It won't be in my usual style of recapping, since I don't have it to look at while I'm writing, and anyway it would turn out being more of an M15M and I rip off of Cleolinda enough, I think. It also won't comment on the casting. It doesn't have to. I have far more to rip on. There will also be occasional interjections from where I remembered comments from my friends during the film. We had a Suicide (and/or Homicide) Prevention Squad for this one. Myself, kyoko_minamino, zip_tie, my brother, and another LJ-less friend took up a row in the theatre and snarked the hell out of this thing. (I wasn't going to give it any money, but my brother bought the tickets and doesn't share my principles. So yes, $8.50 of the $115 million is technically mine. Sorry.) So forgive me the occasional remark.
To the recap!
I think a lot of the issue with this movie lies in the very act of calling it a movie. It's more a series of loosely-connected vignettes.
By which I mean it is basically still episodic. While being in a film that, as a "part one", is in itself intended to be episodic.
...sorry, part of my brain just fizzled.
So instead of trying to recap this as a coherent narrative as if there was a coherent narrative to be found here, I will recap it according to which episode it is trying to
It starts with a text crawl (strike one) with Katara's voiceover exposition. Oh hey, I thought, they're at least trying to reach out to fans by emulating the opening of the series!
Oh, how naive I can be.
Okay, this is probably nitpicky of me. It's not that long, and it's not even particularly grating, for voiceover exposition. But for something so iconic of the series, and with M. Night supposedly being such a superfan, it doesn't make sense to me to change it.
But oh hey, the movie proper is starting.
The Boy In The Iceberg
This is a pretty stock recreation, with Katara Waterbending (though apparently she has to take off her glove to do it) and Sokka getting drenched, and etc etc. It's not Katara's Bending that breaks the iceberg out, thought, just...crazy random happenstance. Aang busts out, goes to the village with Sokka and Katara, et cetty rah.
Allow me to interject here, and get this out of the way before we get too deep in. I hated that Sokka, Aang, and Iroh were ever spoken to in this movie. Because of their names. Sokka becomes "soh-kah". Aang becomes "ong". Iroh becomes "ee-row". Hell, half the time "Avatar" becomes "ahbadar"! I say "half the time" because apparently the cast realized how blisteringly stupid that is and had to be reminded to pronounce it that way. Not that they bothered to keep any sort of consistency with it, oh no. That'd be too easy! (A far more confusing and unnecessary change comes with the fact that "GranGran" is now just called "Grandma". What, were you worried "GranGran" was too ~*~unrelatable~*~?)
*sigh* Anyway. The first real deviation from the series (aside from the aforementioned) comes in the form of Aang's tattoo, which has gone from a simple blue stripe to this. And you know what? I'm okay with that. Some things just don't translate well across mediums. Kinda wondering why there's a transmutation circle in the middle of it, but I'm honestly trying not to think about it too much. It's also worth mentioning that this is the only (non-flashback) scene in the entire movie where Aang smiles.
The second deviation comes when Zuko gets Aang on his ship. Iroh gives him a test to prove he's actually the Avatar, which I begrudgingly admit makes sense, especially given that it's not established before this that the last Avatar was an Airbender and all the other Airbenders are dead. The test involves setting various items in front of Aang - a candle, a bowl of water, and a rock - and seeing if they react to him. Guess they couldn't figure out how to represent "air". One of those little fans that hangs around your neck, maybe?
Zuko completely loses his shit. "YOU ARE MY PRISONER!!!one!" He storms out of the room. Iroh's dreadlocks apologize. Aang decides what the hell, he'll hang around, he's got some free time. But then Katara and Sokka show up on Appa and Aang flies away with them. Because...climactic. I guess.
Southern Air Temple
So Aang is pretty damn excited to show his new friends where he grew up. On the snowless, grassy mountaintop. Yes. He has a bunch of flashbacks to Monk Gyatso (My brother: "Why is Monk Gyatso black?" Me: "Oh my god, you can't just ask people why they're black.") and is running happily down the paths until ohhh snap, everybody's dead. No real deviations in the "Aang discovers that everyone's died and is freaked about it" part, but a MAJOR GLARING OMGWTFWHY in that there is no secret chamber. No Basement Full of Statues. Y'know, that major thing that happened that explained about the Avatar Cycle and the past lives, and everything? Yeah. None of that. Momo's there, though! Not that they ever call him that. Just...shows up, and Aang is all "oh hey I guess I have a monkey now".
As for the Zuko portion of this episode, I may be getting a little anachronistic with this one, I honestly don't remember, but I have to give the movie props for one thing: it got Zhao right. I had trouble seeing Aasif Mandivi (aka "That Guy From the Daily Show") as Zhao, and I almost wish they could have just gotten Jason Isaacs himself, but I swear all of his stage direction was "Zhao enters, acts like a dick, leaves" and Mandivi fucking brought it on that front. Smarmy motherfucker. Instead of Zhao's Island Getaway, Zuko is invited to dinner on Zhao's ship, and he proceeds to break down every single reason Zuko sucks in front of his whole crew, including pointing out that Zuko's not supposed to be wearing Fire Nation armor (because he's an exile, see), but they'll forgive him this one time, "like a child playing dress-up". Oh, Zhao. Never change.
There was no Agni Kai, though. It was mentioned (and they pronounced it wrong), but it never happened.
Warriors of Kyoshi
Misses Not Appearing In This Film.
No idea why they landed here, but they did. A small child runs up to them, with his (her?) hair in a topknot and a cloth around - oh, no. No. No. Why did you make Haru into a five-year-old? And possibly a girl? Why did that happen? Why? WHYYYYYYYY.
Sigh. There are far stupider things to discuss. Like the fact that the imprisoned Earthbenders are being held...IN A ROCK CANYON. And yet THEY ARE STILL THERE. In the GIANT MASS OF THEIR BENDABLE ELEMENT. What is this I don't even. And then Aang steals Katara's speech, convincing the Earthbenders to escape, and we discover that the Earthbenders have apparently been spending their time choreographing epic dance routines instead of, y'know, EARTHBENDING.
This is also when my brother pointed out that the Firebenders were only pulling from existing sources of fire for their Bending. I'll come back to this.
The highlight of this scene is Sokka kicking a Fire Nation soldier in the balls.
The scroll is, inexplicably, in the Earthbender prison, and Katara and Aang start trying to learn. Katara is omgawesome, and Aang is kind of fail.
Yeah, Aang kind of sucks. So Katara gets to be the awesome one. Which means Katara doesn't get to realize she's overreacting, which means this is yet another bit of Katara's character development ripped away and applied to Aang. Not that any character in this movie gets any kind of development, but that's just kind of a slap in the face of one of the most well-developed female characters in recent history.
This ties into the last one a bit, as Aang randomly starts spouting backstory at Katara while they're practicing. It's the same deal as canon (Lance: "No, seriously, why is Gyatso black?" Me: "*whaps with coat sleeve*"), but with the addition of everybody bowing to him as the Avatar. And, in his words, "I didn't bow back." Essentially, he didn't accept his responsibility as Avatar, and that's why he ran away. Because that makes sense.
Zuko has his own backstory here, told via a small child. He and Iroh are sitting in what looks like the festival from The Deserter, with Iroh being a pimp ("We could settle down here. You could find a pretty girl.") and Zuko being angsty. To prove a point, he calls a little boy over. (Me: "Come here, little boy. I have some candy under my robes for you.") "Tell me, what do you know about the exiled Prince?" Kid: "You mean you?" Zuko: "No. Shut up. Tell the story." The kid proceeds to exposit about the general's meeting and the Agni Kai and we get our first glimpse of tiny, psychotic Azula. The kid runs off and Zuko tells Iroh he can't "settle down" until he regains his position or something. I swear, I had my ears pricked for the word "honor", but it never came. I was disappoint. Which, really, could sum up my entire opinion of this movie.
In between all of this, at points I don't remember the exact timing of, Zhao is having meetings with Ozai. Whose face we plainly see. That's right, the big menacing Fire Lord who Bryke spent two seasons building up as a faceless monster...is just kind of here. Bein' Ozai. And his throne room was in a high school gymnasium.
The Northern Air Temple/The Blue Spirit
Aang decides he needs to go do...something, I forget what, but he has to do it ~*~on his own~*~, which Sokka points out is a really stupid idea. So Aang leaves at the crack of dawn so they won't come with him, and Sokka just glares at him from his sleeping bag. (zip_tie: "Stop him? ....stop him? ....try stopping him?") He goes to the Northern Air Temple, which is an In Name Only stand-in. A monk (?) leads him down to the chamber with the statues that was supposed to be in the Southern temple. But oh noes! He's one of those people (the only one in this movie, in fact) that was unhappy with Aang for pulling his disappearing act! He's sold him out to Zhao! Which is where the Blue Spirit part kicks in. Aang gets captured, Zuk - I mean The Blue Spirit shows up to save him, it's all pretty straight forward. Except for the part where the Blue Spirit has this big dumb mane on his mask. I don't even. Oh, and there's no Airbending Zhao ass over teakettle into a wall.
The Waterbending Master
They get to the North Pole and do their requisite oohing and aahing, and Sokka meets Yue. But do we get to see them being cute and doing activities together? NO. We get told in voiceover that they "got along right away". And that is the extent of it. Pakku's there, but if he was ever named I didn't hear it. And Katara doesn't have to fight him to be allowed in the lessons. There's a lot of fifteen-minute tai chi sessions to make a bubble, but no, no actual plot or character development whatsoever. Oh! And no Hahn. Which is maybe a given, with the lack of Sokka/Yue development, but ehn.
On the Zuko front, Iroh is being a pimp annd getting a footrub from one of his bitches when his ship explodes. Zuko's on board, and sees Zhao's men setting the bombs, and...yeah. This scene was really only here because no matter what medium he's in, Iroh is a pimp.
The Seige of the North
Once again, fairly straightforward, the biggest changes being in the Spirit Oasis. For one, Zhao knifes the fish. For two, Zuko dumps a torch in the grass to make fire to Bend from (I'm getting to that), and, uh, healthy grass should not burn like that. For three, if it didn't take Katara ten minutes to throw up a shield, she wouldn't have gotten knocked out. For four, when Zuko gets his hands on Aang, he stays in the city and ends up getting his ass frozen in place. And for five, when Zhao stabs the fish, Iroh loses his shit and Firebends all over the place. This is an actual line that was uttered: "He's making Fire from nothing!" This is also when my brother proceeded to lose his shit. "You can all do it!" Me: "You fool, we've all got swords!"
Oh! Something I've been forgetting this whole time! Occasionally Roku's dragon shows up. Not Roku, just a dragon with his voice. Maybe it was supposed to be symbolic or some shit, I don't know. But at the very end, when we were SUPPOSED to get giant fishy destruction, Dragoku (as I am now calling him) just tells Aang to "use the power of water". So...he does. He goes all glowy and Waterbends a whole bunch of water at once isn't this cool you guys. And Zhao gets drowned and dropped back on the bridge, where he was not in fact facing Zuko, but a couple of random Water Tribe guards.
The tribe gathers in front of the city, Katara telling Aang that the world wants him to be their Avatar, and everybody's bowing in front of him, including Sokka and Katara. That bugged me more that it probably should have, but I always saw the three of them as equal, even though one of them is Kung Fu Action Jesus. They weren't sidekicks to Aang, the three of them were a team, together, and having Aang up there in front of everybody all by his lonesome bugged me a lot. He bows back, signifying his acceptance of his fate, blah blah blah.
The movie ends the same way the first season did, with Ozai telling Azula to go after Zuko and Iroh. If this is the same girl they're going to get to play Azula in the second movie...I think she'll do okay. She definitely has the psychotic smile down.
And that's The Last Airbender. If you'll excuse me, I need to go drink myself into a coma and try to erase this from my mind. (The things I do for you people.)