The Last Airbender was the 2010 film that was based on the massively popular Nickelodeon show, and now 7 years later, the movie's disappointing reviews still live on in fans' minds. As the live adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender was being made, M. Night Shyamalan was already working on the sequel — but after the first movie failed to garner a warm reception from fans and critics, the plans had to change.
Let's take a look at what went wrong with the first film, and what happened to the planned sequel.
'The Last Airbender'
To make sense of what happened to The Last Airbender sequel, it's important to understand what went wrong with the first film before and after its release. The film was plagued with issues from its announcement right through to awards season; here are a few of the key controversies:
Casting Controversy — Before the film even came out, it was already being poorly received, due to criticism that the film was whitewashing its Asian and Native American characters to appeal to the American audiences. Some fans were even talking of boycotting the film, including Michael Le of Racebending.com:
"To take this incredibly loved children's series, and really distort not only the ethnicity of the individual characters but the message of acceptance and cultural diversity that the original series advocated, is a huge blow."
Of course, this was vehemently denied by Paramount, the new cast members and director, #MNightShyamalan.
The Box Office — In terms of money, The Last Airbender actually did pretty well. At a cost of $150 million, #TheLastAirbender was, at the time, Nickelodeon's and M. Night Shyamalan's most expensive movie. The film made $51 million in its opening weekend, and ended up making $319 million worldwide, making it the 20th highest-grossing film of 2010. However, in spite of the decent revenue, fans and critics alike had serious reservations...
Production/3D Conversion — Converting the film into 3D cost an extra $5-$10 million, but rushing the film into production and then into 3D conversion meant that a lot of changes had to be made to the source material. A lot of character development and side plots were scrapped, which almost certainly impacted the quality of the film. In the end, many consider that The Last Airbender's 3D conversion wasn't worth the cost & impact to the script; the film even earnt a Razzie Nomination for Worst Eye-Gouging Misuse of 3-D.
The Response — To say the audience response to The Last Airbender was bad would be an understatement. The Rotten Tomatoes score currently stands at 6% and it turned out to be Shyamalan's worst received film to date (and if you have seen The Happening, that's saying something!). The co-creators of the original Avatar, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, revealed that when they tried to add some input, it was ignored. The two of them have also expressed a desire to pretend that the film doesn't exist.
Awards — The film tied with The Twilight Saga: Eclipse for the most nominations at the 2011 Razzie Awards, with a massive 9 nominations. The movie ended up winning 5 of those including Worst Picture of the Year!
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Now that plans for The Last Airbender trilogy has been scrapped, let's look at the timeline of the sequel news before it all dried up.
July 2010 — The Last Airbender film was released in the U.S. In an interview with Brian Warmoth at MTV, Shyamalan revealed that he has written a first draft for a darker and richer sequel. In terms of whether the planned sequel would see the light of day, Shymalan told Vulture:
"In the next few months we'll be able to know whether we have that opportunity or not."
October 2010 — Producer Frank Marshall, revealed that while it hadn't been officially approved, The Last Airbender 2 had also not been definitively cancelled, and the studio still planned to move forward with the sequel at some point.
March 2011 — When they were talking about the Avatar follow-up, #TheLegendofKorra, executive producers Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko disclosed that they had not heard anything about the future of the movies.
April 2012 — DiMartino and Konietzko said that they would like another chance to see a live-action film based on their series, but nothing was in the works. They told The Wall Street Journal:
"Hopefully, when we're done with the 'Korra' saga, we can put our stamp on a movie. I think we've been honing our skills toward that for a long time."
September 2015 — When talking to Metro UK, Shyamalan stated that he may work on the sequel after he completed his next film:
‘It takes so long to make those CGI movies,’ Night explained, ‘It’s hard because it takes two/three years and I don’t get to make two of my own movies so there’s always a struggle of choosing someone else’s material over my own.
‘Right now I’m going to go do another one of my own first, another thriller.’
All in all, it seems that The Last Airbender 2 still isn't entirely off the table — but filming a sequel so long after the first movie would pose some problems. Given how long it has been since the first film was made, most of the cast would have to be recast. Aside from their age, it seems the original cast also aren't keen to jump on board with a sequel. Noah Ringer hasn't acted since Cowboys & Aliens in 2011, and after the massive flop of the first film, Dev Patel has expressed a dislike for how the film turned out. He told the Guardian in 2015:
"It’s hard promoting a film you didn’t enjoy and don’t fully believe in, and I felt bad."
Having such a huge and loyal fanbase is dangerous territory when it comes to adapting a project for the big screen. Not only do they expect a quality movie, but they also want a movie which stays true to the soul of the original; and some fans will only be satisfied with a movie which adheres to every tiny detail from the source material.
However, I can't help but feel that Avatar: The Last Airbender deserves another live-action adaptation. Fans might be more tempted to given it another chance if a whole new saga is made — and having Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzk's wishes taken into account wouldn't hurt either!
Seven years later, would you like to see an new Avatar: The Last Airbender film? Start new or carry on from the previous? Comment below.