A live-action blockbuster-scale version of 'The Last Airbender' should be cause for rejoicing.

The Nicktoons masterpiece, called 'Avatar: The Last Airbender,' is an always entertaining blend of martial arts and mysticism, with surprisingly big laughs (bow down to comic genius Momo the Lemur!). But the run-up to this week's opening of the big-screen version has been as brutal as an encounter with Fire Lord Ozai.

First off, 25 percent of the title was dumped, presumably to avoid confusion with James Cameron's 'Avatar'. Then the casting came under fire: 'Airbender's look is clearly influenced by Japanese anime, and its universe is detailed with elements of Asian cultures, yet the main cast is largely non-Asian. The film does feature Asian actors Dev Patel (of 'Slumdog Millionaire') and 'The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi; Cliff Curtis, a Maori, plays Fire Lord Ozai. 3D was added after the film was shot, a move sometimes assailed for compromising picture quality (see also: 'Clash of the Titans').

The cartoon -- consistently well written -- has been adapted by M. Night Shyamalan, who also directs. If 'Airbender' bears the Shyamalan stamp, will it be a triumph, like 'The Sixth Sense,' or sink like 'Lady in the Water'? (Guilty pleasure is also a possibility -- hands up if you kinda love 'The Village.')

The journey of the heroic young Aang (played by Noah Ringer), Waterbender Katara and her petulant brother Sokka, should be a great fit for a 3D epic. Does Paramount have a franchise on its hands, or will the critics offer nothing but blowback for 'Airbender'? Read what the reviewers have to say. A live-action blockbuster-scale version of 'The Last Airbender' should be cause for rejoicing.

The Nicktoons masterpiece, called 'Avatar: The Last Airbender,' is an always entertaining blend of martial arts and mysticism, with surprisingly big laughs (bow down to comic genius Momo the Lemur!). But the run-up to this week's opening of the big-screen version has been as brutal as an encounter with Fire Lord Ozai.

First off, 25 percent of the title was dumped, presumably to avoid confusion with James Cameron's 'Avatar'. Then the casting came under fire: 'Airbender's look is clearly influenced by Japanese anime, and its universe is detailed with elements of Asian cultures, yet the main cast is largely non-Asian. The film does feature Asian actors Dev Patel (of 'Slumdog Millionaire') and 'The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi; Cliff Curtis, a Maori, plays Fire Lord Ozai. 3D was added after the film was shot, a move sometimes assailed for compromising picture quality (see also: 'Clash of the Titans').

The cartoon -- consistently well written -- has been adapted by M. Night Shyamalan, who also directs. If 'Airbender' bears the Shyamalan stamp, will it be a triumph, like 'The Sixth Sense,' or sink like 'Lady in the Water'? (Guilty pleasure is also a possibility -- hands up if you kinda love 'The Village.')

The journey of the heroic young Aang (played by Noah Ringer), Waterbender Katara and her petulant brother Sokka, should be a great fit for a 3D epic. Does Paramount have a franchise on its hands, or will the critics offer nothing but blowback for 'Airbender'?

The Hollywood Reporter: "The film is fortunate that its hero is so striking and charismatic. Ringer, a bald-headed youngster from Dallas who knows tae kwon do, simply is terrific. With his round head tattooed with, no doubt, meaningful symbols, his is an arresting figure in a movie filled with heroes, villains and otherworldly creatures who feel overly familiar. Perhaps if the film had concentrated more on him than the teenage characters, flaming fireballs and water follies, it would have grabbed the eyeballs more readily."

New York Daily News: "Unfortunately, its positive attributes are thrown out of balance by its abundant negatives -- including chintzy effects, lumbering storytelling and an overstylized, earnest incompetence that evokes 'Speed Racer.' If you thought it was bad when writer-director M. Night Shyamalan was channeling Rod Serling, wait till you see him try to be George Lucas."


'The Last Airbender' trailer

'The Last Airbender' showtimes and tickets

Roger Ebert: "It's a known fact that 3D causes a measurable decrease in perceived brightness, but 'Airbender' looks like it was filmed with a dirty sheet over the lens. [...] The animation of the Nickelodeon TV series drew on the bright colors and 'clear line' style of such masters as Miyazaki, and was a pleasure to observe."

The Washington Post: "After a while [ ... ] all the fighting between people hurling rocks, flames, water balloons and blasts of air at each other starts to resemble, as a waggish friend noted, one long game of rock, paper, scissors. It gets real old real fast."

The New York Times: "It's all pretty silly, and handled with unrelenting solemnity. But that in itself is neither unusual nor fatal. The problem -- the catastrophe -- of 'The Last Airbender' is not in the conception but the execution. The long-winded explanations and clumsy performances are made worse by graceless effects and a last-minute 3D conversion that wrecks whatever visual grace or beauty might have been there."

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