one who can successfully communicate with the spirit world and manipulate all of the elements (air, earth, water, and fire), but he’s never been trained how. Now, the overgrown and evil Fire Nation has set out to take over the land, and an unlikely band of rebels must help the Avatar become his destiny and stop them.

Entertainment Value: C
M. Night Shyamalan’s career has really faltered. His early movies (Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village) were masterpieces. Since then, nothing but awful, frustrating movies. (Although I’ve heard good things about Devil.) This is a movie which was a big hit with our 6 and 4-year-old, but that’s mostly because of the cool effects and action sequences. They like shiny, I require shiny AND solid. It was painfully poor writing and acting in many parts, the sort of hackneyed result of trying to turn one thing (a successful three-year animated TV series) into another (a big-budget movie with live characters made by a different creative team). It also suffers from Shyamalan not being sure whether he’s making a war film, a relationship film, a martial arts film, or a religious drama. So he winds up making about one fourth of each of them, which amounts to cinematic gruel in the end. Nevertheless, the reason I’ve given it a C is because it is fairly fun, the kids will like it, and it’s either harmless or virtuous thematically.

Superficial Content: B+
Drugs/Alcohol A-, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B+, Language A
In one scene, people drink what may or may not be alcoholic. Language and sex are squeaky clean, which is very refreshing to see. The violence is the only issue, and it’s mostly pretty banal. There are only two deaths, one a self-sacrifice handled quite gently, and the other a battle barely shown. This is properly rated PG.

Significant Content: B-
This is going to go against the grain of what I would expect from most Christian reviewers, but that’s never stopped me before, has it? The overt aspects of this movie look bad: telekinetic powers, psychic communication with dragon spirits, and generally Buddhist-seeming philosophy. All true. Nevertheless, the true major themes here have to do with the dangers, arrogance, and power of technology (fire nation), the importance of humility, the necessity of restraint in using of power, and the ultimate goal of wielding power to redeem one’s enemies rather than merely vanquish them. There is a strong non-violence theme running through the movie, and one character even sacrifices her own life to give life back to another (albeit to a god-fish). Finally, there is a strong message about the dangers of pride and honor, which motivates one character to do very bad things to restore his name and reclaim the approval of his father. Also, mentors matter greatly, as they can turn good people toward evil or evil people toward good.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Again, there’s plenty you could talk about here with kids, who are the only ones who will really enjoy this. Reviewers have really trashed it. (Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 6 out of 100!) The one scene with Prince Zuko and Uncle Iroh is brilliant, where Zuko explains that he doesn’t care about girls because he’s so consumed with restoring his name.

Discussion Questions:
~The Avatar is continually reborn into new bodies. What does the Bible have to say about reincarnation?
~Why did Prince Zuko lose favor with his father? How does the desire to have it back twist his entire life around?
~Uncle Iroh chastises Commander Zhao for acting on his own. Why is it so important to cultivate a strong network of friends?
~Identify the mentors in this movie and discuss the influence they have on their tutees.
~Who in this movie has power and uses it in an evil way? Who in a good or loving way? Many movies have portrayed the users of technology as dangerous to evil. What do you think has been the moral influence of technology on the world?
Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Prince Zuko explaining his disgrace.
~Self-sacrifice at the pond.
~The end battle final resolution.
Overall Grade: C
In a world that never knew Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or the Narnia movies, this might have seemed effective. But those all do better what this does poorly. Nevertheless, clean and several good messages make it acceptable for kids despite the Eastern religious tone.

1 comment:

Naum said...

I know the critics panned this, but I enjoyed it.

It wasn't like the greatest movie ever or anything, but it was entertaining an artfully done, I thought.

I mean, how serious can someone take a story where the "water nation" is at war with the "fire nation"?