Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender

2024 - United States

Lavish visuals and thrilling spectacles

Review by Jennifer AJ

Since its Nickelodeon debut in 2005, Avatar: The Last Airbender has become sort of a modern classic in the pantheon of animated series. 19 years and one failed movie adaptation later, the series finally receives a worthy(ish) live action adaptation. 

The new iteration by Netflix is by no means perfect. Its original creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, departed the project midway through pre-production citing creative differences – never a good sign. Indeed, the final product occasionally wobbles in some aspects, though it is ultimately better than the sum of its parts. 

For the unfamiliar, the story takes place in a world divided by four elements: water, earth, fire, air. A select few people from each division were born with the talent to control an element; you’ve got the waterbenders, earthbenders, firebenders, and airbenders. Each generation, one all-powerful being called the Avatar appears with the ability to master all four elements, tasked to maintain harmony in the realm. Everything changes when Fire Nation attacks the other three nations while the Avatar vanishes, putting the realm under siege. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender

A hundred years later, two water tribe siblings, Katara (Kiawentiio) and Sokka (Ian Ousley), discover a boy with an arrow mark on his shaved head defrosting from the iceberg. This is Aang (Gordon Cormier), the long-lost Avatar and the last airbender. Realizing he’s the key to their freedom, Katara and Sokka accompany Aang on a quest to free their world from the stronghold of the Fire Nation.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

The first crucial win for this adaptation: it’s blessed with such an immersive worldbuilding. The show manages to seamlessly transport the animation’s vibrancy into live action. Those who’ve seen the 2010 film adaptation would know just how easily it could go wrong. With stellar visual effects, the bending scenes came out really beautifully. The action sequences make great use of the different abilities, showcasing how the bending powers correlate with its natural surroundings. When your show hinges on elemental powers, that is kind of a big deal. To top it off, the costumes, architecture, music, and cultural details help to illustrate the sprawling scope of the world. Every visual aspect of the show looks gorgeous. 

It is the storytelling and performances that fell slightly short of expectation. 

The young actors they cast on the show look the part so well, but their inexperience really comes through. Cormier actually gives the best performances out of the kids as the titular Avatar but the rest feel out of depth, especially since the show adopts a much more serious tone than the animation. The senior actors in the cast do the heavy lifting of the acting, notably Paul Sun-hyung Lee as Uncle Iroh and Daniel Dae Kim as Fire Lord Ozai, but it’s the young actors’ show first and foremost. Therefore, their stilted performances become more glaring. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender

The show had the monumental task of compressing 20 episodes from the original’s first season into 8 episodes. While this is admittedly no easy feat, the decision to rely on exposition to fill us in on so many important details quickly drags it down. Instead of utilizing “show don’t tell”, the dialogues aggressively spell out everything, even what someone’s feeling and what they’re about to do as if audiences are too dim to follow the actions. This causes a bit of a pacing problem. The first half of the first episode, for example, could have been a montage, while the second half feels too rushed to hit the intended climax. The rest of the season gets better, but it still cannot escape the awkward dialogues which don't fit the darker tone of the series. The levity of the source material is severely missing, though this more earnest approach does grow on you as the season progresses. 

While not an entirely satisfying adaptation, the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender still offers plenty of entertaining value thanks to its lavish visuals and thrilling spectacles. Provided it works out the kinks for the already announced seasons 2 and 3, this is shaping up to be Netflix’s next great fantasy hit. 

Published on March 9th, 2024. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

Being Human

It is unlikely that any supernatural beings are more overrepresented in fiction than vampire, werewolf and ghost (although zombies are currently making a play for it). Being Human steered clear of clichés for the most part, and frequently poked fun at those it did entertain.

Also tagged Fantasy

South Korean romcom/melodrama broadcast on Netflix simultaneous to its South Korean broadcast, the series has consistently topped the Netflix Global Top 10 list in March and April 2024

Also released in 2024

The Brothers Sun

Action packed violent comedy drama starring Michelle Yeoh, the fiercely protective mother of two brothers with completely different characters - one being a geeky university medical student, the other a ruthless Triad assassin

Also released in 2024

Dark Season

Excellently chilling teenage drama series by Russell T. Davies

Also tagged Fantasy

Box of Delights

John Masefield's enchanting children's fantasy The Box of Delights, tells the story of a young boy whose chance meeting with a Punch-and-Judy man leads him to a world where almost anything is possible.

Also tagged Fantasy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy The Vampire Slayer went for the emotional jugular then finished the viewer off with an adrenaline-powered stake to the heart. It was hot, sassy and sexy. It's was also a hellmouth full of fun.

Also tagged Fantasy

Angel

Spinning-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel continued to follow the fortunes of a centuries-old vampire cursed with a conscience...

Also tagged Fantasy

Bewitched

A witch marries a 'mortal' in 1960s America - and her family do not approve!

Also tagged Fantasy

The Gentlemen

Action comedy created by Guy Ritchie - a spin off from his 2019 film of the same name. Edward Horniman has unexpectedly inherited an estate of 15,000 acres only to discover that the land has become part of a weed-growing empire

Also released in 2024