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‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Review – A Worthy Reimagining


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This review was made possible by screeners for Avatar: The Last Airbender. Avatar: The Last Airbender premieres on Netflix on Thursday, February 22.

Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko started work on the animated version of Avatar: The Last Airbender in 2001. The show took inspiration from East Asian, South Asian, and Western culture, giving it an anime feel even though it is not considered anime because it is a Western based animated series. Regardless, the series is touted as one of the best animated series of our generation, winning many awards, airing for three seasons on Nickelodeon and eventually spinning off into the sequel series The Legend of Korra.

Even though most people have tried to forget, the first attempt at a live action adaptation was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. A complete bastardization of the source material lacking the charm of the animated version, terrible VFX and white-washed casting choices. Luckily with the VFX advances over the past few decades, streaming allowing more creative freedom and a cast full of culturally diverse actors we get Netflix’s reimagining of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The series follows Aang (Gordon Cormier), a young Air Nomad who was also the Avatar, a generational master of all four elements that brought peace to the world. The problem is he disappeared for one hundred years as the Fire Nation waged war with the intent of complete world domination. While hope is lost in this war-torn world, Aang awakens to discover he is the last of his kind and sets on a mission with his new friends Sokka (Ian Ousley) and Katara (Kiawentiio) to master the other elements and restore peace.


Avatar: The Last Airbender. (L to R) Ian Ousley as Sokka, Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

Right from the jump the series takes a more serious approach than its animated counterpart. While still trying to match the playful energy of the cartoon, the tone at first feels very uneven. Ranging from overly serious to borderline goofy. Especially with the leading trio. Aang is very much a child, burdened with a destiny that’s greater than himself, but the delivery of Cormier’s performance comes off over dramatic.

On the other hand the quest to capture the Avatar lead by Zuko (Dallas Liu) and his Uncle Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) hits that sweet spot of serious yet silly right from the get go. Not that the tone defines the entire series, because right from episode one there’s a ton of positives. The production design and costumes are absolutely stunning and definitely bring this world to life. Most importantly the action is displayed beautifully with the wide array of martial arts styles with truly impressive VFX portraying the bending of the elements.


While the hero’s journey of Aang takes center stage, what shined the brightest was the complex dynamics of the Fire Nation. Especially the relationship between Zuko and Iroh. An exploration of power, compassion and generational trauma. Zuko’s constant struggle with proving himself to his father, Fire Lord Ozai played masterfully by Daniel Dae Kim. While Iroh traverses the mental strain war takes on not only oneself, but a nation as a whole.

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. Robert Falconer/Netflix © 2024

Zuko’s vengeful voyage to destroy the Avatar is one that lends an interesting journey for a main protagonist. One far more nuanced than the normal mustache twirling villain. It can not be understated how terrifying Kim’s portrayal of Ozai is. While he’s pulling the strings in the background much like Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars, every time he’s on screen it’s effective.


By the season’s end Aang and his friends have a compelling and impressive journey character wise. As time goes on, the delivery feels less over-the-top and the tone starts to really find its groove about halfway into the season. Don’t let the rocky start fool you, the series has a lot to give.

Once the series finds its footing tonally, it soars as high as a sky bison with stunning visuals, action and well rounded character arcs. The journey of the Avatar has truly begun with an epic set up for a second season, which I have a good feeling will be announced shortly after the series premieres on Thursday, February 22nd.

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