Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Problems and Redeeming Qualities of Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass opened in March this year and did, as I find, admirably at the box office. Sure, it only earned maybe a tenth of what Spider-Man made back in the day and many people did say that it bombed. However, if you compare it to slightly similar comic book movies you can see it did similarly as both Hellboy movies and Sin City. It earned a looot more than The Spirit as well. If you take into account that Kick-Ass has been rated R, while Hellboy is rated a PG-13 you also have to admit that it did reasonably well.

I didn't check Kick-Ass out right away. One of the early trailers (the one with Hitgirl in the schoolgirl uniform) annoyed me because I thought it was a movie about a little girl in a schoolgirl outfit killing people and lots of creepy people would drool over that. I made it a point to avoid this movie because of my first impression there, thus I didn't see it in the cinema. However, I did watch the movie eventually and I was completely blown away. Sure, you can say that this was due to my very very low expectations for this movie but I thought it was really entertaining, fresh and had the occasional legit surprise thrown in there.

Not being thrilled for the movie in the first place I hadn't followed reactions to the movie online at all and it was not until after the movie was released that I realised there was actually a lot of criticism for the movie. Most often that criticism went hand in hand with criticism of the comic book, which I have never read and never intend to, as it doesn't sound like something you really have to read. The three biggest problems of Kick-Ass seem to be sexism, homophobia and racism (are you surprised I am not mentioning violence and profanity? Pleeeaase. Such things aren't inherently evil, UNLIKE sexism, homophobia and racism).

I'm not sure what it is like in the comic book but in the movie several black people are being portrayed as bad guys, who get slaughtered by Hit-Girl. They're drug dealers, gangsters, hanging out in a run-down neighbourhood, playing violent videogames and enjoying the company of a hooker. Yes, I can see that this is a stupid and stereotyped portrayal of black people and I am critical of it. But there are also other examples to be found in the movie, which maybe can balance this out just a little bit. On the one hand, the main bad guys are Frank D'Amico and his lackeys. The black guys in that drug den were just "small fishes", not nearly as crazy and evil as the big baddie Frank D'Amico. Now of course you can say that this is also racist because some people do argue that Italians (and the actor who plays D'Amico as well has his character are of Italian decent) are non-white as well. If we are getting down to it, the whole idea of a white race is rather complicated. Are French people white? British people? Germans? Irish people? I read that at some point Irish people were not considered white. So to go right down to it, it is a rather complicated issue. Generally I think that Italian people are considered white though. On the other hand, pretty much the only character who is absolutely sane, rational and has a good heart is a black cop named Marcus. He was the one who raised Mindy after Damon had to go to jail and he continues to try to look after her, even when she is now in Damon's care. When he finds out, that Damon has manipulated her into being a little killing machine for his own plan to get his revenge on D'Amico, he confronts Damon and tells him that Mindy deserves to have a childhood. However, he doesn't tell on Damon, he doesn't betray his partner. In the end Marcus is the one who is once again made into Mindy's guardian and with him she is able to have a more carefree and normal life. Even though Marcus doesn't do a whole lot, no cool action tricks or anything, he is an important and good person in the movie. You shouldn't disregard that.

There are several points in this movie that you could describe as sexist. I am not sure I can find a sort of "answer" to all of them but I will try. One of the things is that in the end Hit-Girl goes back to having a "normal" life, even though as you might say, she was a whole lot more kickass than Kick-Ass himself. I feel like Hit-Girl was the strongest force in that movie and it's sort of ironic that she manages that while being an elven year old girl. In the end, her going back to every day life was described in the comic book with the words "as a girl should" or something to that extent, which is kinda lame. She was a whole lot better than Kick-Ass himself at what she was doing. But I think in the end of the movie you can see that she didn't go back to being a stereotypical little innocent girl character, as she does beat the crap out of the kids who tried to get her lunch money. Another point that you could describe as sexist is that she was only made into this killing machine by her father and didn't do it of her own free will, as Kick-Ass decided to become a superhero. I think that's a really valid point, however, you could also say that, as she is just eleven years old, a boy of her age could just as well be described as being pushed into this and not doing this of his own free will. The movie focuses much more on the father/daughter relationship between Hit-Girl and Big Daddy, than to be aware of what it is implying gender-wise. And I must say, that I find the portrayal of a strong father/daughter relationship really sweet. Yeah, on the one hand it's really twisted, Damon being on a scary revenge trip and using his own daughter for that purpose but on the other hand you can tell that he loves her and does take care of her. You don't often see strong father/daughter relationships in movies and, as ambivalent as this one might be in some regards, I really liked it.

Another really problematic aspect is the relationship of Katie and Dave, which starts out on the assumption that Dave is gay. Katie asks him to be her friend because she always wanted to have a friend like him... but that's not homophobic right? I really hope nobody took that line seriously, when Dave looks up to his friends and they advise him to go on and he says: Nah, that's not homophobic at all. I don't think the movie tried to insinuate that it was anything other than ridiculous that Katie suddenly wanted to be friends with Dave because she thought he was gay. Like a special Pokémon that she could collect or something. The advice by his friends also makes it obvious, because they are complete dicks. This is also nicely portrayed in one of the scenes where Kick-Ass gets beaten live on the internet and, horrified, Katie's friend embraces the fat guy and he motions to his friend to look "omg I got a girl to hug me" and they give each other thumbs-ups. What dicks. When my father saw that scene he laughed out loud and said: "That is SO tasteless". I don't think you are supposed to have another reaction to these jerks and their concept of geting a girl. Indeed, Dave getting the girl in the end is kind of childish and he did lie to her about his sexual preference for a long time. Part of this however, is also his friends' (dicks) fault because they advised him to keep up that appeareance, while he was doubtful about it. I don't think the movie is trying to tell you it is "not homophobic" to try to be friends with a guy BECAUSE he is gay. I also don't think the movie is trying to portray the behaviour of Dave and his friends towards girls as acceptable. Yes, in the end at least two of them do get the girl. In the comic book Dave at least doesn't, or so I have heard. I can see that it's problematic, that even though we as viewers understand that their behaviour is bad they still get "rewarded" for acting that way. But in a way, being able to tell that they are dicks should be enough for starters.

So Kick-Ass does have a bunch of problems that you should be aware of when watching the movie. However, what I found it also had were some really redeeming qualities. You maybe don't catch up on those at the first watch but there were some things that I just really liked. For example, the use of youtube and other social media. Finally a movie does portray the force of the internet in a way that is sort-of believable at least. There's also the character of Frank D'Amico's son, who I found to be pretty interesting. On the one hand, he does want to be like his father, that criminal mastermind. He wants to learn that "job", so he can take over for him some day. But then there are times when he thinks differently. He befriends Kick-Ass just a little bit and starts to care about him. He never had any friends after all. In the beginning he sits down at his father's desk and roleplays an evil mafia boss, while later he plays a super hero, side-kick to Kick-Ass. When Kick-Ass gets caught, even though Red Mist had asked for him to be spared, he is really disappointed in his father. However, he does sit down next to him when the violent demasking of Kick-Ass is about to begin on the internet. While Frank D'Amico laughs at the violence, his son looks at him in horror. This is probably one of the most significant moments for that father/son relationship. In that moment Chris does seem to emancipate himself from his father. However, in the end, when Kick-Ass finally kills his father we can see that he is determined to take revenge again. I was sort of surprised and a bit disappointed at that. He did seem like he could have understood that his father was a violent maniac, but in the end he didn't emancipate himself from his father after all. This is illustrated by him, instead of wearing a red colour, now having taken over orange, the colour of his father. I wonder what his role will be in a sequel.

What I also liked was the portrayal of the desensitisising of the general population in regards of violence. Not all characters shown in the movie exhibit that but it gets sort of obvious in the demasking scene of Kick-Ass. When the News stop showing the scenes due to too much violence, people scramble for the PCs, to keep watching what goes on on the internet. I thought that was a very realistic portrayal as well, since compared to the old media one of the absolute advantages of the internet is that there is no censorship going on, or at least not as much as there would be on conservative media such as TV. A very small but very sad scene indeed is when Kick-Ass and Big Daddy keep getting beaten up and the reaction of people behind the screens watching is shown. Dave's father doesn't even react to it much. He even puts a potato chip in his mouth while watching his own son being beaten (presumably) to deah. He doesn't recognise his son's voice and the realness of the violence doesn't seem to register with him. Maybe he is under the impression that this broadcast isn't real or that even if it was real it didn't really matter since the person suffering on screen doesn't have much to do with him. If you look at that tiny scene in detail, it is rather heartbreaking. Dave's friends also fall into that category. Giving each other a thumbs-up when Katie's friend, unable to watch what is going on, clings to one of them. They don't have much concern for the people suffering on screen either but are more in it out of sensationalism.

In the end, if you really look for them, you can find a bunch of good things about Kick-Ass. I also just think it's a really well-made movie, pacing- and storytellingwise. It's a damn fun movie to watch and does offer some deeper insights if you think about it for a while. Of course you should be conscious of its problems and think about those, too. I wasn't trying to "explain them away" in this post. I do see the problems but I just wanted to shine a tiny light on the redeeming qualities of this movie as well. Considering that I have heard the comic book doesn't really offer strong writing or anything, I think Vaughn did pretty good with that movie and I am definitely going to see its sequel.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Winter is coming... to HBO in 2011! (Game of Thrones preview)

As the year is rapidly drawing to a close (I bet you, next time you look around it will be christmas!), I thought it would be high time to take a look at what exciting things await us in the year of 2011. There is a bunch of new stuff coming out, as well as old beloved series getting a renewal but we will go at it one preview at a time. This one here is about HBO's brand new epic fantasy series A Game of Thrones.

If you are into fantasy literature and have been so inclined for a certain time already it would be a surprise if you weren't familiar with George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire or had at least heard a mention of it at some point while getting recommendations for what to read next. A Song of Ice and Fire is hard to sum up in a few sentences but it starts out as tale set in a world where magic is but a forgotten whisper, where monsters and undead are only the subject of old wives' tales and all dragons have long been slain. The old Targaryen king has been slain by his own guard, his heirs driven away beyond the sea into a strange exotic land. And in the North, beyond the 7000 feet tall wall of ice, unknown things start to stir. Ser Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell receives notice that his friend the king (who some might call usurper) is intending to make him his new advisor after their old mutual friend died under dubious circumstances. Thus the noble Ser Eddard Stark travels south to where his old friend reigns and tries to shine a ray of light into the thick swamp of schemes he finds there.

I started reading A Song of Ice and Fire some time in high school, after I had gotten two recommendations for the same series by two people from different countries. I thought: Hey, maybe there is something to it! And they were right, A Song of Ice and Fire will suck you in pretty quickly, provided you don't have a problem juggling with the names of its many major and minor characters. Rest assured, if you run into difficulties remembering everyone at first, it's nearly impossible to get everything on your first read through. At least one re-read should be recommended, you will suddenly notice so much more stuff that at first didn't make sense.

However, this article is not about the book series. I wouldn't even go as far as saying that A Song of Ice and Fire is the best fantasy book series there is, but it is definitely high up there because I am a picky person when it comes to fantasy. Still, it was apparently good enough to finally pique the interest of HBO and thus, this article is about the adaption that will premiere at HBO in 2011.

I have followed the production of this series from its very beginning, from the time on when there were rumours about the script, when the script was leaked, when the pilot got its greenlight, when the first casting choices were made, when the pilot was shot, when the series got the greenlight from HBO and until now, while they are shooting and new news about minor characters being cast surface quite often. Most of you will probably know what it is like to follow news from the adaption of one of your favourite books. If there is a popular source material loyal fans will be very picky.

But I have to say that everything I have looked at so far (especially the leaked script... if that was real) just looks amazing! You know fans don't say that easily, they always have something to nitpick. But I am truly happy with a lot of the casting choices. I think Sean Bean will make a great Ser Eddard Stark, I am confident Lena Heady as Queen Cersei will be appropriately icy. I am really excited to see Peter Dinklage's (the first casting choice that surfaced, btw) performance as Tyrion Lannister and personally I don't think they could have picked a better Jon Snow than Kit Harington. He looks exactly, one hundred percent like I always imagined Jon. And hopefully this will be an opportunity for Rory McCann to shine and show himself to an international audience beyond saying 'yarp'. I could continue like this for pretty much all of the cast. The only casting choice I ever felt "meh" about was when Tamzin Merchant was cast as Daenerys Targaryen. However, as if to answer to my every wish, her role was recast after the pilot and the scenes were reshot with Emilia Clarke. I am ridiculously happy with this cast. A few big names and familiar faces, along with a lot of fresh new faces that can surprise us all! Seriously, in the department of casting I don't have a single thing that irks me.

Now, of course I will have to watch the first episode at least before judging this series but so far this is a complete thumbs-up from me. We haven't gotten a whole lot of official promotional material yet. Some atmospheric picture of a winter forest, probably taken from the prologue scene from the pilot, which takes place beyond the wall. Some pictures of little Maisie Williams posing with her tiny sword Needle, looking just as if Arya had stepped right out of the page. The highlights are two rather tiny teaser trailers and one little featurette about the series. You can watch them over here: (Incidentally, the Winter is Coming blog has been my primary source of information about this adaption from the very beginning and they are the best). Everything you can see so far looks very polished and high budget. This is what we fans expect from HBO after all.

So, my verdict for this TV series long before the pilot will air is as follows. You all probably know that sometimes when you closely follow news about an adaption of your favourite book or graphic novel that at some point you can sort of tell they are screwing it up. They are changing things that shouldn't be changed or they cut entire characters that are important later on. With Game of Thrones, so far there has been no such nonsense. Nothing! Everything I have seen so far makes it look so very promising. My expectations for this series are really high. This could be something special, something really big that even people who aren't into fantasy will take note of. I really hope HBO will deliver when it does come out but so far, everything really looks spot on and you can take that from a very picky person. And you don't know how long I have waited to see the words "Winter is coming to HBO in 2011"!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal DVD preview

I am very much looking forward to November 15th because that is when the DVD of Going Postal is going to be released over here in Germany!

Going Postal was a movie that I had been looking forward to immensely. I just recently started reading Discworld novels but I got into them fast. I know, everybody will at least know one person who has recommended the Discworld novels to them at some point and most people will react to it with a "well I am not so sure I want to believe that hype" attitude, just as I did. But for some reason I did pick up one of the books in the end (so my first Discworld novel was Reaper Man and I hadn‘t experienced being so captivated by a book ever since I had read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows back to back on the day it came out) and I was hooked.

Soon after I started reading the series I researched it a little bit on the internet and found out that the book that I was just reading then, Going Postal, was going to be turned into a movie! I had already watched Hogfather by The Mod and was assured that their work was pretty nice, so I was looking forward to that movie quite a lot.

I have to say, the movie did its best to satisfy my insanely high expectations of it! Sure, as with any adaption some things will be changed and some things left out entirely. But the overall feel and style of the adaption was still delightful and very entertaining.

Going Postal is about a conman, Moist von Lipwig, who gets one last chance from Ankh-Morpork‘s Patriarch Lord Vetinari to redeem himself by getting the post office back in business, much to the dismay of Reacher Gilt, the owner of the so-called Clacks-system, a Discworld-version of the telegraph or an early version of the internet. Moist von Lipwig has to deliver the accumulated mail of years and years, evade assassination attempts and team up with Adora Belle Dearheart, head of the Golem Trust, to bring back justice and good communication service to the town of Ankh-Morpork.

I don‘t know what it is, but something about these "how the ___ of Ankh-Morpork came to be" stories appeal to me very much. Going Postal was the first story like that which I read. Then there is also Making Money, which is about Moist fixing Ankh-Morpork‘s bank system and also The Truth which details the beginning of the daily paper, the Ankh-Morpork Times. All of those stories are just fun to read and I do love the occasional comment on our own very real world that you will find within them.

But back to the film at hand, the adaption of Going Postal! Period-wise it is set somewhere in a Discworld-pendant of the 1880s (Pterry himself has stated in featurettes that his inspiration for the book was the old Victorian mail system), so the costumes are really pretty and the colour theme of the entire movie is beautiful to behold. Brownish, muddy tones, shiny gold (who could forget Moist‘s golden suit?) and darker shades of green, blue and purple dominate the movie and give it a very nice and coherent atmosphere.

The characters for the most part are pretty good. I especially liked Moist‘s portrayal. You can never get it exactly like in the book but I think Richard Coyle as Moist was appropriately charismatic and shiny. Another performance that I really liked was Charles Dance as Lord Vetinari. Even though Lord Vetinari is a dark character and people were concerned about blonde Charles Dance playing him, I think he did great. To me, he is Lord Vetinari now. At least much more than Jeremy Irons managed to bring across His Lordship in the adaption of Colour of Magic. David Suchet as Reacher Gilt makes a scathing villain and we are immediately sympathetic towards Madhav Sharma as his loyal and/but good natured accountant Crispin Horsefry. Andrew Sachs makes a funny old Junior Postman Groat and I must admit that Ian Bonar is an absolute personal favourite of mine in this movie. I already loved his character, the confused, geeky and sweet Stanley, in the book and, if I may say so, they cast the cutest guy humanly possible for that part! I love watching his facial expression every time he is on screen. He has the funniest demeanours. One of my favourite scenes in the entire movie is when Stanley sits there in the middle of the night and is slowly and delicately tearing apart two sheets of stamps, all the while his face changing from relaxed to strained to pleasure and finally to happiness. I wonder what the directional comment for that was. "Tear apart these sheets of stamps and make an orgasmic face“? I swear this scene cracks me up every time!

Now naturally there are also some things that I don‘t agree with so much in this adaption but they are all not too bad. For example, the golems were not like I imagined them. Didn‘t it say "Gingerbread Man faces"? But I could still get used to the portrayal of the golems in the movie and it didn‘t impede my enjoyment of the movie at all.

My biggest complaint about the movie is though, that they changed quite a lot about Adora Belle Dearheart. Her appeareance is spot-on, there is nothing to complain about there and I think Claire Foy does a good job of playing her as well. It‘s the way her character was changed slightly, I can‘t even really put my finger on it because it has been a little while since I have read the book but Adora was always an awesome and badass character in the book. In the adaption she sometimes comes across as a little bit whiny or overly offended. She gets a bit annoying at times, even though I was never annoyed at her behaviour in the book. The worst thing however was, that they changed her smoking habit. In the movie she starts smoking out of desperation because her family lost the Clacks system due to the collapse of the bank that had given them a credit. And when the happy end finally comes she gives up smoking! This is so not how she was in the book. Smoking is a point of Adora Belle‘s character. Not because it makes her "cool" but because she just was a smoker. That was one of her traits and I feel like the way they treated it in the movie felt a bit too "correct". You shouldn‘t sacrifice important traits of characters for the sake of being "correct".

Finally I can just say that my complaints about this movie weigh much lighter than the general enjoyment that I had while watching it. It‘s not the best movie in the world but it managed to pretty much keep up to my really high expectations for it and that‘s quite a feat! Yes, the book is better, much more intricate and are you surprised at that? The book is always better but I can acknowledge this adaption as a pretty good movie on its own!

A look at tells me that I can look forward to audio commentary, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and much more for the special edition DVD release. And I really hope to get that here in Germany, too. It would be so unfair to not get all the good stuff when you are going the extra mile and buy the special edition DVD!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pixar vs. Dreamworks

Picture courtesy of the internet, though I think it might have originated on the SA forums?

Now, having had a look at that accurate graphic, you could pretty much leave it at that.

On the other hand, of course I am here to elaborate on the matter. There was a time when I was sort of prejudiced towards computer animated movies. Sure, I loved Toy Story back then and I also liked Finding Nemo but then I just got annoyed at the sudden boom of computer animated movies starring animals that got churned out quickly. Back then I didn't care about studio names, I just noticed that most of the trailers look the same and show the same kind of humour that I was quickly growing tired of.

Now I have taken some time to sit down and actually watch some computer animated movies and pay attention to the fine differences between studios. While movie franchises like Toy Story and Shrek are similarly successful there is an underlying difference in the way they work. Both studios direct movies that are primarily intended for children audiences but as critics will always state "adults can enjoy them as well". This might lead one to believe that they are achieving this in a similar way but they don't.

If you look at Shrek as an example of Dreamworks' work then you can see that the studio is using a setting that has proven its popularity with children for decades (fairytales) and the appeal for the adults in that movie comes from the quite cynical humour that is used within it. The whole fairytale world is a little bit twisted, with fairytale creatures behaving in a way we wouldn't expect them to, watching TV and making jokes. Even its main protagonist, Shrek, is your typical flawed hero. He burps and farts and has a very cynical outlook on the whole fairytale thing to begin with.

Adults will watch these movies because "they are much more funny than expected". It's the kind of humour that children don't really get though, so we have two fields that are pretty much seperated from each other within the movie. We get the adult and cynical humour on the one hand and the fairytale or goofy animals-as-protagonists setting on the other.

Now Pixar does approach this whole thing a bit differently. Sure, there are also cynical characters within Pixar's movies who make references that children probably won't understand. But the whole underlying feel of Pixar's movies is not cynical. The world within the movie, as childish or ridiculous as it might be, is taken seriously by all characters within the movie and thus also by the audience. Pixar's movies communicate with an adult audience because they bring up adult matters that are very relevant to the living reality of adults and they don't do this at the expense of the world within the movie's integrity. Whereas Dreamworks works with jokes that people of certain age gaps will either understand or not, Pixar works with the serious telling of a story that people of all ages can fill with their own kind of meaning.

Whether the struggle of Woody to not be ignored in favour of the new space toy Buzz Lightyear is just that, the struggle of a poor toy who might have become boring, or if the whole story can be seen as an allegory for a father and a step-father fighting over the attention of their son (and have you ever noticed that Andy's father is never mentioned? It's always just his mother, his sister and him in any pictures. I get kind of sad thinking about that, but I also love the subtlety with which Pixar employed this minor but meaningful plot detail), or if it's on an abstract level about fears of abandonment that most people face at some point in their life, people of all ages can find meaning in the stories as they are presented by Pixar. Their stories are well-crafted and meaningful and more often than not also extremely innovative.

You might like Cars or not. Personally, I don't like cars in general at all and the idea of a movie entirely based on cars as the protagonists in a world completely inhabitated by cars sounds ridiculous. However, when you watch the movie you realise that they have made it work in their own way. A ridiculous idea like that and halfway in you don't feel like something is "weird" or "out of place" at all. Even if you don't like the movie you have to admit that just thinking up such a scenario and making it work is more innovative than your usual "there are talking animals and they do things that animals normally don't do"-schtick.

Dreamworks movies aren't necessarily bad. I just can't stand them. I have to say however, that in Pixar movies usually the different appeals to different target audiences work all together, as if out of a single mold and not seperate from each other, or even in concurence of each other as it might be the case with Dreamworks movies.

Why hating The Last Airbender is not a question of taste

There may be many films, if not the absolute majority of all films, where if you like it or not depends for a great part on your own personal taste.

With Shyamalan's Last Airbender this is not the case.

First, let's start with the whole race-controversy that surrounded this movie.

Shyamalan received a lot of criticism before the movie came out, as soon as details about the casting surfaced. He cast white actors in three of the main roles and intended to cast Jesse McCartney in the role of young prince Zuko as well. Later he was replaced by Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel for some reason. Now two of the dumbest excuses as for why it is absolutely okay to cast white people in roles that were in the cartoon clearly based on Inuit or Asian cultures are as follows:

"'Avatar the Last Airbender' is an Anime and hence it is racially ambiguous". Or as most people phrased it: "Look how big their eyes are, they're not Asians!".

It is true that the Cartoon TV-Series of Avatar the Last Airbender drew heavily on the aesthetics of Japanese Anime. However, there are slight differences in the animation technique and the overall style. Use of typical Anime stylistic devices and the static and iconographic way of animation that made Japanese Anime so popular and distinguishable from American animation is very scarce in the animation of the TV-Series. Yet, even if you claim that Avatar was in its form an Anime it should still be said that apart from its visual style the countless elements from different Asian cultures that were ingrained in the whole fantasy world that is portrayed in the series clearly situates it in 'some sort of fantasy-Asia'. There is no single house built in the style of Western architecture. There is no single character with blonde hair or rosy complexion. Everything, from the clothing, to the food, to the architecture, to the festivals and rites portrayed in the Avatar TV-series is influenced by a variety of cultures that can be found all over Asia over centuries and centuries. Now to say that it would be perfectly normal to have white people inhabit this completely and very specifically Asian world is more than a little strange.

Now the second argument as for why it would be okay to cast white actors in the roles of Aang, Katara and Sokka is even stranger but I heard it a number of times. "The voice actors in the TV-Series didn't speak with Asian accents, so they are clearly supposed to be white people."

Okay, leaving aside that the voice actor for Zuko is none other than the brilliant Dante Basco, whom most probably know from his role as Rufio in Hook, this argument is clearly nonsensical and even a bit offensive in itself. What, if voice actors don't speak in a stereotypical ching chang chung way you can't tell that the characters they portray are Asian? Or should they just speak Japanese or Chinese or whatever to signify that the characters are supposed to be Asians? This TV-series was aimed at young American adults, why in the world would they advise the cast to fake a stupid stereotypical accent?

Now one of the funniest and most hypocritical things about the Last Airbender movie was that Shyamalan kept dealing with his critics in a very arsey way. For example, he said that nobody should be mad that he changed the pronounciation of the names of the characters back to the actual Asian pronounciation, the way they were supposed to be pronounced in the first place. So instead of Sokka we get Soakuh, instead of Iroh we get Eeroh. The irony in this is that he seems to be so bent on getting the Asian (whatever Asian pronounciation he may have meant here... Japanese? Chinese? Asian is not a language, Shyamalan.) pronounciation of the names right, he couldn't be bothered to cast actual Asians in the roles. He dismisses a bunch of details that made the whole world in Avatar a sort of fantasy-Asia, making the original traditional Chinese calligraphy into senseless scribbles and swirls in the movie. He is not at all consistent in how he wants this world to be perceived and it shows in the final product, badly.

So aside from these rather stupid little tidbits, his reactions to criticism on the race-front were downright offensive. He went along the lines of "hey, I tossed some brown people in there, be happy already" when he declared that he cast the Fire Nation as Indians. He also said that he envisioned the Air nomads as "mixed-race people" and it was therefore okay to cast Noah Ringer in the role because he "looked mixed to [him]", even though he does remain a white kid. He finally discredits himself when he stated whinily "you are coming at me, the only Asian director who can cast who he wants!". Sorry, Shyamalan, you clearly do not understand the issue here. Maybe you can have Dante Basco explain it to you, he wrote a magnificent statement back when the movie came out:

So, this is pretty much it about the racial controversy. There are of course countless more details and wonderful quotes (such as "If you are Belgian, wear lederhosen! If you are Korean, put on a kimono" from the casting director of the movie, when he specified which kind of dress should be worn for the audition as extras for the movie), making this issue a huge clusterfuck on all fronts but this is supposed to also be a review for the movie so I am going to stop here now. I just wanted to tell you what I could in a nutshell to point out that the race controversy about the movie was not a thing of "some oversensitive people on the internet complained a lot", it's more a matter of "wow, it's unbelievable that some offensive shit like this can do down in Hollywood in this day and age" and it really shouldn't be disregarded completely when you are considering watching the movie or even paying money for it.

Grave as the issue of race in this movie may be, as unbelivable as this will sound: When you watch the movie it actually becomes the least of its problems. This was the only thing that surprised me about the movie. I thought that a lot of people would dislike it on principle because of the race controversy and that it would be hugely successful nonetheless because it has a bunch of special effects and things fly around. I can say that I expected pure shit to come forth from this, especially as I heard early on that whole characters were left out, that there was going to be no humour in this movie at all because for some reason, even though the humour was there and important in the TV series "for the movie it doesn't work" or that Shyamalan actively advised the actors not to watch the TV-series but solely rely on the script and his directions. Still, the movie managed to completely surprise me in how bad it was. So, so bad. You know when you are looking forward to watch a movie to make fun of how bad it is? I was looking forward to do that. But halfway through the movie it just became agonizing to still sit through it and watch it. I still made it through to the end.

Now let me count the ways in which this movie was wrong and should be burned with fire.

It opens to pictures of the opening montage that we are used to from the TV-series. Benders bending elements in front of a red background, next to some traditional Chinese calligraphy which translates to the elements and the properties of said element that they are bending. Oh wait, in the movie the Chinese calligraphy has been reduced to pointless scribbles. And the opening montage now just looks silly. A paragraph runs along the screen and is narrated by Katara about how the Four nations lived in harmony and then everything changed when the Firenation attacked. This was done so well in the cartoon. In the movie Shyamalan relies on really antiquated narrative cinematography (seriously? A scrolling text? With a voice over?) to tell the story. I am not kidding you.

Then we are introduced to Katara and Sokka, a pair of siblings from the Water Tribe at the South Pole. Their characters in the movie are mere cardboard cutouts of what they were like in the TV-Series. I can't decide which one of the both of them is less recognisable. For now I will have to go with Sokka, because the Sokka from the TV-series would never have grabbed his little sister's hands in anger when she accidentally splashed him with some water.

When we get to see the Water Tribe's village I was actually surprised to see some Inuit-looking actors. Just not in the speaking roles! Oh well. Surrounded by them, Rathbone and Peltz stand out even more like a sore thumb as they already do because of their wooden acting.

As the first little episode at the South Pole comes to a conclusion (Aang escapes from the Fire Nation) and we go to the next place (the Southern Air temple) it becomes clear that this narrative style will be used for the whole of the movie. You know when TV-Series sometimes have an episode that consists entirely of flashbacks with one of the characters narrating over them and basically summing up a whole season to give the audience the information they need to enjoy the season finale or whatever? The entire one and a half hour of the Last Airbender movie is told in that rushed and poor narrative style. And unlike a flashback-episodes of a TV-series it doesn't end in an exciting finale. It also makes the single segments look poorly and randomly strung together.

Soon we will encounter one of the most ridiculous scenes in the movie. The Earthbender liberation scene, as you may call it. In the TV-series this was about an Earth kingdom village that had most of their Earthbenders taken away to a prison ship. The prisoners were on a ship made of metal, there was no earth around them to bend so they couldn't riot. Katara alone let herself be caught by the Firenation to get sent to that prison and help the prisoners riot and escape the prison. It was Katara who insisted they should help the Earthbenders, who delivered a speech to encourage the Earthbenders to fight for their freedom. This was one of the first episodes that portrayed Katara as a really strong female character, brave and independent from Aang or Sokka.

In the movie this segment is completely butchered. The Earthbender prisoners are not on a prison ship, they are being held captive in a mountain village, completely surrounded by earth and rock that they could bend at any time they wanted. They just seem to be too stupid and lazy to do it! Now the scene that unfolds is representative for the quality of the acting, the dialogue and the cinematography of the entire movie. "Earthbenders, why are you acting like this? There is earth right beneath your feet!" And of course it is Aang who delivers this little motivational speech instead of Katara who just stands there and looks at him. The only thing she does in that segment is run at some Firenation soldier and yell "Leave him alone!" when said soldier asks Aang if he is an Airbender. This is so ridiculous. The whole scene, as pretty much the whole movie, is on middle-school theatre group acting level and it especially shows here.

The representation of bending is also atrocious. As they hired a Chinese calligraphy professional for the scriptures in the TV-series, they also hired a martial arts master, Sifu Kisu, for the bending sequences. All the bending moves in the original TV-series are based on actual martial arts moves and were painstakingly coreographed. In the movie nothing of this is visible. The movements (which consist of pointless, crude flailing) don't even correspond to the bending of the elements. Thus, comically, five Earthbenders do a little dance routine, followed by ONE rock the size of a FOOT floating slooowly across the screen. This makes Earthbending or any form of bending seem completely pointless.

But I have to get back to the complete butchering of Katara's character. As already said, she is one of the few really strong female characters in the cartoon world. Whatever happened to Katara, the girl who doesn't take sexistic crap from a conservative Waterbending master and challenges him to a fight, knowing that she might be seriously injured? Oh right, they completely left out this segment in the movie as well. In the movie Katara just states "Aang was accepted to train with a Waterbending Master", as if she hadn't even considered refining her own Waterbending skills and becoming stronger. Just as they left out the Kyoshi-warriors, a group of woman-warriors that briefly joins forces with the Avatar in the first season of the TV-series and will get more important in following seasons, even though they did feature them in some promotional content. Every single instance from the first season where Katara or another female character showed true strength of character, bravery and independence was not deemed important enough to put into the movie.

In the few cases, like the Earthbender liberation scene, where something awesome that Katara did was actually included in the movie, her participation to the event was played down greatly and it is Aang who appears as the strong one, as the leader. Rathbone and Peltz's performances do not help this, most of the time they both just stand there and stare. Then Rathbone is either allowed to swing around his boomerang or Peltz may stand there and say nice supporting phrases like "Don't be afraid!". Now I don't demand every movie to have a strong female character or otherwise they are automatically SEXIST AND EVIL. But in this instance you can't deny that it was an intentional and conscious deviance from the source material, making Katara into a poor little damsel in distress instead of the really badass yet never cliché character that she is in the TV-series. The leaving out of the second strong female force in the first season, the Kyoshi warriors, make this whole thing seem even less like a coincidence.

There are also other things that Shyamalan seems to just have gotten completely wrong. The Avatar IS allowed to have a family, how the hell do they want to explain in later movies (ugh) that Zuko is the great-grandson of both the former Firelord Sozin AND former Avatar Roku? Well, looking at the quality and consistency of the movie so far, they will probably just gloss over this minor detail in later installments.

All these examples of elements that Shyamalan took from the TV-series but for some reason twisted and butchered show that he has a very poor understanding of what the original was about. His work shows in many instances that it is, so to speak, neither here nor there. He pressed to have the „authentic Asian pronounciations“ for the movie but refused to cast actual Asian actors in the roles. He removed all the humour from the movie because otherwise it wouldn't be ~dark and edgy~ enough but the dialogue is still so dumb and the characters remain so one dimensional that the movie clearly has to be aimed at children. But with scenes like the one I explained above (why would Earthbenders not try to riot in a prison where they are surrounded with their bending substance?) he even insults the intelligence of the youngest kids in the audience. This is something the original TV-series never did. Even though it was a cartoon aimed primarily at children it attracted a great audience among teens and even adults around the world, myself included.

Shyamalan's version of it just looks sloppy, childish and overall a very poorly done movie. It doesn't have any redeeming qualities either. Let's just be happy now that WB never considered him for an adaption of Harry Potter, as he would have liked to do back in the day.

If you want to go see this movie because you liked the TV-series and you would love to see it on the big screen, don't.

If you want to go see this movie because you liked the trailer and want to see a nice action adventure aimed at a young audience, don't.

If you want to go see this movie because you are a fan of the TV-series and want to make fun of how bad this movie is, don't. It really isn't worth your time. The movie even fails to entertain on such a low level. The movie is not so bad it is good. It is so bad it is bad.

Even though this movie has reeked of racism and sexism from the start, they actually become the least of its problems and that is an amazing feat in itself. The only epic journey that I want to watch now is how Shyamalan will keep flushing his career down the toilet, meanwhile keeping a smug attitude about how nobody gets him.