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  • Damaris Chanza

Netflix's Live-Action Avatar: The Last Airbender is a Divisive Mess

After the movie we all try to erase from our memories, Netflix's live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender had much to prove, but did they succeed?


Avatar: The Last Airbender has been a fan favorite since the cartoon premiered in 2005. Creators Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko used this series to jumpstart an entire universe that spawned spinoffs like the Legend of Korra. After M. Night Shyamalan's first attempt at a live-action interpretation of this beloved series was met with severe backlash and disappointment, fans were wary about Netflix trying to make a live-action series.


Since Netflix announced the live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender, fan reception has been divided. At first, people were excited to learn that the original series creators were involved. However, that excitement was short-lived when the creators promptly left the project, citing "creative differences." With every new announcement about Netflix's version, fans slowly lost hope for the show's authenticity. That hope reignited when the promotional photos were finally released.



People argued on the internet whether the children cast as the main group looked enough like the cartoons. Elizabeth Yu was criticized for not having the angular features traditionally drawn for villainous cartoon characters like Azula. Despite their remarkable resemblance to their characters, Ian Ousley and Kiawentiio Tarbell were judged for their skin not being as dark as their respective characters, siblings Sokka and Katara.





The divide amongst fans only grew wider once the series finally released on February 22.


Some superficial connections to the animated series were greatly appreciated. Still, there was always a lingering hesitation about why they weren't quite right.


The costumes replicated the cartoon but had moments where they didn't look lived in. Costumes wouldn't get dirty after a fight or wet after getting splashed with water. The wigs on characters like Maser Pakku and Princess Yue made the costumes feel more like cosplay than believable characters.





The backgrounds were picturesque and beautiful but clearly made with CGI. At times, the show felt like a school play with actors standing in front of a still backdrop. The sets, although articulate of the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, didn't succeed in making you suspend disbelief in believing the intricacies of this universe.



The most significant debate has been the storytelling and dialogue.


Netflix had the challenge of turning the 20 episodes in season 1 of the animated series into only 8. Of course, this means condensing some storylines and entirely omitting others. With so much material to work with in season 1 of the animated series, it's curious why the writers merged season 2 and 3 storylines. Merging Jet and The Freedom Fighters, The Mechanist, and The King of Omashu into one storyline felt well-intentioned but clumsy. Even though most characters are children, they endowed them with wisdom solely for exposition purposes and delivered it with clunky dialogue.


With so many changes to the narrative and dialogue, character-defining moments disappeared, removing essential character development that would affect the series' future. The most significant change was that throughout the entire season, Aang didn't practice waterbending at all. With the series already renewed for another 2 seasons, each focusing on learning a specific element's bending style, how will this lack of knowledge on Aang's part affect his development in future seasons? Will they rush through his training?



There are still so many questions surrounding Netflix's live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender. Are we okay with firebenders burning people alive? Why was Zuko's obsession with restoring his honor changed to achieving glory? Why were Mai and Ty Lee shown if they would never be named? Why did Commander Zhao have the ambition of becoming Fire Lord? Why eliminate all the side quests when some are integral to the story? The questionable decisions made by the writers are countless, giving the fans countless topics for debate, with a critical topic being whether the show is even good.

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