Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024) Review

Water, Earth, Fire, Air.

Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked!

If you grew up watching shows on Nickelodeon, this saying might sound familiar to you. This saying is part of the intro from the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was one of Nickelodeon’s popular shows at the time. This show was so popular during the early 2000s, that during the Kids’ Choice Awards 2008, it was the only cartoon to beat SpongeBob SquarePants for favorite cartoon. 

It tells the story of a 12-year-old boy named Aang, who ran away from home after discovering that he would be the next avatar. He gets caught in a storm and almost drowns until he freezes himself in ice for 100 years. During his time trapped in ice, the Fire Nation started a war, killed off all air nomads, and made plans to conquer the world. Later on, two individuals, Sokka and Katara from the southern water tribe discover Aang and later find out that he is the Avatar. In hopes of stopping this war and the Fire Nation, the three go on a journey to help Aang master all four elements and defeat the Fire Nation leader, Fire Lord Ozai.

The show eventually got made into a movie in 2010, which has gotten a score of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 2.1 on Metacritic. Then, 2 years later, the show got a spin-off series, The Legend of Korra

It seemed like the fans had everything that they wanted at this point, the animated show, the movie (but let’s be real, no one asked for it in the first place. It would be better off not being made), the animated spin-off, and the video game (once again though, it’s not something that the fans asked for and the reviews show it). What more could the fans want? According to Netflix, a live-action series. Netflix had claimed that they were making a live-action series back in 2018. A couple of years later, they released teasers and trailers of the show. But the two things that everyone was worried about were how the bending was going to look, and the acting. After the whole screw-up with the movie, I can understand why people would worry about this as I, too, was one of those people. Things got worse when the two creators of the original series, Bryan Konietzko, and Michael Dante DiMartino, decided to leave the making of the live-action series because of the “creative differences” they faced. 

The series starts 100 years before the war. An earthbender is rushing back to his partner with a message of how the fire nation is going to wage war. He ends up getting captured but his partner escapes, on his way to tell the Earth kingdom a war is about to happen. But that was Fire Lord Sozin’s plan all along, as the earth kingdom is not the target. Sozin kills him by slowly burning him alive. It was a nice touch to see a side story of how the war started. This shows that the writers wanted moments to stand out by adding a lot of depth to each story. For example, Aang’s story. In the first episode, we get to see Aang and his mentor, Gyatso (Kay Siu Lim), have a heart-to-heart conversation about Aang being the Avatar and having to leave the air temple to begin his training. Gyatso tells Aang that he will do great things and no matter what, will always be his friend.

The bending in this show was far from disappointing…in most cases. The fight scenes that include bending were fantastic, as each bending style comes from real martial styles. But, if I had to choose which bending needs a little more work, I would say Air and Water. With air bending, in some scenes, it just looks slow. As an example, when Aang flies, he looks like he is dangling in the sky while the crew in the back are moving him from left to right. Then, there are times when Katara forms ice and she slides on it, but it looks like she is going in slo-mo when she is not supposed to. But overall, the bending is on point. (Take that M. Night Shyamalan!)

The plots of each episode are a bit wonky from time to time. This is because they had to write all of season 1 from the original series into 8 episodes. In some cases, I enjoyed the idea of combining these episodes into 1- hour long episodes. But sometimes, everything was solved too quickly or they would move away from that story and go on to the next one without a proper conclusion. One episode that stood out to me was when they arrived in Omashu and Aang went with the earth king. This would be the episode where Aang was put through tests until he found out that the King was his old friend, Bumi (Utkarsh Ambudkar).

 But this time, Aang found out way before he even did the “tests”. I felt like because of this, no character development was being made. The whole reason Bumi put Aang through these tests was because he wanted Aang to think outside of the box when it comes to difficult situations and to see if he remembered him.

Another thing about the show is the changes that were made to the story. When the team goes to Kyoshi Island and the Fire Nation shows up, we see Aang in the avatar state, but as one of his past lives, Kyoshi (Yvonne Chapman). That scene was cool because the people of Kyoshi look up to Avatar Kyoshi and seeing her “alive” and protecting their island and people once again was amazing. We also get to see how Kyoshi fights off the Firebenders using all 4 elements. Then, there was the episode where Aang, Sokka, and Katara ended up in the spirit world, where we met a memorable character: Koh, the face stealer.  Koh was made to be an antagonist in the episode rather than an anti-hero. He captures Sokka and Katara, by using their past against them. Katara losing her mother and Sokka finding out that his father is disappointed in him. There is even a moment when Aang meets Gyatso again in the spirit world and Gyatso tells him that he was happy that he left because Aang would not have been able to take on the Fire Nation army, providing a little bit of redemption for Aang. 

Now for the actors/characters. I know that fans were upset when they found out that Sokka was going to be less sexist. I understand that being sexist helped build his character in the animated series, but his actor, Ian Ousley, matches Sokka’s personality very well: funny, strong, and protective. Meanwhile, Aang lacked his fun and childlike personality. I don’t blame it on Gordon Cormier, but rather on how the script was written for him. He played his part well, but he is supposed to be playing a 12-year-old boy, who does goofy tricks, wants to go on adventures, and has fun. 

Katara, played by Kiawentiio Tarbell, was good but I wish we had seen more of her character development. Katara’s character felt rushed. She mastered waterbending way too fast and didn’t have that small bit of rage that pushed her forward to do better. It’s not the actor’s fault, it’s her script and how the show plays out.  Finally, there is Dallas Liu who plays Zuko. A short-tempered, banished prince who wants nothing more than to capture the avatar and restore his honor. Mr. Liu does not hold back when he plays Zuko and shows the audience that he matches well with Zuko’s personality. The anger, the obsession, and the sadness are all there. The only thing though is that the anger could be more aggressive. Without that aggression, it sometimes makes his character look weak and vulnerable. 

Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) is still that same old man who shows nothing but kindness and wisdom towards others and his nephew, Zuko. His actor shares the humor and patience that Iroh has in the animated show. I kind of wish he had more screen time, but seeing the scene about his son’s funeral and Zuko being there to support him was sweet and kind, it gave us a little bit of background on why Iroh is so supportive of his nephew and why he came along on his banishment. 

Overall, the show is good. It does not match up with the animated series and that is why people are nitpicking on it. Would I watch it again? No. The storytelling is good, but things are rushed. The bending and fighting are better than the movie, but water and air could be worked on a little better. The characters and acting were good, but some of them were missing that trait that made them who they were in the animated show. Like Katara having that slight rage that helped her master her water bending, Sokka being sexist, Aang losing that happy-go-lucky kid personality that we all know and love, and Zuko being less aggressive than normal. The cabbage merchant, Jet and the freedom fighters, and June make a small appearance, which I didn’t think the writers would do. The show also includes music from the original, like the ending theme, Secret Tunnel, and Leaves from the Vine. I give Netflix credit for trying and keeping some original aspects of the animated series. 

My advice to the audience is don’t go in there thinking that it is trying to outshine the animated series, but also not to set your expectations high on the show. Based on the critics, Avatar: The Last Airbender has gotten a 59%, while for the audience, a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. Over at Metacritic, critics gave it a 56 and the audience gave it a 6.5, which I feel is a fair score. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024) is available on Netflix