A live-action blockbuster-scale version of 'The Last Airbender' should be cause for rejoicing.

The Nicktoons masterpiece, called 'Avatar: The Last Airbender,' is an always entertaining blend of martial arts and mysticism, with surprisingly big laughs (bow down to comic genius Momo the Lemur!). But the run-up to this week's opening of the big-screen version has been as brutal as an encounter with Fire Lord Ozai.

First off, 25 percent of the title was dumped, presumably to avoid confusion with James Cameron's 'Avatar'. Then the casting came under fire: 'Airbender's look is clearly influenced by Japanese anime, and its universe is detailed with elements of Asian cultures, yet the main cast is largely non-Asian. The film does feature Asian actors Dev Patel (of 'Slumdog Millionaire') and 'The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi; Cliff Curtis, a Maori, plays Fire Lord Ozai. 3D was added after the film was shot, a move sometimes assailed for compromising picture quality (see also: 'Clash of the Titans').

The cartoon -- consistently well written -- has been adapted by M. Night Shyamalan, who also directs. If 'Airbender' bears the Shyamalan stamp, will it be a triumph, like 'The Sixth Sense,' or sink like 'Lady in the Water'? (Guilty pleasure is also a possibility -- hands up if you kinda love 'The Village.')

The journey of the heroic young Aang (played by Noah Ringer), Waterbender Katara and her petulant brother Sokka, should be a great fit for a 3D epic. Does Paramount have a franchise on its hands, or will the critics offer nothing but blowback for 'Airbender'? Read what the reviewers have to say.
categories Reviews