The Last Airbender

a film by M. Night Shyamalan

We should all know by now just how bad a filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan really is. If a succession of films that include the ridiculous (and progressively worse) Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water and The Happening were not proof enough, then his latest "work", the ludicrous The Last Airbender should seal the proverbial (and quite outrageously laughable) deal. Yet somehow, Shyamalan manages to go above and beyond the mere label of bad director, surpassing even those dime-a-dozen Hollywood hacks who churn out mediocrity after mediocrity as if on some sort of humdrum assembly line; and almost seems as if he is consciously attempting to make the point (and seemingly damn proud of it at that!) that he is indeed the most preposterous filmmaker working today - hands down.

Taking flack from all sides, Shyamalan's The Last Airbender (changing its name from the TV series' moniker of Avatar for obvious billion dollar reasons) seems to be as hated by lovers of the show as it is for those of us who like and want good cinema. There have also been complaints of racism from those who think the casting of Caucasian actors in place of the animated series' mostly Asian-looking characters and pitting them against the evil horde of darker-skinned fire lords is a somewhat backwards sounding message to the PC outlook of forward thinking progressives. This though is a complaint that should be put to rest considering Shyamalan's own darker-skinned heritage (did I just defend the man!?). No matter which way you look at it though, Shyamalan is just one hell of a god-awful filmmaker. Perhaps it is cheap criticism to attack Shyamalan the way I do (and have for years!), but at some point you just have to let loose - even if that is deemed inappropriate by societal standards (not to mention Shyamalan's own childish attacks on those critics who have dared to call the man incompetent).

You see, I could sit here all day and night taking pot shots at Shyamalan. It would be easy - and a bit fun I must admit. I could mention how atrocious of a screenwriter he is, twisting around the most bizarre plot points in failed attempts at creating some sort of non-existent Hitchcockian ideal - an ideal that Shyamalan will most likely never even come close to reaching no matter how much he desires it. I could mention the director's rather pretentious penchant for the most convoluted tales full of improbably outrageous plots that inevitably waiver somewhere between the insipid and the inane. Overblown plots indeed, but still plots seemingly written by simpletons to be watched by simpletons (and even then everything needs to be explained over and over again as if we really were simpletons!). Though I believe the nonsensical absurdity and childish frivolity of The Last Airbender storyline is more the creators of the original Nickelodeon series than Shyamalan himself (did I just defend the man, again!?).

I could mention how Shyamalan has no grasp whatsoever on how to get his actors to actually act with any semblance of realism. Even the usually great Cliff Curtis seems ham-handed with the simply terrible stilted dialogue he is forced to work with, while everyone else runs the gamut from simply pathetic to just downright god awful. Of course these are quite vapid characters being portrayed by even more vapid actors. It would take someone with the audacious 'fuck you' flare of Nic Cage to actually present Shyamalan's nauseous dialogue with any sort of true chutzpah - and even then it would have to be in a totally satiric manner and not the uber-seriousness associated with Shyamalan's cinematic self-righteous platitudes. Even the unexplainable insanity of Lady in the Water's idiotic mythologies or the 'running from the wind' chase scenes in the beyond unbelievable The Happening cannot compare to the mind-numbing awfulness of what is going on in and around The Last Airbender.

I could also mention how the director is barely capable of properly placing the camera somewhere, let alone knowing what to do with it once it is there, or how he wouldn't know how to stage a martial arts action sequence if the ghost of Akira Kurasawa had crawled up his ass and puppeteered him from beyond the grave and below the colon. The director's use of special effects and overblown CGI are awful enough to be called the worst of a long line of post Lord of the Rings action franchise attempts from The Golden Compass to The Bridge of Terabithia to the dull panderings of the Narnia series. I could mention all these things - and more!! - but I should be above such lower level antics, so I will not mention how I could spend hours going through the thesaurus and coming up with synonyms for awful and ridiculous and preposterous to toss around willy-nilly throughout this review. Words such as contemptible or derisory or gelastic or outlandish or perhaps half-baked, hare-brained or even asinine. But I will not lower myself to such a level, for I am above such things - he said with a snarky grin upon his film critic face.

In defense of the man though, Shyamalan hasn't always been this incompetent - this appalling of a filmmaker. He started out on (sorta) the right foot. His breakthrough hit, The Sixth Sense, though not quite deserving of all its rather inexplicable accolades (and/or its Oscar nominations) is a capably crafted film with some artistic merit. Even Unbreakable is worth a second look perhaps (though this has more to do with Willis and Sam Jackson than Shyamalan). But after the pseudo-silliness of Signs, it was all downhill - and faster and more accurately aimed toward the bottom one could not possibly be. By this point, anyone with even half a brain, more than expects each Shyamalan film to be worse than the one before it. In fact I think I would actually be disappointed if Shyamalan were to ever make a good film again. But then, I do not think that is a worry that need be pressed. The only reason I do not give this movie my lowest possible rating (no stars) is the mere fact that my desire to not be disappointed in such a way actually elevates my giddiness in watching such a movie as this. In some perverse way, it delights me to see Shyamalan fail again and again and again. Perhaps this same said perverse delight is enough to get me written into the next Shyamalan film as some sort of pathetic villain devoured by some sort of nasty and nonsensical Shyamalanian creature. Top of the world ma!

Yet in the end, perverse delight or not, piling arrogance upon arrogance upon arrogance, M. Night Shyamalamadingdong, has dug himself the most enormous hole this side of Ed Wood, and there is simply no climbing out of it now. But then even Ed Wood had a camp sense to his work that placed him somewhere on the other side of bad looking in. The only thing Shyamalan has going for him is that with his next movie, if things keep on the same sliding scale the director has been working with for a decade now, The Last Airbender won't look all that bad comparatively speaking. Then again, instead of The Last Airbender, this could end up being The Last Shyamalan - but then where would I get my perverse kicks from!? [07/07/10]