The Last Airbender
One hundred years ago, the nations of Air, Water, Earth and Fire lived in peace. In each kingdom were people of exceptional powers who were able to control and manipulate their respective elements. But then the Fire Nation began to burn for dominance. First they attacked the nomads of the Air, to insure they did not give birth to an Avatar—an individual capable of mastering all four elements. Then they began enslaving the citizens of Water and Earth, killing any who possessed the art of "bending".
Even though Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) live in a remote and snow covered corner of the world, the threat of the Fire Nation is ever present—especially after she finds she has a talent for bending water.
Then one day while out hunting, the pair stumbles upon a human figure frozen within a ball of ice. When Katara impetuously frees and revives the curiously tattooed boy, she is unaware that she is actually releasing Aang (Noah Ringer), the long lost Avatar. And his return doesn’t stay a secret very long.
Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), the disgraced son of the king of the Fire Nation, can think of no better way to redeem his honor than to capture the Avatar. Unfortunately, his father’s ambitious commander (Aasif Mandvi) also believes taking Aang as a prisoner will insure a promotion. Many battles ensue as the two compete for the prize. These martial arts conflicts feature weapons and hand-to-hand combat that are intricately choreographed and often played in slow motion.
Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Aang is a little unsure of his destiny. Afraid of the responsibility associated with his powerful role and not completely trained to carry it out, he looks to his newfound friends for support. And Katara and Sokka willingly join him on a voyage of discovery that will lead them across the globe searching for teachers (both mortal and spirital) who still know the secrets of bending, so he can one day restore balance to the people and elements.
Based on an animated TV series produced by Nickelodeon (the movie covers the first season, which was titled Book One: Water) this live action version will likely be appreciated by fans. Certainly the quality of the production is top notch, with amazing special effects. Parents too will find little fault with the sanitized portrayals of violence. (Despite all the battles there is no blood except for a cut lip and only a few characters appear to die.) Sexual content is limited to a kiss, and foul language is non-existent. Those sensitive to religious depictions should be aware that the script includes eastern philosophies and references to reincarnation.
Yet something is missing. Somehow the characters and the storyline remain flat regardless of the continuous conflicts and perilous moments (a surprise seeing how M. Night Shyamalan of The Sixth Sense fame directed and penned the screenplay). Perhaps it is because the plot speeds along, seldom stopping to build emotion. Or maybe there just isn’t a sense of escalation between war scenes. Whatever the reason, this lack of rise and fall may prove disappointing for those looking for an action-adventure rollercoaster.