The Last Shyamalan, please

Last Airbender Shyamalan

M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is not believable. Though that’s not a surprise given this is the man behind that mermaid movie and the other movie where Marky Mark runs away from trees.

Instead of taking time with the characters (as the entertaining cartoon series does), we must listen to the characters recite banal, unconvincing dialogue belonging in one of two categories: directional (“Aang, we must go”) or expositional (“Sokka, I will treasure the last few weeks we have been with each other”).

Keep your jaw tight when it fits both: “We should go. The Avatar is still on the move,” or this gut-buster, “Aang, we should go to the Northern water tribes so they may teach you and stop in the smaller villages on the way to begin the rebellion.”

Claims regarding Shyamalan’s casting choices as racist do not seem outrageous and I should like to give Shyamalan the benefit of a doubt, but the casting of both poorly performing and white actors in a largely Asian (Aang) /Inuit (Sokka, Katara) world makes the issue more noticeable.

It is not believable to see the Southern water tribe resembling an Inuit community and for the only speaking roles within it reserved only for a white young girl, young man (paleface Jackson Rathbone of Twilight) and their white granny. This pattern continues throughout except for a few speaking roles that qualify as non-white and villainous.

Shyamalan has been quoted as taking full credit for the casting choices and it shows how little he regards the audience’s intelligence – if he trusted them, then he should have reproduced the world of Avatar without adding casting distractions to comfort his target audience.

As I understand it, suspension of disbelief means the audience surrenders to the filmmaker’s vision so completely that everything that follows is believable. Suspension of disbelief should not be an “artistic” excuse for doing whatever.

The special effects are not convincing either – how come nobody gets wet or burned?). The Last Airbender plot moves sporadically from one thing to another – the result is not a causal sequence-of-events or anything remotely believable but the same scene played ad nauseam (“Aang, we need you,” “Aang, I knew you were real all along,” “Aang, you have to let go”).

We should be drawn into the characters’ world as if we were born to it instead of the storyteller making up characters, explaining their every action and “authenticating” them with heads shaved on the side, silver hair and tatoos.

This review was originally posted in 2010.

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