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What to Expect for Netflix’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

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“Protection and power are overrated. I think you are very wise to choose happiness and love.”

Uncle Iroh once said this to Aang as they traversed through tunnels beneath Ba Sing Se. Such wisdom bestowed upon Aang should not be lost upon fans when developing their mindset towards this series. To keep ones’ self closed off in a protected shell of what they’ve come to know instead of providing an opportunity for love and happiness would be a painfully foolish and sad endeavor. Especially when what’s being provided comes from a place of respect of the source material.

After seeing just the first episode of this Netflix adaptation of a childhood favourite in a theatre filled with other Avatar: The Last Airbender fans where we cheered, teared up and howled for joy, I can confidently say that at least episode one will not disappoint the majority of fans. Especially those who have taken on some of the wisdom bestowed through the original series.

WIND OF CHANGE

The live-action show has taken a HBO The Last Of Us approach to the series where they have added in moments and explanations that were not originally seen in the original, but had been mere mentions from characters or had been given some brief and vague pieces imagery. With such additions, changes have also been made to character motivations and personality traits.

With all these changes based off just the viewing of the first episode alone, I will say that some of it was for the best. The additions especially are wonderful and adds greatly to what we have known since 2005. They help add more weight and pain to actions and relationships we see forged. On top of the already existing pain viewers might already carry from the original.

Avatar: The Last Airbender. (L to R) Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2023

The changes that have been made are fitting for a series that is consolidating twenty episodes that are twenty minutes each into eight one hour long episodes. When comparing those changes there was only one change that did not resonate well as a fan of the original, but it might hint towards an intriguing and even bigger change in the future of this series. One that might satisfy some other fans if my suspicions turn out to be true or gravely anger a great deal of others.

While this differs from person to person, the sign of a good adaptation should be that the new piece of media being provided should not be a replicant with minor differentials. It should rework things that may not have functioned well prior and provide it’s own style and voice from the original. While still staying faithful to aspects of what helped make the original so popular. From that first episode it does all this in strides. The writing is excellent. It takes some dialogue from the original that will trigger the nostalgia in fans, but not in a way that it feels ham-fisted.

STRONG PERFORMANCES AND ACTION

The performances and characterizations of these beloved characters are wonderful. The stand out performances have to be Aang, Katara and Iroh played by Gordon Cormier, Kiawentiio and Paul Sun-Hyung Lee respectively. They especially felt the most like their cartoon counterparts, this is all due in credit to the actors of who all capture the essence of the characters and make the performances their own. Aang is still the fun loving kid who adores life and forging new friendships. Katara is still the caring person whose kindness could warm the hearts of many, but still carries the weight of her trauma. And Uncle Iroh is still the wise sage who carries complexities behind a single look, loves his nephew and knows how to have lighthearted moments to help others when a simple cup of jasmine won’t do the trick. 

Avatar: The Last Airbender. (L to R) Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Iroh, Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

A big proponent of what made the original so enticing was the fight scenes. When translating action from an animated format to a live action there are undoubtedly going to be limitations. The action sequences displayed in episode one are wonderful, although they set a high bar to be met later on in the season.

If you are someone who loved Avatar for the faster paced fight scenes, the movements, the flow and spectacle, then you will be pleasantly surprised by the live action adaptation. The hits felt impactful, air and fire bending feel like deadly forces and most importantly, the bending styles felt true to each of the martial arts styles that were originally based on.

Overall, if you are an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan you will not be disappointed by this Netflix adaptation. As long as you are not wanting a one for one perfect translation from animation to live action. This series has made their own changes that honors the first few episodes from Book 1 and had this Avatar fan absolutely excited for the future of these characters in live action. To the point where I had shed tears from such excitement and beauty.

Avatar: The Last Airbender premieres on Netflix on Thursday, February 22.

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