Dear God, no.
If you are a fan of the cartoon, The Last Airbender is the film equivalent to a running jump kick to the scrotum. Or maybe if you're a female fan it's like...a bikini wax? Either way, the bottom line is that it's painful to watch. What was so bad about it, you ask? Where to begin...
Right away Shyamalan shows us he has chosen to go with the three book format of the TV show (Book One: Water, Book Two: Earth, Book Three: Fire). This first installment is Book One. While this is cool in theory, the entirety of Book One needs much more than an hour and fourty minute movie to cover everything. Rather than three movies, they should have planned to stretch it to six. That may seem unrealistic, but considering the path they chose to take in terms of storyline, it is necessary for a well developed adaptation. Shyamalan chose to stick to the original plot, but there just isn't enough time to do that in one movie.
As far as the plot is concerned, it follows pretty closely with the first season of the cartoon, but in the laziest and most unimaginative way. You know when a TV is about to end a season or series and they play a recap episode right before the finale? That is The Last Airbender in a nutshell, just a lazily condensed version of a twenty episode cartoon series. Every major plot point is forced to happen so fast that they feel underdeveloped.
Speaking of underdeveloped...it's possible to say that about nearly every character. The histories of each character, which in the cartoon were done through flashbacks, are done via bad dialogue. There is an age old rule of storytelling: Show, don't tell. Call me crazy, but I thought one of the benefits of the old moving picture was to be able to depict events, rather than have the characters literally tell us what's happened.
Newcomer Noah Ringer, a child karate champion with no other film or TV appearances to his credit, plays the role of the titular Last Airbender. His inexperience definitely shows onscreen. It seems like they told him that as long as he delivers his lines with a big smile or a big frown, it will seem believable. Unfortunately, this isn't the case. As it is with many child actors, you can tell the kid is acting. Seems dumb to say, but you know what I mean.
In the “pet peeve” department, we have the unnecessary change in the pronunciation of the character names; In the film, Aang is changed to “Ong,” uncle Iroh is pronounced uncle “Eeroh, and Sokka is changed to “So-ka.” This doesn't to add authenticity to the movie. It only irritates fans.
One of the things that made the TV show cool was its Chinese/asian aesthetic. In the movie, the ethnic ambiguity of many of the actors took away from that vibe. For instance, in a tribe of people that would logically look like Eskimos, we see the extremely white grandmother of Sokka and Katara. You can say I'm being picky, but to me it was legitimately distracting.
And finally, we have the “bending,” the reason most people are going to see this movie in the first place. While the CGI was well done, the actual element bending scenes just weren't that cool, except for maybe the very end of the movie. There needed to be more of them done more creatively...and with about half as much Tai Chi.
In the end, The Last Airbender is a soulless adaptation. It lacks all the charm and humor of its source material. The one thing that confuses is me is how M. Knight Shyamalan saw the final cut of this movie in the editing room and said to himself “Yup. This is it!” I'm hoping the money men behind this movie don't give up and give us a better effort on a second installment (without Shyamalan).
There were a few other things that I didn't get a chance to touch on. What about you? Do you disagree/agree about the movie's overall quality? Let me know.