“The Last Airbender” is an agonizing experience in every category I can think of and others still waiting to be invented. The laws of chance suggest that something should have gone right. Not here. It puts a nail in the coffin of low-rent 3D, but it will need a lot more coffins than that.
Let’s start with the 3D, which was added as an afterthought to a 2D movie. Not only is it unexploited, unnecessary and hardly noticeable, but it’s a disaster even if you like 3D. M. Night Shyamalan’s retrofit produces the drabbest, darkest, dingiest movie of any sort I’ve seen in years. You know something is wrong when the screen is filled with flames that have the vibrancy of faded Polaroids. 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.
Now for the movie itself. The first fatal decision was to make a live-action film out of material that was born to be anime. 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. It’s in the very nature of animation to make absurd visual sights more plausible.