Reel Reviews | Avatar: The Last Airbender

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

After being frozen in ice for 100 years, Aang returns to the world finding it very different than when he last saw it and desperately in need of him as a savior in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

When Aang is told by his mentor that he is to be the next Avatar, Aang does not accept his fate and leaves his Airbender convent.  While he is away for the night, the Fire Nation, empowered by the Great Comet, lays waste to all of the Airbenders to stop the rise of the Avatar.  Their efforts fail because Aang survives despite being trapped in ice for 100 years.  Now that he has been released, Aang must return to training and stop the reign of the Fire Nation by becoming the ultimate warrior who commands the four elements, the Avatar.

Based upon the beloved Nickelodeon series, this version of Avatar: The Last Airbender is an action-adventure series created by Albert Kim.  The series stars Gordon Cormier as Aang, Kiawentiio as Katara, Ian Ousley, Dallas Liu, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, Ken Leung, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Elizabeth Yu.  Original creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were a part of the re-creation of the series until they felt that the series was straying too far from what they created.

This problem is historic.  In 2010, M. Night Shyamalan helmed a film based on the series entitled The Last Airbender.  The film was critically panned and experienced extreme hatred from the viewers, many of whom were fans of the original.  The problem with the Shyamalan film was that the story was too different from the series.  The original series of Avatar ran from 2005-2008 on Nickelodeon, giving three seasons and over sixty episodes of fantastic lore, and then spawned a sequel series that had three seasons of its own.  How could any movie capture this much information and give it just due?  The answer is it could not and it cannot which is why Netflix is launching a reboot live-action series of the show.  The fear for the Netflix show came when the original creators abandoned the series and announced that they would be creating a new movie on Avatar scheduled to be released in 2025.

The news is, thankfully this series works.  While Albert Kim has crafted this series as his own, he has been faithful to the essence of the original.  There are many liberties taken and accelerations made in the plot from the original series but it makes sense for a singular season of eight episodes versus the sixty episodes of the original.  At first glance, hardcore ATLA fans will be taken aback by some of the changes but after the initial shock wears off, they should come to accept and love this creation.

The casting (also a problem in the 2010 edition) is spot-on in the series. The series uses actors of Pacific Asian descent which is appropriate for the Asiatic setting of the story.  Gordon Cormier, who was not alive when the first series wrapped, is convincing as the troubled and conflicted child Aang, a child who is over 100 years old.  Seeing Kiawentiio and Ian Ousley as Katana and Sokka respectively is a particular joy for their accurate casting of their animated likenesses.

In 2005, Nickelodeon broke ground with an animated series that was rated TV-14.  Like its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender is rated TV-14 for violence and action.  This series is different but faithful and should be a delight to everyone who watches it.  Besides, if the series was the same as the original, the question would be why remake it?  Things change over time.  Thankfully, it didn’t take 100 years to fix M. Night Shyamalan’s cinematic error.

Grade:  A-