Avatar: The Last Airbender – TV Review

As someone who grew up as a child in the early 2000s, immersed in the peculiar cartoons of Nickelodeon, I’ve always approached adaptations from that era with eager anticipation. Nevertheless, despite my enthusiasm, I proceed with the awareness that some may not live up to my excitement. Madame Web, for instance. On the contrary, Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of the adaptations I awaited with a “why not?” attitude.

Unfortunately, M. Night Shyamalan’s 2010 adaptation disappointed me and many others. Years later, when Netflix announced a live-action series adaptation, drawing inspiration from last year’s One Piece, I found myself once again in hopeful anticipation. One Piece was also anticipated to fail, yet the result proved quite successful. However, time and the multitude of annual live-action adaptations have taught me one thing: Some cartoons or anime are simply not suited for live-action adaptations. No matter what you do, the outcome will not be as expected.

Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender brings back to us the adventures of one of Nickelodeon’s finest cartoons. Aang, who has been trapped in ice for 100 years, awakens and embarks on adventures with Katara and Sokka. While trying to discover his powers as the Avatar, he constantly evades danger, especially from the Fire Nation’s armies, particularly Zuko. Along the way, he gains new friends, encounters new enemies, and embarks on a cultural journey across the map.

The 8-episode series successfully brought back the Avatar I remembered. As I watched the scenes, the cartoon kept coming to mind. The series transported me back in time, rekindling my curiosity about that bald kid I watched while eating my dinner. Apart from a few – politically correct – changes in the story and characters, everything remains exactly the same.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is also remarkably successful in scene design and effects. Netflix has managed to portray the world of elements, where four different nations possess different powers and express themselves through these powers in the best possible way. The thin line between cartoons or anime and live-action is particularly evident here. While we readily accept all absurdities in cartoons or anime, we find it jarring when we see the same in live-action projects. The absence of these absurdities in real life makes us psychologically uncomfortable. If any project can maintain this balance and even lean towards realism, it automatically becomes successful. Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender has effects that tiptoe along this line, ultimately convincing its audience.

Now, let us address the troubled aspects of the series. As mentioned above, unfortunately, some projects are simply not suitable for live-action adaptations. After the second attempt, it becomes apparent that Avatar falls into this category. Despite the pleasing aesthetics of scene design, effects, and costumes, there is an artificiality present in every frame of the series. This artificiality is particularly evident in the acting and casting choices. Regrettably, nearly everyone on screen in the series appears awkward. The meticulously designed costumes look mismatched on them, the fake mustaches are glaringly obvious, and, above all, the performances are unfortunately contrived.

This contrivance is exacerbated by the American-style screenplay. Many dialogues in the series are cringe-inducing to the point of being unbearable. The tirades characters throw at each other, the dramatic confrontations with oneself sprinkled with pathos, and the out-of-place lines significantly diminish the value of the series. While these dramatic self-confrontation dialogues may be effective in children’s cartoons, they become grating when translated into adult projects. Projects with their own unique universes should have their own communication techniques. In a story set in a kind of mythological medieval universe, it is extremely jarring to hear a character use the word “VIP.” The series exhibits an excessive American cringe in this regard, which only exacerbates the artificiality of characters that already seem pretty fake.

Despite their good intentions, the only character in the series who does not stand out to me as glaringly artificial, whom I can say fits the character perfectly, is, unfortunately, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, portraying Uncle Iroh. While the new Aang (Gordon Cormier) appears much more successful compared to the 2010 adaptation, he too falls victim to poor dialogue. Katara (Kiawentiio), Sokka (Ian Ousley), and Zuko (Dallas Liu) have all done their best with all good intentions, but collectively, they appear quite artificial on screen.

In essence… Avatar: The Last Airbender, despite all its artificiality, is an average project that manages to bring back my childhood. While the series succeeds in keeping the audience engaged and entertained, it also succeeds in chilling the audience with the rawness of its characters and the jarring dialogues. Perhaps for someone who hasn’t watched the cartoon in their childhood, the series may appear quite different, but as someone familiar with the cartoon, the series fails to reach the expected level. And I no longer believe it has the potential to do so. Some cartoons are simply not suitable for live-action adaptations. Confronting this reality, I conclude my writing here.

Cast & Crew

creator: Albert Kim

starring: Gordon Cormier, Kiawentiio, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung

USA | 2024 | 8 EPISODES |


Ukrainian Creative Director | Motion Picture Writer | Horror Freak

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