Shyamalan’s ‘Airbender’ burned by critics

M. Night Shyamalan’s movie adaptation of Nickelodeon’s much-loved Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon has been controversial from the casting on down, spawning an entire movement of fans disappointed to see nearly all the leads in the Asian-inspired series cast as Caucasians. That’s been hard to miss, at least if you’re in fandom. But the film is opening this week and the reviews are brutal – even without the casting issue.

The grand poobah of movie reviewers, Roger Ebert, calls it “an agonizing experience.” While I’m not sure where he’s getting some of his facts,* little is spared from his critique, including ILM’s effects. (Ouch.)

*The story takes place in the future? Not in the cartoon. Misunderstanding or Shyamalanism?

Other reviewers aren’t much kinder: It’s currently running at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes. And even one of the few positive reviews calls Shyamalan’s script “wooden.”

While it’s hard to predict the reaction of consumers who propelled the brain-sucking Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to #2 at the box office last year, between Shyamalan’s reeling reputation, the already overwhelmingly negative reviews, and the alienation of a core base of fans, things aren’t looking so good.

The most we can hope for is that the cartoon comes out unscathed: For fans, I can recommend Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Art of the Animated Series, which I finished this afternoon. It’s art and sketches from the original show, a nice look into the world the cartoon, and if you like Art of books, it’s hard to go wrong.

7 thoughts on “Shyamalan’s ‘Airbender’ burned by critics

  1. Orlana

    I’m still going to see it, despite the reviews. I’ve learned to disregard critics due to my personal tastes.

    I’m also not listening to the fandom whining over the casting. As soon as the complaints over Dev Patel being Zuko because he’s Indian rather than Chinese because “clearly the Fire Nation represents China” I was done with listening to them. Fandoms will find anything to bitch about.

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  2. Dunc Post author

    I was considering seeing it. I don’t like the casting, but what really turned me off was the actual footage: Everyone, particularly Aang, just seemed so grim and humorless, which is completely contradictory to the series. The reviews are just the final nail in the coffin.

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  3. Mark "Jedi" Hurliman

    I didn’t see race playing into the cartoon as much as the media is jumping on this. I loved the cartoon, and still plan on seeing this movie. I always saw Aang as a little bald Caucasian, I saw Asian influences up the wazoo, but the water benders seemed Eskimo, and the Fire benders “looked” Caucasian. I always figured the cartoon was a lot like Firefly in that respect. So I’m not going to let the color of a characters skin ruin a good story. So I’m going to judge the movie based on how well it jives with the story of the cartoon.

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  4. Lilith

    It’s always a disappointment to see the racebending movement classified as the disgruntlement of hard-to-please fans and not the civil rights movement that it is. As it stands, there is some satisfaction in the end that the movie was panned so thoroughly with its present casting otherwise its failure would have been blamed on its having an ethnic leading cast.

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  5. Dunc Post author

    Now, I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure that the point of the racebending movement is that this was Hollywood’s chance to use minority actors in lead roles, and they didn’t.

    Mark: The Waterbenders being inspired by the Inuit is part of their point. (Along with the Airbenders and Tibetan Buddism and the Fire Nation being a dead ringer for Imperial Japan.) The complaints aren’t so much that the races aren’t exact to their inspirations as that they just aren’t being played by minorities, period. If Dev Patel (Zuko) was instead playing Sokka, along with an actress of Indian decent as Katara, they COULD be written off as just “the disgruntlement of hard-to-please fans.”

    The cartoon style is based on anime, and you get the big eyes in anime because the style derives a lot from Disney (I mean, look at most anime: Do those characters ‘look’ Asian? Yet many of those shows are set in Japan.)

    The great irony here is that the new Karate Kid, which doesn’t have any white stars at all, is having a pretty good run at the box office. Of course there are many factors there (80′s nostalgia, an established action star, the Smiths, good reviews) that ‘Airbender’ doesn’t have, but if nothing else it proves that you don’t need a bunch of white kids to sell a movie.

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  6. Kelly

    Yes, grim and humorless. That is the main problem. It really lacks heart, especially in the characters that are very specifically humorous or goofy characters (Aang, Sokka, and Iroh.)

    But I didn’t think it was as awful as the reviews make it sound. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with it the way I did the cartoon, but it was a passable way to spend a couple hours.

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  7. Mark "Jedi" Hurliman

    Ok so I watched it- whoever thought it was set in the future clearly missed the point of the cartoon :) As for characters- I’d have swapped Sokka, Katara and Uncle Iro. The rest I didn’t have a big problem with. The issue that started to bug me- aung and awvatar? I mean come on M. Night- you family watched the show! Did you watch it MUTED! They GIVE you the pronunciation! And they should have kept all bending to a 300 style slow fight since every time they did it real time it felt so slow. Other wise I enjoyed seeing many scenes from the show brought to life! I would have preferred I think that the cartoon cast doubled their voices over the characters- While the kid who played Aang was a dead ringer IMO he and many actors just didn’t sound convincing. I am still looking forward to the rest of the trilogy. Despite the “little things” :)

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