‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ review: An adaptation for those who have never seen the original
(Credits: Netflix)


‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ review: An adaptation for those who have never seen the original

Avatar: The Last Airbender - Albert Kim

Original creators leaving an adaptation midway never bodes well. Netflix’s foray into live-action has been hit or miss, with the One Piece adaptation being a significant success for the streaming giant. Eiichiro Oda’s involvement in the entire creative process is instrumental in that. So when Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko walked away over creative differences, the fate of Netflix’s live-action adaptation Avatar: The Last Airbender hung on a balance. 

The wounds inflicted by M. Night Shyamalan’s disastrous adaptation are still raw, after all. And tragically enough, Albert Kim’s vision of ATLA is not going to heal any wounds any time soon. The writing in ATLA feels hurried and simplistic, tailored more for a younger audience than for dedicated fans who are more on the grown-up side of adulthood. 

Visually, the adaptation oscillates between moments of vibrant colour and lacklustre visual effects. While some sequences evoke the awe-inspiring world of the original series, others feel derivative and uninspired. Some of the flying sequences are reminiscent of Harry Potter, which was made in the late 1990s and early 2000s when cinematic animation was still decidedly in its adolescence compared to now.

Performance-wise, the cast offers a mixed bag of portrayals. Gordon Cormier’s portrayal of Aang captures the endearing innocence and spirit of the character. Cormier, with his puckish expressions, carries the show. Sokka’s (Ian Ousley) lack of sexism shouldn’t be a concern because Kiawentiio’s Katara gets to overcome gender bias with minimal efforts among the members of the Northern Water Tribes.

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Uncle Iroh delivers one of the more enjoyable performances in this rendition, which constantly falls flat due to its uninspired writing. His equation with Dallas Liu’s Zuko is one of the highlights of the series that deserved a lengthier run and more filler episodes to do justice to proper character development.

Despite the hour-long eight-episode run, the pacing of the series leaves much to be desired. Subplots are introduced and resolved with alarming speed, depriving them of any meaningful impact. Moments of tension and character development are glossed over in favour of advancing the main plot, resulting in a story that feels disjointed and unsatisfying. It is also increasingly evident that some of the younger actors needed diction and dialogue coaching. Either they speak too fast or chew half their words while rushing through the dialogues as if Miss Trunchbull were waiting out of frame with a timer and the threat to swing them by their pigtails if they didn’t hurry up.

When Sokka moons over Princess Yue (Amber Midthunder), it might bring Courtney Solomon’s 2000 adaptation of Dungeons and Dragons to mind. Danny Pudi as The Mechanist, George Takei as Koh the Face Stealer, and Daniel Dae Kim as Fire Lord Ozai are some of the legacy actors who infuse more life into their characters. Maria Zhang as Suki and Elizabeth Yu as Princess Azula also deserve a nod for not entirely getting lost among the sea of stories and the crowd of characters the series rushes through. Ultimately, this mix of shoddy writing, messy direction, and showy but ultimately blasé visuals makes Netflix’s ATLA as unsatisfactory as the streamer’s The Witcher adaptation. 

Netflix’s adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender is ultimately cute but reductive. It might find its audience among younger viewers unacquainted with the original or diehard stans. However, this live-action iteration serves as a disappointing reminder of the challenges inherent in translating beloved stories to new mediums. As the search for the elusive ‘perfect’ adaptation persists, perhaps the true magic of Avatar: The Last Airbender will forever reside in its original animated form.

Avatar: The Last Airbender starts streaming on Netflix on February 22nd, 2024.