M. Night Shyamalan appears willing to try anything to turn around his career. Early critical and box-office success came as a result of a couple of suspenseful twist endings to his Hitchcockian musings. But lately that well has run bone dry, so he offers up a somewhat intriguing adaptation of a cartoon series about the return of a young Dalai Lama-ish air element controller named Aang (Noah Ringer) — formally known as the Avatar until James Cameron achieved juggernaut status under that title — who must learn to master his powers and inspire the people of the other fractured elemental nations to revolt against the tyranny of the Fire Nation whose outcast prince (Dev Patel) is hot on his trail.
It’s a bold move for Shyamalan in that the film remains slavishly faithful to the source material, which means that ultimately it can only suffer because so much time has to be devoted to condensing a 20-plus episode season into a two-hour movie with the now-standard rushed and muddy 3D effects that are applied after the film has been shot in 2D.
If Cameron’s Avatar taught us anything, it was that film needs a hero, a visionary with the guts to be an iconoclast when everyone else is doing the same old thing. At one time, it seemed that Shyamalan might have been that kind of filmmaker, but, unfortunately, now he’s showing us how hard it truly is to tell a simple story well. Grade: C