[T]he film works so hard to explain its plot developments that it scarcely has any time left over to dramatize them. Exposition has not merely vanquished mimesis, it has burned its homes to the ground and sown salt in its fields.
The TV show created an incredibly complex world over three seasons. This picture (the first in a proposed trilogy) tries to accomplish a year's worth of work in two hours. So we get titles and flashbacks, baldly expository dialogue and clumsy narration.
Not since Kyle MacLachlan's whispered voice-overs about the worm and the spice and the worm IS the spice in Dune has a fantasy franchise tripped all over itself trying, simply, to please a fan base while creating a new one.
This is all enormously disappointing, of course, since the best we could hope for from a live-action Avatar adaptation is the mind-blowing equivalent of our first encounters with wire-fu, rather than this cartoony nonsense.
The movie has been criticized for racially inappropriate casting, but that's the least of its problems. The acting is laughable, the effects are phony, the editing is addled and the dialogue is disastrous.
The Last Airbender is dreadful, an incomprehensible fantasy-action epic that makes the 2007 film The Golden Compass, a similarly botched adaptation of a beloved property from another medium, look like a four-star classic.
The Last Airbender is a joyless, soulless, muddled mess, but the worst part of all doesn't come until the very end. That's when it makes the clear suggestion that two more such movies are in store for us.