Having seen the movie, I'm actually quite disturbed by the numerous comments slamming it, from things like being racist (what gives?) to more spiteful ones that seem to enjoy jumping onto the bandwagon to discredit writer-director-producer M Night Shyamalan. I suppose he's suffering from the weight of the tremendous success his first feature film The Sixth Sense brought him, and everyone expects a continuous Midas touch, but having seen all his films, I am still of the opinion that he's a good storyteller, and have ventured beyond gimmicky reveal surprises to now tackle mass appeal entertainment, and showing that he's equally adapt to work on existing, established characters, versus creating his own thus far.
Not having seen the series in its animated form, I'm probably more ready than the purists and fanboys to accept Shyamalan's version (surely you cannot expect too much to be crammed into 107 minutes?), which in this film is but Book 1: Water, dealing with the discovery of Aang (Noah Ringer) who happens to be the last of his kind, an airbender. For those not in the know like I was, the opening scroll provides a quick update on what benders are – folks who possess the ability to manipulate their respective elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth, while only an Avatar, a chosen one if you will that is constantly reincarnated and rotated amongst the elements, will exist to ensure peace and harmony throughout the lands (almost tribe-like according to the elements as well). But the Avatar had disappeared for a century, so in the meantime the Fire Nation decides that it be best they begin to wage war to rule the world.
Which is not surprising, and probably what Shyamalan had wanted to say in his movie continuing from his take on the environment from The Happening. The story's kept extremely simple to follow, so that the target demographics of the fans – the kids – will find it easy to understand the underlying, explicit message that it is important for everyone to take care of Nature, and highlights man's tendency to disrespect Nature and all things sacred. There's an expected loss of morality when governance, in this case the Avatar, is missing, and there will be parties abound to exploit this gap in the meantime for personal power and glory. Good folk have to stand up and be counted against oppression, and quite appropriately, it's the Fire nation to go rogue since fire is an important element to spark off the industrial revolution, from there utilizing technology and militarizing it, as well as the very obvious pollution that goes hand in hand.
It's also no wonder that the Avatar, for all his powers, gets to learn a lesson about how he's there to keep the peace and not harbour intentions for revenge, since his own tribe is wiped out (hence his title as the last of his kind). Another important message and reminder to the kids in the audience that with great power means great responsibility (oops, wrong movie), and rightly so we don't see Aang unleashing his powers in bloodthirsty mode. Noah Ringer should be given credit for his charismatic take as the most powerful elemental-bending child in the world who still needs to undergo training and lessons to fulfill his destiny, and while he's not using his powers, he still has that very nifty staff to rely on, which expands into a hang glider. How cool is that?
The other hand to hand combat weapon that I thought was top notch was the boomerang-sword, which unfortunately only had a scene in which it was used and caught in the scene in full glory. Industrial Light and Magic continues to show why it's still one of the go-to effects houses with the flawlessly designed and delivered bending effects, and frankly what was seen in the trailer actually provided yet another reason enough to catch this on the big screen, with massive water and ice sheets, force-push abilities and even a glimpse at what the Earth-benders can do when they bandy together against a common adversary.
Supporting characters include the Southern Water tribe brother and sister team Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) and Katara (Nicola Peltz) who were responsible in chancing upon Aang, and Prince Zuko (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire fame) and his uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub) being the antagonist here with quite a rich backstory that puts them at odds with the Fire Nation Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis) which I suspect the subsequent films may see them turn into allies.
This was originally intended as the first part of a trilogy, and I hope that the rest get made because there's been too many false starts to the promise of fantasy franchises, from The Golden Compass to The Dark is Rising to name but two in reason years, where the box office returns were less than expected and hence the follow up films got canned. Sure the undeserving ones shouldn't have any more films made, but this film had a certain charm and quality to it, that I want to continue following Aang in his quest to become the Avatar. Highly recommended, if you have been waiting for a contemporary film franchise that's set to thrill, and surely I will be visiting the original source material if I have the time.
And oh yeah, if it's not shot in 3D, then don't bother watching it on 3D since conversions reeks of money making exploitation and desperation.