Avatar: The Last Airbender garners diverse feedback from critics

(L-R) Ian Ousley, Gordon Cormier, Kiawentiio and Dallas Liu. AVATAR
Ian Ousley, Gordon Cormier, Kiawentiio and Dallas Liu at The Last Airbender premiere [GETTY IMAGES]

Netflix’s latest live-action release, Avatar: The Last Airbender, elicits a range of critical opinions.’

The eight-part series serves as a reinterpretation of the beloved animated fantasy series of the same name originally created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

Although both DiMartino and Konietzko initially joined forces with Netflix for the live-action adaptation, they departed from the project before its completion.

Regrettably, the 2024 remake, helmed by Albert Kim, has been received with mixed reviews. Variety described it as a “beautifully crafted disappointment.”

Critic Aramide Tinubu acknowledged that the series managed to avoid the flaws of another adaptation, the 2010 film The Last Airbender directed by M. Night Shyamalan. However, Tinubu noted that fans may have preferred if Netflix had left DiMartino and Konietzko’s original masterpiece untouched.

Tinubu further commented that while the show’s visuals and the inclusion of Asian and Indigenous actors added authenticity to the series, the majority of the cast’s performances fell short when it came to effectively conveying the weight of the narrative. Many portrayals lacked the necessary depth of emotion required to carry a show that delves into themes of genocide, war, and totalitarianism.

It is important to note that the concerns raised about the remake are separate from the success of the original Avatar film, which remains the highest-grossing film ever made. Despite the mixed reception, the series still holds appeal for fantasy enthusiasts.

Gordon Cormier
Canadian actor Gordon Cormier plays lead character Aang [GETTY IMAGES]

Without revealing too much, the series follows a captivating premise set in a world divided into four distinct kingdoms, each associated with the elements of fire, earth, water, and air. In these kingdoms, individuals known as “benders” possess the ability to manipulate and wield these elements as a form of extraordinary power.

The story revolves around the main characters, including 12-year-old Aang portrayed by Gordon Cormier, who joins forces with 14-year-old Katara (Kiawentiio) and her older brother Sokka (Ian Ousley) on a mission to save their respective kingdoms.

Jack Seale from The Guardian offered a more positive perspective, assigning the series a commendable four-star rating. Seale praised the vibrant landscapes, the awe-inspiring presence of a colossal six-legged flying bison that gracefully transports characters through the clouds, and the impressive performances delivered by the youthful cast.

Seale expressed confidence in the Airbender franchise, suggesting that this revival marks just the beginning of its journey, implying that there is more to come from this captivating world.

‘Rather drab and thinly sketched’

However, Empire’s Kambole Campbell offered a more critical perspective, granting the series a modest two-star rating. Campbell expressed disappointment that the show veered away from the original’s animated charm and dynamic presentation, opting instead for a more serious and somber fantasy approach. According to Campbell, the series presents a lackluster and thinly developed spin on familiar themes of oppression and rebellion. Furthermore, despite each episode having an hour-long duration, Campbell found the show to be simultaneously too long and too short, leaving an unsatisfying impression.

Anita Singh from The Telegraph provided a middling review, awarding the series a three out of five-star rating. Singh described it as solid entertainment, characterized by fast-paced action, well-executed fight scenes, and commendable performances, all made possible by Netflix’s substantial budget. However, Singh cautioned against expecting subtlety, as the series targets a younger audience, resulting in broadly drawn characters and plotlines. Singh shared that she watched the series with her own children, who provided their own review, stating that it was good but not on par with SpongeBob SquarePants.

It’s important to consider the diverse range of opinions expressed by critics, highlighting both positive and negative aspects of the series, ultimately leaving room for individual interpretation and preferences.

‘The acting is wooden’

(L-R) Actors Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, Kiawentiio, Gordon Cormier, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu and Elizabeth Yu.
(L-R) Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, Kiawentiio, Gordon Cormier, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu and Elizabeth Yu at the show’s premiere [GETTY IMAGES]

While the majority of reviews have found some positive aspects in the show, the same cannot be said for Vulture’s Jackson McHenry’s review. McHenry expressed numerous criticisms, stating that the live-action series had significant flaws right from the start. He highlighted wooden acting, lackluster writing, garish costumes, an annoyingly monotonous score, and a visual appearance that seemed dull and murky. McHenry found the hour-long premiere to be particularly unexciting and tedious, struggling to maintain interest and lacking the enthusiasm to continue watching the remaining seven episodes. He likened the experience to receiving a mundane homework assignment, which he considered an unfortunate fate for a series based on a beloved Nickelodeon kids’ cartoon.

On the other hand, Paul Tassi of Forbes took a more positive stance. Tassi acknowledged that the series was not on par with its animated predecessor, but praised the evident passion and love displayed by the cast and crew towards the source material. He likened the endeavor to painting the Mona Lisa with colored pencils—while it may be impressive in its own right, it is a different medium that cannot match the original masterpiece. Despite skepticism, including his own as a fan of the original series, Tassi admitted that Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender surpassed his expectations, and by the end, he genuinely enjoyed it.

It’s evident that opinions regarding the series vary, with some reviewers highlighting significant flaws and dullness, while others acknowledge the dedication of the production team and find enjoyment in the show despite its differences from the animated series.

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