Shyamalan’s new fantasy is anything but fantastic

Cert: PG

ASTITLES go, “The Last Airbender” is more likely to induce guffaws than the awe and wonder intended. Not as many guffaws, though – for British audiences anyway – as the numerous times characters in the film refer to the mystical fraternity of, well, “benders”. To be honest, anyone who’s are unlucky enough to end up watching this film will be thankful for such unintended amusement, since there’s naff all else to enjoy here. The Last Airbender is a really atrocious film.

It’s directed by M Night Shyamalan, who has trumped even his own habit of producing duff movies (Signs, Lady in the Water, the truly execrable Happenings) with this portentous, boring fantasy. His ghost story debut, Sixth Sense, now seems like a one-off fluke.

The story, based on a Nickelodeon cartoon, takes place in a world divided into Earth, Air, Fire and Water nations, each of whom have people with the power to manipulate – or “bend” – their respective element. A couple of kids from the Water kingdom find 12-year-old Aang – the titular Last Airbender – packed in ice, where he’s been trapped for a century. But could he be the fabled Avatar, the one person who can control all four elements? Of course he could – he just needs practice.

That means that the villainous Fire Nation – led by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel – will be after him. And so follows an abundance of cod-mysticism, dull action, desperately awful dialogue, even worse acting, and some of the daftest dialogue ever written. As you’d expect, there are masses of computer-generated special effects – the film is in 3D, for no good reason – but they’re not much cop either.

Timothy Barber

Cert: 12A

After his brilliant turn in the very adult black comedy Bad Lieutenant a couple of months ago, Nicolas Cage returns to the more family friendly role he’s been carving out for himself recently with the National Treasure films, G-Force and Astro Boy.

Cage plays Balthazar Blake, a grungy, long-haired wizard who happens to have been on the lookout for an apprentice for nigh on 1,000 years – ever since his best friend Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina) betrayed him, his girlfriend and Merlin. Back in the day Blake managed to defeat Horvath and trap him – along with a host of other baddie sorcerers – in a kind of Pandora’s Box, which he’s been carrying around ever since. Winding up in twenty-first century Manhattan, Blake crosses paths with Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) – a kid he immediately recognizes as a natural for the job (that’s right, a lad plucked from obscurity by a wizard, only to discover he too has magical powers – sound familiar?). Unfortunately, Dave’s first act as the new protégé is to open the dreaded box and unleash Horvath, intent on destruction and revenge, on New York. Only Blake, his hopeless apprentice, and a few million dollars’ worth of CGI effects can stop him.

While it’s harmless enough fun – one particular highlight being a scene that pays tribute to Disney’s version adaptation of Goethe’s original poem of the same nam (that famous set piece in Fantasia with Mickey Mouse and the out of control brooms) – what this version lacks, unfortunately, is any real sense of wonder, mystery and excitement. It’s really just one long action scene, and the special effects offer little we haven’t seen before. Car chases and plasma thunderbolts just don’t cut the mustard anymore if you can’t add a little more wit, charm and mystery than this film manages. It serves its purpose in passing the time, but it’s a workaday piece of entertainment that will have soon been forgotten.

Rhys Griffiths