It’s certainly a weekend to celebrate. I finally have my computer back, virus free and functioning, and not one but two movies I was worried about ended up being entertaining at the least, great at best.
So I have a few reviews backlogged, and I will be staggering them over the next couple weeks as school permits. Today though I am going to stick to the most relevant topics and talk about two of this week’s new movies: “Eclipse” and “The Last Airbender.”
I’ll start with the Elephant in the room… I mean Eclipse. If you recall, I gave New Moon (moderately) faint praise, saying that if you liked the first at all you should check it out. The same caveat applies here, but there are some marked improvements. This movie works a lot better than New Moon, especially the soundtrack, though it would be a major feat to come up with anything close to New Moon’s level of crappiness. It isn’t as catchy as Twilight’s Pop songs, but even the worst of it doesn’t detract from the film. Some of the secondary characters get a lot more to do this time, particularly Jasper and Alice, though having Jasper do a southern accent doesn’t work (though it is accurate) mostly because they didn’t do anything with it in the first two. The lone sore thumb in the secondary cast this time around is Esme, which is strange as the actress did much better in other films. I actually think she didn’t have more than a single line in the entire film, and if she did it certainly wasn’t double digits.
In the end though, as I said with my New Moon review, Twilight is one of those things that evokes a love/hate response in people. There just isn’t much of a middle ground to stand upon. There is one bit of good news for those of you who will be forced to go by significant others or friends: (at least the guys anyway) the big fight scene in the movie is well choreographed, with good effects and a good score. So at least you have that to look forward to.
I suppose I could go on, but those really are the important bits. Better than New Moon, still mostly for fans, and a great fight to reward the boyfriends suffering through it. I was prepared for a lot worse, and was happily surprised.
The Last Airbender I was much more worried about going into the theater. I am a huge fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and have been looking forward to this for years. (For those of you that don’t know, James Cameron sued them to prevent them from calling the film Avatar because of his overblown film you may recall from earlier this year, despite the fact that the Avatar cartoon came out a number of years ago. Stupid Cameron) I took a look at the main critics view of the film, and was dismayed to see a Rotten Tomatoes score of 8% for the film. It seemed like no one liked it.
So, I’ve seen it. I’ve talked to people who have no prior knowledge of the series. I’ve talked with people who didn’t like it. And do you know what. I really liked this movie. It was a good adventure with a very intriguing Eastern slant to its philosophy and feeling, but without being so far from the Western that it becomes hard to understand. (Except of course for the reviewers, many of whom I have had to conclude simply did not try to understand the film) It wasn’t perfect, and some of the dialogue was a bit cheesy, but I loved it and so did the person with me who had resisted (successfully) seeing anything of the show until now. It was well worth seeing.
Before I go on though, I’m actually going to address some of the complaints reviewers had. (Note though, I saw it in 2D, so any issues about the 3D I have to pass on, but in any case I recommend you always go 2D over 3 anyway)
One guy complained that the dialogue was way too formal and wooden. Okay, it was a bit wooden in places, but as for the formal? It’s a fantasy low tech setting. Formal is par for the course. You wouldn’t go saying that Lord of the Rings was overly formal would you?
A bunch of guys complained about the effects, saying they looked fake. Again, I can’t speak for the 3D, but the “bending” effects of fire, water, earth, and air were great. Also, one guy specifically said he was mad that the benders didn’t get wet/burned when they used their powers. All I have to say to that is DUH. What the freak kind of good is being able to control fire if you burn yourself constantly. That isn’t an error, it’s intentional. And anyways, we see other people getting soaked by the waterbenders constantly.
Probably one of the more common complaints (besides issues of just not getting the point of the film, which I will get to in a bit) is that the “Asian” characters are played by white people. Honestly, in this case I think this is just PC bullcrap. Again, this is a fantasy world, NOT the earth. The Air Nomads are no more Asian than Martians are. That said, M. Night does a great job of making the cast multicultural. All of the tribes are a mix of races. Most of the Air nomads you see look more Asian, but there were Indian ones as well. The Fire Nation looked more Italian, but others Russian, Indian, and so on. Certainly modern films still do have problems in this area, but this film is not one of them.
Anyway, back to the film itself. The setting is basically thus. There are four groups in the world, the Fire, Water, and Earth Nations, and the Air Nomads. Certain people within these groups are able to “bend” their respective element, gaining near complete control over it with enough practice and skill. Only one being in the whole world, the Avatar, can master all the elements, keeping the world in balance with the help of the spirit world. Whenever the Avatar dies he or she is reborn into the next nation in the cycle. 100 years ago the Avatar disappeared with no warning. Then the Fire Nation attacked, seeking to subjugate all other peoples. What makes this fairly standard set up interesting is the focus on balance rather than power. No one element is too powerful. Fire bending can be blocked with earth or put out with water or air. Water can freeze and cut, but can be evaporated with fire, redirected with air or earth, and so on. It is a very Eastern ideal. For all his power it is repeated over and over that the Avatar is not meant to hurt people, just as wars are not won with violence but through the heart.
As the film opens the Avatar, a young airbender named Aang returns, unaware of what has happened in his absence.
Helping the young Avatar with his quest are Sokka, a teenage warrior from the Southern Water Tribe, and Katara, his sister and the only remaining waterbender of their tribe. Both are likable characters, if a bit flat in the film, and Sokka in particular is nice for balance as a very capable character who is not a bender of any kind.
Among their pursuers are the banished Prince Zuko and his uncle General Iroh, who have a very personal stake in capturing Avatar Aang. Personally, I thought these two actors (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionare fame, and Shaun Toub, who played Yinsen in the first Iron Man movie) were the best actors in the film, though there was nothing wrong with the other stars’ performances. Even with all the material not included in the film from the first season of Avatar it would be easy to make these characters one dimensional and unlikable, but they succeed quite well.
So to sum up this rather lengthy review, don’t believe the critics in this case. As long as you don’t utterly hate all fantasy (which I think some of the critics do, judging on their track records) and can withstand some cheesiness and occasional awkward dialogue you will enjoy this film. As for it being the last nail in Shymalan’s directorial coffin you certainly can’t count him out yet.
[tags]Twilight Sage, Eclipse, The Last Airbender, M. Night Shymalan, Avatar[/tags]