Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024) Review

Avatar: The Last Airbender
Avatar: The Last Airbender
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Turning cartoons into live-action films is often difficult. This does not mean that the idea is hopeless: Netflix even went ahead in making their version of Eiichiro Oda’s popular manga One Piece. Unfortunately, at least some versions fall into this trap when crossing over to more conventional formats. Saddeningly the new Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action adaptation from Netflix, spearheaded by Albert Kim (after original creators left it due to creative differences) mostly abandons the cartoonish charm and dynamic presentation of its source material for a more somber-looking fantasy complete with an early charred corpse.

Except for those earth benders who were turned into barbeque, many of these attempts make the show’s writing appear more juvenile than mature. In contrast, the Last Airbender lacks subtlety compared to its children’s television counterparts and has nothing hidden behind dialogue that says exactly what is meant in subsequent scenes. Moreover, each episode is preceded by a voiceover that explicitly outlines the themes. Much time is devoted to characters talking about themselves. Aang’s (Gordon Cormier) monk mentors essentially reveal at the start what will be developed in his character arc as well as the emerging themes of this particular TV series.

As it traverses these long curves to get the point across quickly, the series is somehow too short and excessively lengthy. Every episode lasts for an hour, but only eight of them can summarize the bullet points of The Last Airbender’s first season in a sleepy manner. It is “Into The Dark” when it comes to this, which means about four episodes from the original show are squeezed into a mess made up of different parts. Maybe it will open doors for some people, but usually, this feels like an adaptation for those who already watched the Nickelodeon show that builds a story around references rather than about something else. Choices that are either boring or downright ridiculous are what undermine the narrative of the film most often.

Occasionally, its stodgy episodes have carried by some enjoyable casting: Daniel Dae Kim plays Fire Lord Ozai with coldness and Ken Leung makes Commander Zhao amusingly treacherous and craven. In terms of whitewashing at least, even though there are still a lot of critics of M Night Shyamalan’s 2010 live-action adaptation. But then again, the character work itself tends to be either shallow or plain as all feelings are explained rather than felt.

Unfortunately, not much action makes up for this. Translating fantasy from cartoons to humans on screen has one major snag — many things may feel unnatural if done imperfectly, which becomes an existential issue since we’re dealing with manipulating elements here. Only sometimes does The Last Airbender’s action design succeed: for example, one fight in a market using commodities once almost achieves fun whereas another between water-bender and fire-bender is momentarily appealing. However, everything else is weakly executed and hardly coherent.

There also exist other problems such as besiegement by wigs ranging from somewhat unconvincing ones to downright dreadful ones; camera work and lighting within fail to express animation’s brilliance at times, with otherwise exciting set-pieces being rendered nonsensical via sheer gloom; sometimes it manages to touch some authentic grandeur by showing unadulterated size in its physical sets and partially rendered settings. But more often than not, there is a separation between the people and the space, which mostly weakens the impact of the show.

Looked at in isolation, the new series is fairly lackluster and sketchily drawn out rehashing of time-tested tales of tyranny and rebellion – one cannot simply be better than another adaptation of this. But hey, here’s some good news: there’s a still perfectly fine animated version of Avatar: The Last Airbender, also on Netflix.

Read Avatar: The Last Airbender on Fmovies

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