The Last Airbender
By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
"The Last Airbender" (Paramount) presents a potential dilemma for Catholic parents.
Though writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon cable TV channel's animated series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is refreshingly free of objectionable language or behavior—and therefore endorsable for all but easily frightened small fry—some aspects of its elaborate back story suggest pantheism or nonscriptural beliefs.
But aesthetically this 3-D fantasy adventure turns out to be so strained that the best advice for young and old alike is to avoid it altogether.
As Shyamalan's script spends far too much time explaining, "The Last Airbender" is set in an alternate world where some human beings have the power to "bend"—that is, control—one of the basic elements of fire, earth, air and water. Exhibit A in this regard is teen Katara (Nicola Peltz), an aspiring "waterbender" whose amateurish practice of her craft sometimes ends up dousing her brother and main companion, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone).
When Katara and Sokka stumble across a sleeping child trapped under the ice of their Arctic homeland, the boy, who goes by the name Aang (Noah Ringer), turns out to be the latest incarnation of the Avatar, a global peace-giver with the potential to master all four elements and thereby restore order to society.
However, since the warlike, imperialist Fire Nation—people are divided into tribes specializing in the command of a particular element—has embarked on a so-far-unsuccessful bid for world domination, its ruler, Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis), and leading general, Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi), are anxious to capture the Avatar before he can foment rebellion against their oppressive rule.
Also in pursuit of Aang is Ozai's disgraced and banished son, Prince Zuko (Dev Patel), who hopes to regain his father's favor by capturing the boy wonder. Though angry and bitter, Zuko occasionally benefits from the prudent advice of his Uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub), who has followed him into exile.
Along with endless exposition of these various characters' abilities and motivations, the film also bogs down in stilted dialogue, failing to gain dramatic traction or engage viewers' interest.
So the fact that the script presents Aang as a reincarnated being, much like the dalai lama of Tibetan Buddhism (whose mode of dress the lad's costume resembles) and portrays a couple of glowing fish as the "spirits," respectively, of the moon and of water, is—like the rest of the movie's exhausting details—best ignored.
The film contains potentially confusing religious themes and much nongraphic martial arts and combat violence. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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