The Last Airbender
Growing up in the shadow of a mighty Avatar is not an easy road to traverse. So learns the foretold Avatar, Aang, before he runs away from his destiny and shirks responsibility; an act that will plague him, and mankind, for many years to come.
See, the fire nation has grown strong during the Avatar’s absence, enslaving members of the other elements to ensure their power does not grow and rival their own. It is a battle of powers, nations wanting to dominate rather than live in harmony as elements of equal importance. So when Aang returns from his self inflicted sabbatical, he finds that the world has become a place where air benders, based on intel that a reincarnated avatar had been born into that tribe, are hunted creatures.
Sacrifice is the key to this movie. We see many characters not only speak of sacrifice, but also exhibit sacrificial actions. Katara (water bender) and Sokka (her brother) are quick to step up and protect young Aang before even realizing who he is, leaving family and friends behind. The sibling pair remain close throughout the film, and Sokka makes the comment that he is willing to die to protect his sister.
Aang does a lot of maturing in this movie, namely facing his cowardice and fear of the sacrifice associated with being an avatar. Along the way we see Aang exhort others to live by codes of honor, embracing the skill and power they are born with.
Another nice touch to the movie is the fact that Iroh, veteran fire nation general and uncle to Zuko, urges his wayward nephew to put aside his anger and “marry, have a family, and live a blessed life”.
The biggest negative element in the film is the spiritual undertones, heavily flavored by Buddhism and Eastern philosophies. We see scenes of trance-like meditations, talking with spirits, pilgrimages to “spiritual places”, reincarnation, references to chi, yin, and yang, as well as much talk of the overarching theme of balance. These scenes are many, peppered throughout the film, and may therefore be disturbing for some parents of young children.
As part of a war strategy to keep the water elements from increasing their power, the fire nation kills the moon spirit, which has taken the form of a fish. We then see the water princess offer up her own soul to resuscitate it, since the moon spirit did something similar for her when she was an infant. Again, this philosophy could be confusing for younger children.
It is nice to note that the violence is very tame, often being administered by an element (water, earth, fire, air). There are some martial arts moves that are used in conjunction with this, but none of it is very violent. Perhaps the most disturbing thing that will be shown is one of the villains being encased in a ball of elemental water to drown.
The visuals are stunning. The concept of having people who are able to bend elements to their will is not a new concept, but it was carried out very well in this movie. I love the intricacies to the dances accompanied by the administration of the elements, and how each person is a little different in their presentation.
That being said, I have reservations about this movie, due to its target audience. The Last Airbender is meant for the “tween” audience, but has a lot of philosophies which are harder for this age range to filter through. While an older audience who is knowledgeable on the philosophies of Eastern mysticism and Buddhism would be able to recognize the themes for what they are, children are much more likely to simply let the indoctrination slip past their radar as they hang on for the fun ride of the visual effects.
The movie was enjoyable for me. It didn’t challenge me at all, but I didn’t finish the movie and feel like I wasted brain power watching it. That in mind, I am hesitant to say “Yes, go see it”. I think viewers should make sure they go into the movie with the intent to be discerning, especially where young viewers are concerned, and every family should make an educated decision on whether this movie is right for them, based off of how much they have taught their children about the religions portrayed.