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Top 10 Reasons The Last Airbender Film Is Hated

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden

What a twist: it sucks. For this list, we’re going over why “The Last Airbender” is such a despised film and considered a poor adaptation of its source material. Join WatchMojo as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Reasons The Last Airbender Film Is Hated.

Check out the voting page for this list and add your picks: https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+reasons+the+last+airbender+film+is+hated. Special thanks to our user glimmersprinkles for suggesting this idea!


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Script written by Garrett Alden

Top 10 Reasons The Last Airbender Film Is Hated

What a twist: it sucks. Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 reasons “The Last Airbender” film is hated.

For this list, we’re going over why “The Last Airbender” is such a despised film and considered a poor adaptation of its source material.

#10: The Tone Is Wrong

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a cartoon that expertly balances comedic and dramatic moments, with each mood rarely stepping on the other’s toes. In contrast, the movie barely has an intentional laugh to be found during its entire runtime, with an overly serious approach to the material and the few jokes it does have dead on arrival. Even the dramatic moments land flat because of … well, a whole lot of things we’ll get to later. Bottom line – an adaptation should capture the tone of the source material and “The Last Airbender” didn’t even try.

#9: Bad 3D Conversion

Following the boom in popularity of 3D movies in the 2000s, a host of big budget blockbusters set out to cash in on the craze. However, some of these were actually originally shot in 2D, and then converted after completion. “The Last Airbender” was one such example, and as in the case of other movies that tacked on the extra dimension in post-production, the results were widely panned as drab and unnecessary. The lackluster 3D only further enhanced the perception of “The Last Airbender” as a shoddy production.

#8: Incorrect Pronunciations

“The Last Airbender” did a lot of disservice to the show it’s based on, including dropping “Avatar” from its title to avoid confusion with James Cameron’s “Avatar.” But one of the more bizarre alterations is the fact that several names and words are consistently pronounced incorrectly. Frequently spoken words like “avatar” are butchered, despite being the focus of story. Worst of all, even the names of main characters, such as Aang and Sokka, are mispronounced! We could understand if the only source material had been a book or comic, but their names are spoken aloud in practically every episode of the series! It’s like no one on-set even watched the show!

#7: Bad Directing

Contrary to popular belief, M. Night Shyamalan isn’t the worst director ever. He has a distinctive style that works well for some material . . . just not for this one. Shyamalan’s hallmarks – awkward close-ups, static shots, cool colors, and emotionally distant characters, are all featured here, and feel especially jarring with the kind of warm and adventurous story he’s tasked with telling. Shyamalan’s inability to alter his style to bring the much more dynamic and lighthearted cartoon series to the big screen is one of the movie’s major shortcomings.

#6: Bad Acting

While it was tempting to put this under the umbrella of Shyamalan's bad directing, the bad acting in this movie is so front and center that it deserves an entry all on its own. Although a few members of the cast, such as Dev Patel, do their best with what they’re given, the majority of the performances in “The Last Airbender” make wood seem expressive. Monotone delivery and awkward facial expressions abound and to be honest, it’s hard to take anything seriously when we’re trying not to cringe or laugh at the delivery.

#5: Subpar Fight Scenes

Sometimes a mediocre movie can be saved by decent action. This is not one of those times. The fight scenes in the cartoon show utilize bending to complement the character’s movements and create fantastic, well-choreographed scenes. However, by comparison, the bending in “The Last Airbender” is absurd, requiring flurries of action for very little effect and with very little dynamic movement, from either the fighters or the camera. In fact, the “fights” look more like dances than battles with actual stakes; making them yet another aspect of the movie that’s hard to take seriously.

#4: They Stuffed the Whole First Season into One Movie

“The Last Airbender” is based on “Avatar”’s first season, “Book One: Water.” In order to condense 20 episodes of television into under 2 hours of runtime, massive swaths of plot had to be trimmed, including some key information that gives context to what’s going on and why; character development; and entire subplots that are important later on in the story. Unfortunately, instead of trying to adapt the story to the new medium, Shyamalan tries to throw in as much as he can, while omitting the smaller things that give the story life. Speaking of which…

#3: Exposition Dumping

One of the biggest rules of storytelling is “show, don’t tell.” M. Night Shyamalan must have forgotten about that one, since most of the dialogue in “The Last Airbender” is devoted to exposition. Characters speak to one another almost exclusively in terms of exposition, either outlining what they need to do next or giving context to actions taken by them or others through ham-fisted commentary; all often preceded by the words, “as you know.” If you want a story explained to you this way, we recommend Wikipedia.

#2: Incorrect Characterization

A badly told story can still be enjoyable if you like the characters, but “The Last Airbender” gets those wrong too. The Aang of the source material is a reluctant Avatar who loves having fun and feels burdened by his destiny, but his movie counterpart is relentlessly somber. Similarly, comic relief characters Sokka and Iroh lose their goofy natures, and only the latter retains his cunning. Zuko, while accurate in broad strokes, loses all his subtlety, as does the romance between Aang and Katara. Understanding the source material, especially the characters, is essential for an adaptation. So, while we’re on the subject of not being able to recognize the characters…

#1: Whitewashed Characters

Arguably the most visible thing wrong with “The Last Airbender” is the casting. The characters in the film are clearly different races than those in the show. Hollywood has a long history of whitewashing roles, but this is one of the most egregious examples in recent memory. We understand wanting to cast people based on talent rather than race, but that’s clearly not the case here. Plus, given that the antagonists are all dark-skinned, while the heroes are light-skinned, the implications are really unfortunate. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” has a diverse cast of characters based on many nationalities yet the filmmakers threw that opportunity out the window.

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