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Avatar: The Last Airbender, Netflix’s new adaptation of Nickelodeon’s groundbreaking animated series, which was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, is the streamer’s latest attempt at translating a popular anime into live action. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

Starring in the series is an impressive ensemble of mostly Asian and Indigenous actors. Gordon Cormier plays Aang; Kiawentiio is Katara; Ian Ousley plays Sokka; Maria Zhang is Suki; Amber Midthunder is Princess Yue; Danny Pudi is The Mechanist; Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is Iroh; Dallas Liu is Zuko; Ken Leung plays Commander Zhao; Daniel Dae Kim is Fire Lord Ozai; Elizabeth Yu is Azula; Tamlyn Tomita is Yukari; Arden Cho is June; and Utkarsh Ambudkar is King Bumi.

Previously, Netflix has had a rocky go at bringing beloved anime to life as live-action entertainment. Death Note and Cowboy Bebop faltered, while One Piece proved a rousing success. How will this new adaptation be received?

Here’s what critics are saying about season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender:


How does it compare to the anime?

Gordon Cormier as Aang in Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024)

(Photo by ©Netflix)

It’s an earnest and admirable attempt to reignite the original’s magic.
Zaki Hasan, San Francisco Chronicle

Fans can do a little airbending of their own and breathe a huge collective sigh of relief, as Netflix’s live-action adaptation of the beloved animated series is a rollicking fantastical ride that deftly reimagines what made the original show so special.
James Marsh, South China Morning Post

Netflix’s live-action remake isn’t perfect, but if you look past the controversy and open your mind to it, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a fun, addictive return to one of fantasy’s most exciting worlds.
David Opie, Digital Spy

The new show is nowhere near the failure of the film, nor as spectacular as the series — but it’s not of uniform quality, either.
Belen Edwards, Mashable

This new Last Airbender is entertaining enough to work for newcomers to this world, and respectful enough to remind the cartoon’s fans why they loved that world in the first place.
Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone


How are the visual effects and action sequences?

Ken Leung as Zhao in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender

(Photo by ©Netflix)

Where the live-action series falters a bit is in its special effects, which can fluctuate depending on the episode. Some of the visuals are shaky, and don’t look as crisp as they ought to. Luckily, this is only the case in certain instances, especially at the start, and is never enough to derail the show.
Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant

Specifically, water and airbending don’t feel as natural on-screen. In fights between waterbenders, the scenes don’t mesh well together, with the water effects looking unrealistic. By trying to mimic the style seen in the animated show, the seams are showing between the actors and the special effects. Airbending, done primarily by Aang, lacks the magnitude it should have.
Therese Lacson, Collider

It’s solid entertainment: fast-moving, action-packed, with decent fight scenes and some appealing performances, all done on a generous Netflix budget.
Anita Singh, Daily Telegraph (UK)

It’s of special note how well the choreography captures Aang’s unique way of moving: He excitedly bounces around and casually flutters up into the sky on a whim, like you’d expect from someone who grew up with this power. He has a fun and cool combat style where he likes to spin and flip on a breeze to counter his opponent, and use his surroundings to his advantage – sort of like a pint-sized Jackie Chan who can fly.
Joshua Yehl, IGN Movies

Slapstick humor and frightening violence uneasily coexist, and though similar tonal awkwardness plagued the original, the visceral image of a man screaming as he is being burned alive on screen in live-action might not be appropriate for the youngest of viewers.
Karama Horne, TheWrap


How is the writing and directing?

Gordon Cormier as Aang, Kiawentiio as Katara, Ian Ousley as Sokka in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024)

(Photo by Netflix)

Its eight episodes hit the big highlights of the original show, but miss all the small detail that makes those scenes soar. While the new series starts strong, the cracks begin to show once it starts trying to braid together different storylines.
Therese Lacson, Collider

Even with each of its eight episodes clocking in at about an hour each, it would have been difficult for Netflix’s Avatar to hit all of the same beats as the lengthier cartoon. The live-action Avatar film tried to deal with this challenge by distilling its plot down, and in doing so, stripped away a lot of the narrative that helped make the original feel so expertly developed.
Charles Pulliam-Moore, The Verge

Although this live-action show has almost the same runtime as the animated one, the first half of this season can sometimes be briskly paced because storylines from different episodes of the original are smashed together in an attempt to make things work in this new form.
Elijah Gonzalez, Paste Magazine

However, in making the transition to live-action, much of the silliness and whimsy of the original are traded for a tone that’s more grounded, more mature, and more violent – but it’s not done just for edginess’ sake. The slightly darker vibe works in service of the story because it makes Aang’s unwavering compassion and anti-war philosophy shine all the brighter.
Joshua Yehl, IGN Movies


What about the production quality and world-building?

Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka, Kiawentiio as Katara in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024)

(Photo by Netflix)

Given the number of different locations Avatar’s story takes its characters, it makes sense that Netflix would try to keep costs down by digitally constructing more fantastical places. But there is so much unnatural lighting and so many scenes where things in the background move with an uncanny swiftness that the show immediately feels like yet another Netflix-branded live-action cartoon that would have been better served by more practicality.
Charles Pulliam-Moore, The Verge

The camera-work and lighting miss the flair of the animation, with potentially exciting set-pieces made unintelligible purely by how dark they are. Every now and then, it touches on some genuine grandeur through depictions of sheer scale in its physical sets and rendered settings. But there’s more often a disconnect between person and place, which frequently dampens the show’s impact.
Kambole Campbell, Empire Magazine

The adaptation also generally nails the look of this world. The costuming choices seamlessly adapt these characters without brushing over their iconic elements, a considerable feat considering how rarely designs from animated series make this jump gracefully. The sets don’t look cheap or inauthentic either, and these architecture and vistas help firmly place us in this space. The compositing is also generally quite good, and as far as the backdrops are concerned, there isn’t a jarring dissonance between the CGI and practical details.
Elijah Gonzalez, Paste Magazine

The exaggerated hairstyles (created using truly horrendous wigs), color-coded costumes and fantastical animals have an uncanny valley quality to them in live action. They don’t make sense to the eye.
Kelly Lawler, USA Today

Avatar’s most fundamental issues come down to clunky writing and correspondingly awkward performances.
Angie Han, Hollywood Reporter


How is the cast?

(Photo by Robert Falconer/Netflix)

Comier is everything Aang should be — kind, trusting, and always willing to see the best in others. Kiawentiio as Katara is genuinely lovely, especially as she gains more confidence in her waterbending abilities in the second half of the show. Ousley’s Sokka is good for a laugh, though not everything lands, while showcasing his insecurities.
Mae Abdulbaki, Screen Rant

The major challenge for Ousley as Sokka is translating animation humor into live-action. Exaggerated jokes from the original show can’t be transferred over without adjustments (and sometimes, the Netflix adaptation gets it very wrong), but Ousley plays Sokka’s comedic scenes with a bit of dry humor and sarcasm that take the edge off.
Therese Lacson, Collider

Daniel Dae Kim is, ironically, cold as Fire Lord Ozai, while Ken Leung is fun as the conniving and cowardly Commander Zhao.
Kambole Campbell, Empire Magazine

Dallas Liu plays Zuko with just enough entitlement and rage to mask the pain underneath, while Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is absolutely sublime as the wise, humorous, yet no less scarred Iroh.
Joshua Yehl, IGN Movies


Any final thoughts?

(Photo by Netflix)

In short, although Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender can’t fully capture the magic of its predecessor and falls into some of the pitfalls alluded to by the previously mentioned promotional soundbites, it still captures enough of the impact and gravitas of what came before to make this retelling land.
Elijah Gonzalez, Paste Magazine

Even when the series feels scattershot, it remains a tremendous flex of an adaptation.
Lyvie Scott, Inverse

The amount of unconvincing special effects, clunky moments of exposition, and its rush to cover so much story in just eight episodes is not insignificant, but even their powers combined don’t outweigh everything this Last Airbender gets right. Above all else, it has its heart in the right place – and for Team Avatar, that’s what matters most.
Joshua Yehl, IGN Movies

Overall, Season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender is a firm step in the right direction, with a solid foundation and also room to grow.
Therese Lacson, Collider

I would consider this a hit. My rather low expectations have been exceeded, and I’m genuinely interested to see how they handle the next two books of the original.
Paul Tassi, Forbes

it delivers an Avatar that, grittier though it may be, feels far less mature than the kids’ cartoon ever did.
Angie Han, Hollywood Reporter

This live-action remake feels less like shallow exoticism and fully embraces the diverse East Asian, Inuit, Indigenous, and Southeast Asian heritages that enrich the show’s production and cast.
Karama Horne, TheWrap

The Airbender franchise has confidently revived itself; this won’t be the last we see of it.
Jack Seale, Guardian



60%


Avatar: The Last Airbender: Season 1
(2024)
premieres Thursday, February 22 on Netflix. 


Thumbnail image by Netflix
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