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Netflix’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ is rediscovering the elements

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Courtesy of Netflix
Katara (Kiawentiio Tarbell) practicing waterbending in the Netflix’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
4.0 out of 5.0 stars

The animated series of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” — created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino — first premiered in 2005 and instantly became popular for its excellent storytelling, well written characters and powerful themes. But after 19 years, fans of the original show can enjoy the tale of Avatar Aang once again in the live-action series, which was released Feb. 22 on Netflix. 

The live-action series of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was developed by television writer and producer Albert Kim, who also worked on shows like “Sleepy Hollow” and “Pantheon.” Kim mentioned that he had doubts about making the series without the original creators at first. However, Kim was able to take the 20 episodes of content from the first season and trim it down to eight that range from 40 minutes to an hour.

The main plot of the show is centered around Aang, portrayed by Gordon Cormier, stopping the 100-year war brought about by the Fire Nation by mastering the four elements: water, earth, fire and air. Aang travels with siblings Katara (Kiawentiio Tarbell) and Sokka (Ian Ousley) to the Southern Water Tribe to protect the waterbenders from the Fire Nation. 

The show follows the original plot line of season one, but mixes up the sequence of events that lead to the final showdown at the Southern Water Tribe. For example, Jet (Sebastian Amoruso), one of the minor antagonists, was introduced in the third episode in the city of Omashu instead of the tenth episode like in the original series. 

Despite the reduced number of episodes, the series had solid pacing. There were a few times that the story started to drag, like the fact that the main cast were in Omashu for two episodes when everything could have been resolved in one episode. The useful aspect of the one-hour format is that it leaves room for more in-depth storytelling and extra content, which is what Kim does perfectly. Additionally, the beginning of the show focused on Aang’s life 100 years before he was found in the iceberg, as opposed to how the animated series waited several episodes to explain more of Aang’s backstory. 

One of the strongest aspects of this series is the cast, as they do an incredible job portraying the beloved characters. Starting off with Team Avatar, Gordon Cormier does an outstanding job at embodying Aang’s light hearted and caring nature, while also possessing the maturity and responsibility of being the Avatar. Tarbell and Ousley showcased the wonderful sibling dynamics that their characters had in the show. However, their personalities felt dialed down compared to their animated counterparts, as Sokka was not as goofy and Katara was not as bossy toward Sokka and Aang. It is only the first season, so if the show were to be picked up, maybe their personalities might be fleshed out better in the second season. 

Dallas Liu and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee perfectly portrayed the main antagonists Zuko and Iroh, respectively. Liu had the fiery passion that Zuko had for hunting the Avatar, while Lee had the wise and tea-loving personality that many fans appreciated about his character. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender” is based on East Asian cultures like Chinese and Japanese, while also focusing on Indigenous cultures like Inuits and Yupiks. This reflected in architecture, clothes and the characters’ way of life. Additionally, the creators focused on casting non-white actors to reflect the original ethnicities of the characters.

The original series was known for its bending of the four elements: water, earth, fire and air. Bending involves a person being able to control one of the four elements with ease. But only the Avatar can master all four elements. It can be quite challenging to incorporate bending into a live-action show because of CGI. However, the bending looked smooth and realistic, which many fans thought was missing in the 2010 movie “The Last Airbender.”

Overall, the live-action “Avatar: The Last Airbender” series is one many longtime fans of the original show will enjoy. The show takes the nostalgia and charm of the original series and gives it a fresh take. Despite a few hiccups in the development of some characters and pacing, the series has plenty of potential to do well if it is picked up for another season. 

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Jadyn Davis, Senior writer
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    Eric BassMar 1, 2024 at 12:15 pm

    I’m an alumni from 2016 who’s a huge fan of the original show and worked on this adaption in several capacities on the VFX side over the last 4 years. It’s so exciting to see fans old and new enjoying the show. Thanks for your kind review of the show!

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