Review | Avatar: The Last Airbender - Netflix remake more “One Piece” than “Cowboy Bebop”

Can Netflix’s live-action remake of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” make amends after its ill-fated cinematic take from 2010?
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There’s been much trepidation regarding Netflix’s live-action remake of the iconic Nickelodeon series, “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” There’s an apprehension that the new series, arriving on the streaming giant today, might be more akin to the attempt to make “Cowboy Bebop” a live-action series, while the stronger concerns regard if it’s anything like M. Night Shyamalan’s attempt back in 2010

That attempt nearly killed the franchise, with a series of films following the Dev Patel starring features cancelled after the poor response at the box office and the poor response from the fandom.

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It hasn’t helped either that the series already suggested some deviations from the source material, in particular, Sokka (played by Ian Ousley) having some of his more misogynistic tropes toned down for the remake. But in modern times, you have to accommodate for modern palettes. Luckily, Sokka is still going through some learning pains as one of the leaders of the Waterbender tribe, in keeping with the development of the character.

The cinematics are incredible and since technological advances since 2010 have come a long way, the special effects are stunning. The fight scenes involving the four elements are stunning, as is the inclusion of the otherwordly creatures that exist within the “Avatar: The Last Airbender” - the Sky Bison Appa, in particular, is stunning as is the inclusion of the flying lemur Momo who we meet in the first episodes.

But it’s the characters and the depth of the storytelling that is the strength of this show; for all the bells and whistles with fight choreography, stunning special effects and stunning scenery used throughout the show, the heart of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” comes from the interpersonal relationships Aang (played by Gordon Cormier) fosters with his new friends/guardians Sokka and Katara (played by Kiawentiio) and the other denizens throughout the universe. 

Though some of the world-building comes across quite quickly, compared to that of its cartoon and manga counterparts, it can be forgiven in an entertainment climate where not-so-immediate praise is met with harsh cancellations or the dreaded “retooling” of a show. 

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Comier as the hopeful Aang, the titular last avatar who can wield all four powers the other tribes have, comes across as incredibly likeable and his performance when he’s not embroiled in fights for survival is tender, while I couldn’t keep my eyes off Ousley. Sokka is almost the show-stealer in the series, and like it or not, the removal of his sexist tendencies still doesn’t harm his personal development across the eight episodes.

If you can get past the quick world-building (for now that is), then Netflix’s adaptation of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” could almost be described as “Game of Thrones for younger audiences,” as even at 40 years of age, I found myself engrossed in the new adaptation. It’s great - not perfect, but a very solid return for the franchise.

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