The Last Airbender

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The Last Airbender

What a difference a decade makes. The last time M. Night Shyamalan tried to form a franchise, he made the idiosyncratic and relatively unpopular superhero story Unbreakable (2000). His adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender plays like a rejoinder to that film’s perceived flaws, which means that it’s been leeched of all personality and given a hack-blockbuster burnish. Any computer could have directed this mythological mishmash about a reincarnated boy named Aang (Ringer) and his fairy-tale quest to master the sorta--martial art called bending. (Just strike a lot of fancy, Far East--flavored poses, and control over the four elements—earth, air, fire and water—is yours.)

It’s a hell of a party trick, though Shyamalan visualizes Aang’s otherworldly powers with dull detachment. The camera swoops and the music blares, but we might as well be watching a tolerant, teeth-gritting parent filming his son’s karate class demonstration. Only Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel, as the bastard prince of the villainous Fire nation, truly gets jiggy with the fantasy. Everyone else stares off into green-screen space and waits for lunch to be called. A cliff-hanger ending, meanwhile, portends a series of sequels (this is but “Book One”). I smell another Golden Compass.)—Keith Uhlich

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