‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ series review: A step up from the film, yet misses mark by miles

Heavy expositions and predictable plot-lines overpower the decent performances and some solid action set pieces in Netflix’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

February 25, 2024 12:55 pm | Updated 03:34 pm IST

Gordon Cormier in a scene from the series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

Gordon Cormier in a scene from the series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ | Photo Credit: Robert Falconer

“Let go of the past or you will never have a future.” This is a lesson that Aang, the protagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender, learns, but it is also something that embodies the journey the live-action adaptation of the insanely famous animated television series of the same name had to take. With the tele-series breaking multiple viewership records, M Night Shyamalan made a film adaptation that was critically panned and it has taken more than a decade for the franchise to get a live-action adaptation. While the new Netflix series is better than the film — which performed so poorly that a planned trilogy was ultimately scrapped — the series still comes short of being a befitting adaptation of the cult animated show.

More of a crash course on the story of a two-decade-old franchise, Avatar: The Last Airbender willingly uses tropes that are as old as the hills. In this universe, kingdoms are split based on the elements (fire, water, air and earth) its habitants can telekinetically control (an ability they call ‘bending’). While people can only bend one of the elements, there’s always a demi-god among them, known as Avatar, who can bend all the elements. It’s unsurprisingly a shock to everyone, including the 12-year-old airbender Aang (Gordon Cormier) that he’s the new Avatar. When the power-hungry Fire Nation people kill all the airbenders except the Avatar, he gets Steve Roger-ed on ice for 100 years until a sibling duo Katara (Kiawentiio) and Sokka (Ian Ousley) inadvertently bring him back to life. The three team up to, you guessed it, save the world.

ALSO READ: Review of M Night Shyamalan’s 2010 film, ‘The Last Airbender’ 

There are quite a few reasons the animated series gained cult status and one of them is the goofiness you would expect from cartoons; while the new adaption tries to double as ‘Avatar for Adults’, it fails to pander to both sets of audiences. There are the occasional jokes — and shots like Aang recreating the scene from the animated series where he airbends around and hits a statue — but the series doesn’t set the tone straight and does no justice to the fantasy world filled with mythical creatures and magic; a problem that we encountered with Disney’s live-action adaptations as well.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (English)
Showrunner: Albert Kim 
Cast: Gordon Cormier, Kiawentiio, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee
Episodes: 8
Runtime: 47–63 minutes
Storyline: The Avatar, who is yet to master his strengths, has to restore the balance of the world by standing up against an over-ambitious nation

But what’s more troubling is the break-neck speed the series travels and how it still rakes up a seven-plus hour runtime. Why was Aang the chosen one? What’s with the comet? Why are Fire Nation folks so...fiery? Despite feeling a little too long, the show does not get into such intriguing details.

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, left, and Dallas Liu in a scene from the series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, left, and Dallas Liu in a scene from the series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ | Photo Credit: Robert Falconer

What comes as a much-welcomed move is its neat casting, something the 2010 film not only failed to nail but was also rightfully criticised for whitewashing the cast list despite the source material’s influence being East Asian and Inuit culture. Cormier is perfect as Aang, embodying the character’s childish nature, the willingness to make friends with enemies and the power to take charge when required. Dallas Liu, as the scarred Prince Zuko, who has been exiled and is hot on the heels to capture Aang, is equally good. On paper, the parallels between these two are brilliant — both were raised to be what they are destined to be since childhood; both long for good companions; they have their own missions that they cannot fail at; and while Aang looks for a mentor in many after he loses his, Zuko’s mentor is his father who considers his own blood to be a weakling. However, these parallels rarely translate on the screen.

The action sequences are quite decent and the final episode is visually stunning, but the visual effects are not consistently in great quality. The animated series, despite being targeted at children, addressed several themes like war, imperialism, genocide and women’s empowerment. Considering how the new series largely focuses on a comparatively older target group, these topics could have been explored further. Instead, what we get are heavy expositions and predictable plotlines. For instance, the minute we are told about water’s healing abilities, we know it’ll be put to use later in the story. Or, when Katara is told that women do not participate in wars, no points for guessing if she will go on to do it.

It also gets painfully obvious that the trio are going to be unfazed at the end of the season and hence, the stakes are never too high. Uni-dimensional secondary characters and underdeveloped interpersonal dynamics amidst the trio don’t help either. Just last year, Netflix hit the bullseye with the live-action adaptation of One Piece. This time, however, it has failed to recreate the magic with Avatar: The Last Airbender. Despite being a largely faithful adaptation with decent performances and some solid sequences, capturing the true essence of the classic animated show seems to be a task too big even for the Avatar. Only if he could bend minds!

Avatar: The Last Airbender is currently streaming on Netflix

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.