One day a brother and sister called Sokka and Katara find a boy frozen in a block of ice. They don’t have to call the police and endure several years of painstaking psychological therapy however, as it turns out the mysterious boy is the magical Avatar, the figure destined to save the world from the evil Fire Nation.
Okay, so far so bollocks. Everyone knows what Star Wars and Harry Potter are, so you should all have a rough idea of what to expect here.
Which is a relief, as despite a considerable amount of irritating character narration you’d otherwise be hard pressed to even have a clue as to what’s going on. Everything happens so fast it’s like they’ve (mercifully) already preset the film to 2x speed, with scene cuts, transition moments and perspective shots that are appallingly amateurish. It’s like taking the mechanics of stop motion animation and using them as the basis for a narrative structure.
Well one of the highpoints of the TV series were the excellent and engaging characters so perhaps –
At one point there was a significant amount of controversy about Shyamalan’s supposedly ‘racist’ casting choices, so let’s set the record straight here; they’re not racist, they’re just shit. The whole of them together couldn’t muster enough character to fill an ant’s shoebox. It just seems as if nobody can even be bothered, particularly Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz). Sokka is a slab of inarticulate American meat that looks like Elijah Wood’s mentally distressed doppelganger. While Katara was seemingly drafted from the ranks of rejected GAP advert applicants; rejected on the grounds of being fucking useless, which I suppose goes from the rest of the cast really, except the ones that appear to have been press ganged in from the nearest Wallmart car park. Even Dev Patel, gifted with the choice role of Zuko, has all the presence of a wet fart in a hurricane. Fair is fair, it’s not entirely their fault, they haven’t exactly been given Wildean prose to mangle, or even much of a role at all besides filling out the foreground. This is more evidence of Shallyman’s ability to ‘adapt’, doing away with much of the source material’s heart and wit and replacing it with a series of flat volleyball-like exchanges that are about as engaging as trip to the keycutter.
Now the big ‘hook’ of this story is that characters can gain some sort of elemental power through the practice of Kung-fu. Now you know right off the bat there’s only two ways this can go – balls to the wall awesome or Matrix 3. Guess what we get here? Now the Kung-Fu, when it sticks to the hand slapping and doing the splits, is fine, the problem comes when they try to work the magic arts in with the marital* martial ones, because it ends up looking like a youtube fan tribute. For a start the CGI is pretty second rate stuff and superimposed in a manner that would seriously embarrass Hawk the Slayer, but what really take it over the top is the painfully elaborate and ridiculous body contortions they go through to achieve these effects.
It looks like a cast member from River Dance having a seizure. Seriously, if this type of magic were real the kids in Step Up would all be Arch Magi of the 39th level.**
Credit where credit’s due, the climax of the film occurs in the snowy wastelands of the north and features the siege of a genuinely pretty Igloo city (Essentially Helms Deep with Frosty the Snowman). It’s a damn fine spectacle, like a icy imperial London would look if Eskimos became our world’s socio-dominant economic power.
The final battle scene itself is quite epic as long as you squint your eyes a bit and actually includes a 7.5 second section of Kung-fu magic that isn’t actually eye-gougingly awful. It’s just not much of a respite for the 120 minute mind flogging that preceded it, but hey, at least Shyamalan didn’t manage to shoehorn a twist into this one.
*Thinking of a different film there.
**If they titled the sequel Avatar: Book 2, Electric Bugaloo all would be forgiven.***
***No it wouldn’t.
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