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‘Avatar The Last Airbender’: The Avatar returns

Avatar+Aang+%28Gordon+Cormier%29%2C+Katara+%28Kiawentiio%29%2C+and+Sokka+%28Ian+Ousley%29+looks+in+horror+as+a+army+of+fire+nation+soldiers+approaches+them.+
Netflix
Avatar Aang (Gordon Cormier), Katara (Kiawentiio), and Sokka (Ian Ousley) looks in horror as a army of fire nation soldiers approaches them.

Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago these four nations lived in harmony — but everything changed when Netflix’s latest live-action remake of Nickelodeon’s fan-favorite animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” released on Feb. 22.

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the $120 million remake by Albert Kim & Netflix is their latest attempt at translating a popular anime into live action. The live-action Avatar follows the original plot—after living in harmony for centuries, the power-hungry fire nation, led by Fire Lord Ozai (Hiro Kanagawa), rises against the other three nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, and the Air Nomads. After being frozen in ice for a century, 12-year-old air nomad Aang (Gordon Cormier) has to master all four elements with his friends Katara (Kiawentiio Tarbel), Sokka (Ian Ousley), his winged lemur Momo and his flying bison Appa to restore balance to the world by stopping the Fire Nation.

The first season of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” follows a condensed plot of “Book 1,” the first season in the animation. Its eight episodes capture the highlights of the original show but are briskly paced, making the storyline hard to follow compared to the 20 episodes in the original show.

For example, the live-action ‘Avatar’ entwines Jet’s (Sebastian Amoruso) story of resistance within the Earth Kingdom’s city of Omashu and the story of King Bumi (Utkarsh Ambudkar), making it feel rushed — especially for people who watched the original animation and understand the relationship between Aang and Bumi.

The cast, even though diverse, is lackluster, with the exceptions of Uncle Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim), who are strong in their roles. A key reason for the lackluster acting is because a lot of humor from the original animation was removed.

In the transition to live-action, much of the lighthearted silliness in the original is replaced with a tone that is more violent and mature, with a heavy focus on the horror of genocide and totalitarianism. The daunting vibe somewhat works in the live-action cinematics, yet also takes away the key comedic element offered in the original show.  The major challenge for Sokka (Ian Ousley) is translating the childish humor from the animation into live-action given the show’s context.

In terms of the visual effects, the show has some trendsetting displays of CGI and other moments that wow the audience.  However, given that the actors perform in front of a green screen that lacked the physical context and interaction that a real set or location provides, it makes the acting rigid as neither actor nor viewer can fully immerse in the fantasy.

With the number of locations where the “Avatar” story takes place, it makes sense that Netflix would want to keep costs low by digitally rendering more fantastical places. However, while the grandeur of the set stands out to viewers, the unnatural lighting and camera work miss the flair of the animation.

Furthermore, one of the most significant factors from the original series in the live-action remake is the handling of bending, the elemental martial arts practiced by characters in the show. In the animated series, bending is depicted with a rich history and grace, with each element — water, earth, fire, and air — having its distinct movements. However, in the live-action remake, the execution of bending often feels clunky, lacking the dynamic choreography that made the original bending battles so exhilarating to watch.

Even though there are areas of the show that could use some improvement, the live-action also has massive potential for seasons 2 & 3  if they [the producers] listen to criticism from the audience. The show still invokes nostalgia within viewers using the original Avatar soundtrack and bringing a diverse range of Asian characters from such a renowned show to life. However, the 2024 TV series falls short of matching the original animation in terms of the plot, humor, and appeal to all ages.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender”

7 hours, 1 minute.

Rated TV-PG.

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

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About the Contributors
Alex Chang, Engagement Manager
Alex Chang (Class of 2026) joined The Voice his sophomore year and enjoys playing tennis, meeting new people and reading.
Joy Tan, Sports Editor, Multimedia Editor
Joy Tan (class of 2026) joined The Voice in her sophomore year and enjoys playing volleyball and taking photos.

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