Avatar – The Last Airbender: Netflix Live-Action Series Review

The review of the long-awaited live-action remake of the acclaimed Nickelodeon animated series is available on Netflix from February 22, 2024.

Image Credit: Netflix

There is always a great deal of anticipation mixed with curiosity to accompany the release of a project which in its previous life, whatever it may have been, left its mark on the users of the time and also on the imagination. This is the case of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the acclaimed animated series created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and broadcast on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008, with three seasons for a total of 61 episodes, which has achieved global fame such as then led to the creation over the years of an animated sequel (The Legend of Korra), of a comic book saga and graphic novel equally successful in terms of feedback and even of a live-action film directed by M. Night Shyamalan ( The last airbender) which, despite himself and us, unfortunately turned out to be a sensational disaster. 

In fact, the film obtained the highest number of nominations at the 2010 Razzie Awards, winning five, including the one for worst film, pushing the American filmmaker and the producers to abandon the idea of making a trilogy. That unsuccessful attempt to bring an adaptation to the screen with real actors did not, however, discourage Netflix, which in the wake of the success of One Piece, wanted to try its luck again and here it finally made its appearance on the platform on 22 February 2024 a new live-action remake, this time in a serial format (8 episodes of approximately 60 minutes each), called Avatar – The Last Airbender.

How is Avatar – The Last Airbender is a live-action remake?

Transposing such a beloved work was in itself a giant leap in the dark and the flop achieved by a filmmaker of Shyamalan's caliber with the 2010 feature film could and should have been read as a wake-up call, which apparently was ignored and with it all the potential risks involved. After all, we have all seen how other similar operations such as those of the live-action transpositions of Dragon Ball rather than The Knights of the Zodiac ended badly. He proves again that not all donuts come with a hole and that there are unforgettable experiences that cannot be replicated. 

And this is what also happened to Avatar – The Last Airbender, whose first season of the Netflix series, despite immediately jumping into the top positions of the top ten probably on the wave of subscribers' curiosity, left a lasting impression on those who saw it all in one breath like us a very strong bitter taste in the mouth, that unmistakable taste of an opportunity thrown to the wind. Yet the conditions for doing well - or at least better than that - were all there, starting with the presence in the credits of Albert Kim (Sleepy Hollow, Nikita) in the role of showrunner, executive producer, and screenwriter, of Jabbar Raisani ( Lost in Space, Stranger Things) and Michael Goi as directors together with colleagues Roseanne Liang and Jet Wilkinson. A highly respectable team, this one, however, did not succeed in the task of giving a new serial look capable of keeping up with the original matrix.

Image Credit: Netflix

The changes in the native plot helped the authors to more easily introduce new versions of the animated series to newcomers and non-fans

Despite the good intentions of the authors and the enormous production effort made to give shape and substance to the aforementioned restyling operation, Avatar – The Last Airbender did not achieve the desired and hoped-for results. The simplification work during the rewriting phase by Kim and his staff, which led each episode of the series to include approximately two of the cartoons, thus respecting the order established a decade ago of the narrated events, has allowed us to create a connecting bridge between the two works, making them independent from each other. 

This means that net of the physiological changes dictated by the process of translation from one language to another, from one format to another, the construction of the live-action series was conceived based on a few but necessary changes in the native plot to allow even beginners and non-enthusiasts to approach the new version more easily. In this way, anyone who has not previously come into contact with the source can calmly go and drink narratively and dramaturgically on the platform, where the eight episodes were conceived precisely as a clean slate of the past. 

The story therefore in very broad terms has remained the same and for the record tells the amazing adventures of a boy named Aang, known as the Avatar, who must learn to control the powers of the four elements to save a world at war and fight a ruthless enemy determined to stop him. At his side are two trusted friends, brothers, and members of the Southern Water Tribe, Sokka and Katara. The latter are played by Ian Ousley and Kiawentiio respectively, while Gordon Cormier had the considerable responsibility of stepping into the shoes of the protagonists.

Image Credit: Netflix

The live-action version is affected by the attempt to try to obtain a structural compromise between the original and the remake

Everyone gave their all, even physically, to make the story credible and as engaging as possible, but the writing was unable to replicate and adapt the winning formula that had won over the public at the time. In fact, the live-action version is affected by the attempt to obtain a structural compromise between the original and the remake, keeping some things unchanged and reshaping others when perhaps more drastic changes could have brought about benefits. The animated series of the early 2000s had specific characteristics that could not be replicated, which is why perhaps it was necessary to break away from it to obtain results of a much higher level. 

On a narrative level, in fact, Avatar – The Last Airbender fails to involve and excite the spectator on duty like its matrix. The reason is one and only one, namely the extreme difficulty of conveying the complexity of that world and the characters that populate it while having to do without the imaginative and limitless power of animation. Worlds and stories like these don't work everywhere, consequently, it's not necessarily enough to simply switch from one language to another to obtain the same results. The renderings of the fights between the various Dominators, most of which are spectacular and have a strong visual impact, in addition to the dynamic direction and the high-quality packaging, fail to be as epic and exciting as those in the original. There are no special effects, however perfect and technologically advanced, capable of making up for this lack.

Avatar – The Last Airbender: evaluation and conclusion

High-quality packaging, action scenes with a strong visual impact, and dynamic direction are not enough for this live-action adaptation to reach or at least equal the level of involvement and emotions of the animated series. Avatar – The Last Airbender is a serial product that knows its stuff from a spectacular point of view but narratively does not satisfy despite the attempts in the writing phase to simplify it and make it accessible even to neophytes. It is precisely these structural changes in the original story that weaken the plot and the character designs.