‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ bends expectations

Photo Courtesy of Netflix



The Netflix adaptation delivers performance while stripping away the heart of the original.

Netflix’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a grounded adaptation that pays respect to its source material, but its pacing and dialogue tears away at the original’s 19 years of nostalgia.

This live adaptation is an inconsistent yet beautifully crafted disappointment that will leave fans simultaneously frustrated but craving more time with their beloved childhood characters. This dramatic reimagining admirably condenses 20 episodes into an eight-part adult drama, masterfully expanding on the world building. Unfortunately, it also strips the show of its whimsical nature, highlighted by flat deliveries and devastating script work.

First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge that this adaptation is purposefully a dramatic reimagining that was inspired by the darkness of “Game of Thrones”. Many plot lines and characters are altered to better suit the demand of the shorter timeline and adult themes.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2024) hardly holds a candle to the original cartoon, but it completely blows the 2010 movie out of the water. It finds a middle ground in quality, although it shows peak writing in character expansion, with increased depth for relationships like Iroh and Zuko.

The action of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2024) outpaced other adaptations, with the visuals and fight choreography being highlights of the show. Every scene with bending immerses you in the magic of the world, although there are a few noticeable moments in non-combat scenes where the CGI looks strange. The show’s gritty atmosphere enhances the feeling of threat from the fire nation, and the themes of war allow for characters to be more motivated, compelling and mature, which helps streamline the show’s fast-paced plot. . 

Unfortunately, Netflix’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” rarely gives the viewer adequate breathing room. It’s undeniable to say this show struggles with pacing, with the writers rushing many subplots or forcing the main team to separate on their own arcs. Many secondary character portrayals, such as Bumi and Roku, are butchered to develop the main three characters who seemingly learn nothing from the experience. The performance of each cast member is great, but the script and tone of some deliveries drastically hurts the show, making for a clunky narrative.

The worst part is that this show struggles and excels with all these different attributes in different episodes. It feels like different studios made different episodes, with the numerous directors unable to come together for a central focus. Without giving spoilers, the first two episodes are the best the show has to offer, maintaining an excellent pace and exploration of the world. Episodes three through five are almost painful to watch for different reasons. Omashu personifies every structural problem the show has, and episode five is just throwing concepts against a wall to see what sticks. Then the final three episodes make up for the blunders of the previous episodes, but not without their own narrative and aesthetic flaws.

Critiquing the entire series is difficult, because Netflix’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a mixed bag. While it was overall enjoyable and genuinely impressive for an adaptation if your expectations are set high, then you will likely be disappointed. A casual viewer will love this show, but hardcore fans or critics will be hesitant to say it’s worthy to carry the same title as the beloved cartoon.



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