The Last Airbender

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You want the fella on the right.

The Last Airbender is a 2010 Live Action Adaptation by M. Night Shyamalan based on Avatar: The Last Airbender, the word 'Avatar' being omitted to prevent the title from bumping into the film Avatar. It was planned to be the first film in a trilogy matching the three seasons of the show.

The world of The Last Airbender consists of four societies, the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes, the Fire Nation and the Air Nomads. Each society has people capable of manipulating or "bending" the element that is their namesake. Only one person in each generation is capable of bending all of the elements, The Avatar, and whose duty is to be a mediator and peacekeeper of the world.

The film's hero is Aang (pronounced "Ahng"), a young Avatar and Air Nomad found in an iceberg by Water Tribe teenagers Katara and Sokka (pronounced "Soh-kah"). Aang learns that his people were massacred by the tyrannical Fire Nation who have been warring with the other societies since Aang was in the iceberg, 100 years ago. Seeking to take his calling seriously, he journeys with his new friends to the North Pole to find a Waterbending master to learn the art. But news that the Avatar has returned spreads quickly, and he is hunted by both Prince Zuko, the disgraced son of the Fire Lord, and Admiral Zhao, the Fire Lord's second in command.

Despite recouping its budget, it was a critical flop, panned by the Avatar fanbase, and won 5 Razzie Awards, including Worst Picture.

Tropes used in The Last Airbender include:
  • 3-D Movie: The 3D effects were slapped on at the last moment, though, and are often difficult to notice.
  • Ability Over Appearance: A twofer case--Zuko was Asian in the original cartoon and director M. Night Shyamalan considered white Jesse McCartney for the role but Anglo-Indian Dev Patel ended up getting the part from his audition tape.
    • Though according to some, McCartney already had the role but was switched for Patel early to try to stave off the upcoming accusations. This didn't help those who noticed that the only non-white star role was the the quote-unquote "evil/troubled" character.
    • Some people also argue that his choice for Aang was because of this. The actor, Noah Ringer, was good at martial arts but an average actor.
    • This was also the justification of Sokka and Katara; in the series they were Inuit/Native American analogues, in the movie they were turned white. Considering how much their performances were criticized, the justification didn't hold up, to fans or critics.
      • If Shyamalan was going for a White Dawson Sokka, why not get the Sokka a.k.a. Jack DeSena? Then again, maybe it's a good thing he wasn't part of this.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Movie Aang spends most of his time ahngsting over his job as the Avatar and being the last Airbender. Cartoon Aang, while not a stranger to angst, is The Pollyanna.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Zuko's scar has changed from covering half his face to a barely noticable red line over his eye. This is more an example of shifting things to work in the new format (film) where the extremely stylized scar might not be as believable. Additionally, Zuko is already considered attractive despite the disfigurement.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication / Adaptation-Induced Plothole:
    • In the series, the Earth Kingdom prisoners are trapped on a rig out at sea, and need Katara's help because they have no obvious earth to bend. In the film, the Earth Kingdom prisoners are in a garden-variety landbound prison camp, and need Aang's help because it apparently just hasn't occurred to them that the ground here also counts as earth. Admittedly, both explain that the Earthbenders had their spirits broken and no longer wanted any trouble (even in the show when given access to their element the Earthbenders didn't want to fight the prison guards). It's only that the explanation for their broken spirits (no earth to bend) wasn't present.
    • The existence of the Ocean Spirit: in the original cartoon the murder of the Moon Spirit prompts the Ocean Spirit to possess Aang in his Avatar state; in the film, the Ocean Spirit does nothing but swim in a pond.
  • Alternate DVD Commentary: Courtesy of Riff Trax
  • The Artifact: The Ocean Spirit. See Not His Sled below.
  • Ascended Extra: While he is the Big Bad, before the third season of the show Ozai had almost no direct involvement with the storyline; he was The Faceless in the first season and a Face Framed in Shadow in the second, with only one brief scene that wasn't a Flash Back. The movie, based on the first season, gives him several scenes with Admiral Zhao, including being the driving force behind Zhao's "kill the moon" plan.
    • Though oddly enough, there's still one scene that's clearly trying to hide his face, after we've already seen it. Presumably the decision to show it occured midway through production and Shyamalan just forgot to redo it.
  • As You Know: The primary mode of exposition. One major example is that the audience learns about how Zuko received his scar by a child who he had asked to relate the story to make a point to his uncle, as he needed the Avatar to gain any peace of mind before thinking about settling down or "pretty girls." [1]
  • Bash Brothers: Aang and the Blue Spirit.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: As mentioned above, some feel that Zuko's scar is this because of how downplayed it is. Others feel that it is more realistic than the wildly exaggerated scar from the cartoon.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Katara shows up just in time to rescue Aang from Zuko after Zuko had taken him from her earlier.
  • Big No: Aang let out a huge one after finding out his mentor Monk Gyatso died.
  • Big Yes: "And you think my son might be this person?" "... YEEEEEEEEEES!"
  • Black Dude Dies First: A retroactive example. Movie!Monk Gyatso's fate is identical to that of his cartoon counterpart's.
  • Blade on a Stick: Fire Nation soldiers wield guan daos.
  • Brought Down to Normal: The waterbenders, after the death of the moon spirit.
  • Bullet Time: Some of the fight sequences use this.
  • Butt Monkey: Sokka, as usual, is on the receiving end of a couple of Amusing Injuries. That goes to show you, that even in Darker and Edgier adaptations of Avatar, Sokka is still the Universe's bitch.
  • The Chosen One
  • Composite Character:
    • The Dragon Spirit serves as a stand-in for Roku, Koh and even Guru Pathik with the appearance of Roku's pet dragon Fang.
    • According to the novelization, the Kyoshi Warriors (who are sadly removed in the final cut), rather than protecting the Kyoshi Island from intruders, they took over the roles for Jet and the Freedom Fighters.
    • The film version of Yue is composed of the series Yue and Arnook, by having her father written off as dead at the start of the movie.
    • Along with roles originally played by the animated Ozai, he played many roles of the animated Zhao. In some cases, the roles are jointly shared with the film Zhao, particularly the plan to eliminate the Ocean and Moon Spirits in the Siege of the North. The characterization for the animated Zhao is more closely depicted with this Ozai than with the film Zhao, e.g., sinister and devious, rather than cocky and ambitious.
    • On the other hand, the film version of Zhao is a spun-off character, personifying a younger Zhao who served as a junior Lieutenant under General Shu (and then found the hidden library), and apparently an illegitimate son of Zhao-Ozai composite, turning the relationship dynamics between "Zhao Jr." and Zuko similar to Edmund and Edgar in King Lear.
  • Compressed Adaptation: This is inevitable when you consider that Shyamalan is trying to fit ten hours of a TV series into a regular length movie. The movie manages to condense episodes 1-3, 13, and 19 and 20 (the first season two-part finale) into a rather tight series of events. Episode 4, in which the Kyoshi Warriors and Suki were introduced, was originally present but cut for the theatrical release. Everything else in the show is either simplified, vague, or presented through montage and voiceover.
  • Creator Killer: Shymalan's career wasn't exactly spotless before this film, but it looks to be the final nail in the coffin. For his next film, Devil, he was neither writer nor director and his name actually drew jeers from audiences when it appeared in trailers.
    • Somewhat Subverted as M. Night is working with Will Smith on his next written and directed film which is a sci-fi flick, and even with critical and public panning only two of his movies have ever flopped at box office. His very first film before The Sixth Sense (which didn't see a large release), and Lady in the Water. Last Airbender (at US$150 million production budget) has made US$320+ million in box office returns alone (so even if you add in an advertisement budget of $130 million, it still made a clean $40 million profit in theaters); even though people hated the movies, a lot of people still paid to see it.
  • Darker and Edgier: Especially considering that this is an adaptation of the first season.
  • Dawson Casting: Jackson Rathbone (24) as Sokka (15-16). Although that is the only example, as the others are played by actors of a closer age. Rathbone apparently had a good screen test with Peltz and very much looked like her older brother. He looks awkward playing opposite Dev Patel, who is six years younger despite playing a character one year his senior.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Momo shows up long enough to be introduced, then occasionally shows up in the background a couple times. You could be forgiven for not believing him to have followed Aang after the introduction.
    • Appa was also demoted. He doesn't get a lot of screen time and is more of a mode of transportation than an actual character.
    • Arguably, Katara and Sokka. Neither of them get many scenes in the spotlight, nor do anything of much importance, especially when compared to their TV show counterparts. At least Sokka gets his girlfriend.
    • Haru and Tyro Earthbending Boy and his father.
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    • Princess Yue:

"There is a very spiritual place. The city was built around this place."
"This time we show the Fire Nation that we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs!"

    • Aang:

"We were forced under the water of the ocean."

"The Fire Nation knew the avatar would be born into the Air Nomads... so they exterminated all the Air Nomads."

    • And Sokka:

"What if we found you teachers? Teachers to teach you bending?"

  • Directing Against Type:
    • Although M. Night Shyamalan is well-known for his supernatural movies, this movie marks his first fantasy action-adventure epic, as well as his first franchise-based adaptation.
    • For a more standard example of Playing Against Type, The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi as Senior Fire Nation Correspondent Admiral Zhao. At least he's already got the ham down.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Haru, as pointed out in the Riff Trax.
  • Dull Surprise
  • Elemental Baggage: Firebending was the only bending art in the series that created their element, which the movie altered to require a fire source. The explanation, as provided by Iroh in the first episode, was that firebending came from mixing air with your own body heat and energy. To some degree the same thing is true in the movie, except only masters can create fire. Firebenders can, without a flame source, generate sufficient heat from their fingertips to melt through ice.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Shaun Toub as Iroh is pleasing in everything he does. Dev Patel isn't all that bad either.
  • Evil Overlooker: This poster; inverted, as it's the hero.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: Zhao via onscreen drowning from the hands of four random Waterbenders. Complete with seeing his lifeless body plopped down on screen.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Fire Nation believe themselves superior to the other elements, which was directly patterned off of Nazi Germany/ImperialJapan motifs in the show.
    • This is ironic considering in the movie they are the weakest benders considering they need fire around them to bend which isnt as easy to find as water, earth and especially air
  • Flaunting Your Fleets: The Fire Nation. As, for example, in this trailer.
  • Franchise Killer: While the cartoon is going on strong, the public response and critical failure of this film make any sequels unlikely at best. But the 320 million dollars of world box office actually might change that. The fandom is hopeful for a The Incredible Hulk-style Sequel Reboot.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: This German poster.
  • Flynning: In many cases it takes a lot of movement to produce very small amounts of bending, while the show's style had it as a natural extension of the body. It does appear to be a visual shorthand to differentiate the master benders from the novices: Aang, Pakku and Zuko are significantly more efficient in their respective element. If you look closely at her fight scene with Zuko, Katara's movements are far smoother and more efficient than her early attempt at bending when she wound up freezing Sokka, showing that she's made some progression. Shyamalan's reasoning is that he interprets bending as pumping up a lot of chi like an airsoft gun, then releasing it when you have enough.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: It sort of vanishes without dropping somehow.
  • Giggling Villain: Judging from one brief scene, Azula seems to have become this.
  • God Test

"The Avatar would be an Airbender. Are you an Airbender, boy?"

  • Groin Attack: Used hilariously on a Fire Nation soldier by Sokka.
  • In Case You Forgot Who's Directing It: "M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender".
  • Idiot Ball: The entire water tribe at the climax of the movie. Knowing a Fire Nation invasion was imminent, the leader of the water tribe told everyone to put out every flame in the village so that the invading firebenders couldn't have ammunition. None of the fires were put out, including the one near the koi pond(!!).
  • Informed Ability: Zhao was supposed to be a master Firebender. While the series showcased his powers, the movie didn't. For example, there is no Agni Kai between him and Zuko in the beginning and the end (the latter because Iroh talked Zuko out of it) and as he prepares to fight a quartet of unnamed waterbenders, he got encased in a giant bubble and drowned to death.
  • Informed Deformity: Zuko's scar.
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY" / Reality Is Unrealistic: One of the more talked about changes Shyamalan made to things was the pronunciation of many of the names, supposedly to be more in line with how they would be pronounced in Asian languages (Aang gets pronounced "Ahng", Sokka becomes "Soak-a", and Iroh becomes "Ee-roh"). The way they're pronounced in the original is, respectively, to rhyme with "gang", like the sport, and as if he were a product by Apple.
  • Killed Off for Real: Princess Yue, Zhao.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: Zuko on his ship, battling it out with the fire nation soldiers.
  • Live Action Adaptation
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Imprisoning Earthbenders in a quarry. The Fire Nation's stupidity is turned Up to Eleven here. At least in the show, they keep Earthbenders imprisoned on metal ships far out to sea, where no earth is available for the Earthbenders to use against their captors.
  • Logo Joke: The stars from the Paramount Pictures logo are accompanied with splashes of water. The Nickelodeon logo that follows is on fire.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: An interesting look at how this trope works. While the show never portrayed Firebending inconsistently, the film changed it so that (like the other bending arts) they have to have a source of fire instead of forming it from nothing. Master firebenders can still create their own fire, so all in all only the logistics are different. Their war strategy now involves sending flaming boulders into enemy territory so that their front line troops can bend it, among other things.
  • Magitek: There is a great deal more emphasis on the Fire Nation technology (made possible by Firebending), frequent mention is made of "their machines" and how difficult it was for the other bending arts to fight against them. The Siege of the North involved a fire cannon that singularly punched a hole through the Northern Tribe wall and soldiers used a drilling device to emerge underneath the feet of Water Tribe soldiers.
  • Makes Just as Much Sense in Context: This clip of the infamous "Pebble Dance".
  • Market-Based Title: The movie was going to be called The Legend of Aang in many European markets, to match the original show's Market-Based Title of Avatar: The Legend of Aang. The name was originally changed because "bender" is a British derogatory slang term for a gay person. This did not come to pass; the title remains "The Last Airbender" in all English-speaking markets.
  • Mighty Whitey: All three heroes are white, while most of the extras are People of Color.
  • Missing Trailer Scene: Many; especially anything with the Kyoshi Warriors, whose entire plotline was cut. The entire teaser was not even meant for the original movie. This got to the point where entire TV spots for the film were made of footage never seen in the film itself.
  • Mythology Gag: Early in the movie Hama is namedropped by Kanna as the last Waterbender taken away by the Fire Nation. Zhao references ransacking the Spirit Library to get the info about the Ocean and Moon spirits (This was also referenced by the show's Zhao, the characters then visit that library in season two). And though Haru's name isn't actually mentioned, it's pretty clear who he is.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Everyone seems to have their own personal idea as to how to pronounce "Avatar".
  • Not His Sled: The ending in the movie is radically different from Book 1 of the series. The killing of the Moon Spirit somehow did not trigger anger from the Ocean Spirit. Worse, Aang was busy attacking Fire Nation soldiers when he was supposed to merge with the Ocean Spirit to become, well, Koizilla. With no Koizilla, all we get is a giant tsunami that did not sink Fire Nation ships, mainly because of the Dragon Spirit's "the Avatar is not supposed harm anyone" theory.
  • Orange-Blue Contrast: The poster, as seen above.
  • Pillar of Light
  • Power Glows: Aang's tattoo.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Sozin's Comet will be established as being three years away instead of "by the end of the summer" the show had it (three television seasons = three "Winter, Spring, Summer" seasons). The production schedule of the films are expected to be two years apart and working in live action (especially with child actors) this change makes sense. The extra time can also make Aang's mastering three whole disciplines in that span more believable.
  • Prequel: In the form of the 100-page manga Zuko's Story, which draws Iroh and Zuko in the style of the film's actors but otherwise seems to take place in the world of the cartoon.
  • Promoted Fanboy: M. Night Shyamalan is one of the few instances of a fan being able to promote himself into the position. The movie was merely in the talking stage until he approached Paramount/Nickelodeon and offered to direct it.
  • Race Lift: While some of the show's character designs are ambiguous as opposed to using typical racial feature cues (think Mukokuseki), there are some clear ethnicity changes:
    • The Fire Nation looked like pale-skinned East Asians, but the actors hired are from a variety of ethnicities - Maori, Arab, Persian, and South Asian.
    • Water Tribe members had blue eyes to reflect their element, but otherwise looked Native American (especially Inuit). However, in the film all the major Water Tribe characters are white (although many of the extras in the Southern Tribe are Inuit and Yue herself is Latina, the closest to the cartoon counterpart's skin tone).
    • Although Aang's features are debatable, most adult Air Nomads tended to look East Asian; in the film, most of them are mixed-race, but Aang himself is Caucasian with Native American descent (although Shyamalan felt that Noah Ringer looks mixed).
    • Monk Gyatso, who looked Tibetan (Gyatso is in fact the name of the Dalai Lama), became black in the movie.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Just before Iroh gives Zhao a demonstration of just how badass he is, the irises of his eyes take on a very red color.
  • Scenery Porn: Several scenes do look like they were taken directly from the show.
  • Separated by a Common Language: In the United Kingdom, "bender" is a derogatory term for a male homosexual. Consequently, the dialogue's frequent reference to characters being benders tended to make British audiences giggle.
    • It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase: "I could tell at once that you were a bender, and that you would realise your destiny."
  • Sequel Hook: Courtesy of Azula.
  • Show, Don't Tell: Inversion - Narration replaces a lot of things from the first season.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Agni Kai is pronounced Agni Kai, but winds up being pronounced "Agni KI" by that kid who talks about Zuko's banishment, to the point that the Zuko's Story prequel manga ends up spelling it as it was pronounced in the movie.
  • Spirit Advisor: Roku Fang That dragon Aang talks to when he is sleeping.
  • Stillborn Franchise: There's no talk of a sequel despite the planned 3 adaptations based on the 3 seasons of the show and the obvious Sequel Hook.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts
  • Take Our Word for It: Sokka's relationship with Yue. When they first showed up in the North Pole, both Sokka and Yue instantly lock eyes. Cue a Katara voiceover stating that "my brother and the princess became friends right away". And then the next scene, he's her bodyguard.
  • This is a Warship!:
  • Trailers Always Lie: TV promo's for the film were dominated by lengthy trailers devoted to showing that the movie was available in "mind blowing" 3D. Even showing an audience gasping and ducking from the four elements jumping from the screen. Despite the fact it was shot in 2D and the tacked on "3D" effects were barely noticeable and earned a Razzie.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Most trailers show the climax of the movie, and several have shots of Yue sacrificing herself in the Spirit Oasis.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: Aang ran away from his status, duties and obligations as the Avatar and expresses his guilt to Katara and Sokka by explaining that:
  • You Don't Look Like You: Several characters, but especially Ozai. Made even worse when you remember that he looked like he's supposed to on Zuko's family picture earlier...
  • You Need to Get Laid:

Uncle Iroh: There are a lot of pretty girls here Zuko. You could settle down here, and you could have a blessed life. You don't have to continue this Zuko.
Prince Zuko: ...We'll catch [the Avatar] soon Uncle, then we could think about the pretty girls.

  1. Zuko was traveling incognito at the time.