The young avatar Aang had his share of fierce foes to take on in "The Last Airbender" -- but none were bigger than the critical review pile-on that occurred before the movie opened this weekend.
Somehow Aang and director M Night Shyamalan still came out on top. The movie took in $70.5 million in its five-day opening weekend, according to Boxofficemojo.com.
Forget any other story about the box office this weekend -- with "Eclipse" naturally pulling in gaudy figures for its six day opening (175.3 million). That had all the suspense of an Adam Sandler movie. It's "Airbender's" ability to shake off these terrible reviews to score a victory at the box office that made the weekend's movie news interesting.
A.O. Scott in The New York Times didn't waste any times in his scathing review. "The Last Airbender? he began. "Let's hope so." Usually those kinds of zingers are saved for the summation. But he just couldn't wait. He finished that opening paragraph with a logical assumption of the movie's box office prospects -- "They're screwed." Somehow the little bald kid escaped that death blow.
Time magazine labeled the movie the "Worst Movie Epic Ever." That was just the headline.
We could go on, but you get the picture. Things weren't looking so good heading into the weekend.
To further muddy the waters for Paramount and Shyamalan, the only true buzz that came out of the movie was the controversy over the casting of the movie's Chinese hero, who was played by a Caucasian boy named Noah Ringer. This irked a lot of people. No doubt they were even more worked up when they saw how incredibly clunky the kid's acting was. Sure he is bald and wears it well -- and he knows his tai chi. But give me a kid from a regional Chevy dealer commercial, preferably the son of the owner, and I can show you a better actor. Especially considering the controversy, it was a shaky foundation on which to set a movie franchise.
No problem. Fans of the Nickelodeon cartoon still flocked to the theaters, along with guys trying to do anything but see "Eclipse." And there were no doubt suckers (like me) who were pulled in by the totally cool trailers and commercials which were part of Paramount's marketing blitz. And there were no doubt a group of people who go to see movies that critics hate just to thumb their noses at the evil media. Okay, I'm struggling here.
Will the movie continue to roll at the box office and make a clear case for (gulp) sequels as the ending suggests? That remains to be seen, though not as likely now that the die-hards have done their duty. But right now Shyamalan has to be to be the most relieved guy in Hollywood to even be able to entertain such a notion.