In this M. Night Shyamalan's new feature, two teens from the Air Nation rescue a tattooed, bald-headed kid named Aang (Noah Ringer), whom they believe is the "avatar." The avatar is a semi-spiritual figure able to bridge the nations of air, water, fire and earth, ensuring cross-elemental harmony. Which is not happening now: The Lord of Fire is busy enslaving everybody, I think.
I missed a chunk of the action, having the misfortune to sit behind the Lord of the Giant Head, and also being unfamiliar with the Nickelodeon series this film is based on. (Be forewarned: This film is only part one, and doesn't conclude so much as show the opening scene of part two.) The story comes off as poorly fleshed-out, kiddie-friendly spiritual mumbo-jumbo about various nations who seemed more defined by their groovy ethnic-inspired outfits than by any larger ethos.
The trio of young do-gooders winds up in the Northern Water Nation (read: ice), which seems to be a cross between leftover costumes from Dr. Zhivago, a Lego kit for an ancient Mongolian city and the pool of light from the Lost finale. The "action" is limited to "bending" -- people move tai-chi-like and make defensive and offensive weapons with their element. These scenes were deeply uninteresting, with all the dramatic tension of rock-paper-scissors contests. (Dirt wall defeats fire, but fire beats ice ball.)
The acting is strictly TV-movie-caliber, and only the elite of the Fire Nation delivered any heat: Dev Patel as a disgraced prince and Shaun Toub as his sympathetic uncle. The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi portrays the arch captain of a fire boat, but his hamminess just made me read his scenes as a lame late-night skit ("Fire Nation Evaporates Tea Party").
One last note: This movie is being sold as a 3-D experience, but it wasn't filmed for the format. It was converted post-production, and thus offers little in 3-D thrills. Use your hard-earned pennies instead at the Popcorn Nation.