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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ is just alright

Avatar%3A+The+Last+Airbender+is+just+alright
Shavonne Chin

I cannot tell you how many times I have been called a child for watching anime or cartoons, for no other reason besides the fact that these shows are animated.  

When you watch those shows as a child, you often don’t notice how brutal they can be. Netflix’s live-action remake of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a striking example of that.

There’s a sort of raw cruelty displayed. Accompanied by stunning visuals, Netflix almost managed to hit the mark with this one. 

But it didn’t. 

There were a lot of changes — as seems to be a trend with live-action remakes — from Nickelodeon’s show “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Some decent, some bad, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see the massacre of the Air Nomads on my screen in the first 20 minutes of watching.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” follows Aang (Gordon Cormier), in his journey to master all four elements and stop the Fire Nation from dominating the world.  

The world of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is a beautiful fantasy, with some being able to control, or bend, the four elements — water, earth, fire and air. 

Despite being rated PG, Netflix did not shy away from showing the ruthless nature of firebenders and the consequences of the war. It showed humanity, the best and worst parts of it. 

I must admit, when it comes to visuals and costume design, this is one of the better remakes I have seen, ultimately redeeming its reputation from the 2010 movie “The Last Airbender.”

While not the most realistic, the bending scenes possessed an almost video game-like quality that was fascinating and created an immersive atmosphere.

And I don’t care what anyone else says, I loved the CGI version of the animal companions Appa, Momo and even Nyla. They’re probably the cutest thing I have seen this year. 

Even the dialogue managed to impress me. I was surprised that the writers used a lot of source material that made me scream at my computer in delight when I heard lines like: “My cabbages!” or “Secret tunnel! Secret tunnel!” 

But all of that fell flat when accompanied by weak and underwhelming delivery. As much as the actors look like the original characters, they rarely made me feel, well, anything.

There were some exceptions. Arden Cho (June), Maria Zhang (Suki) and Dallas James Liu (Prince Zuko) brought life to their characters, even if Cho and Zhang got about 15 minutes of screen time combined. 

There was so much underutilized potential from the main characters, though. Cormier nailed Aang’s more sarcastic commentary but failed to deliver in the heavier scenes. 

Kiawentiio Tarbell lacked the fire and drive that Katara possessed. Elizabeth Yu, while perhaps bringing more emotional depth to her character early on rather than later in the story, softened Azula’s ruthless nature — and I’d like to talk to someone about the decision to not give her her blue flames, because why? 

And it took me seven episodes — out of only eight, which is a whole separate issue — to enjoy Sokka’s (Ian Ousley) humor because the writers didn’t give him any. 

The animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” might’ve covered serious topics and powerful emotions like rage and anguish, but at the heart of it, it was humorous. 

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” (2024) went for more of a dark tone, emphasizing the hurt and sidelining the jokes. 

Ironically, the writers made a decision early on in the production to cut out Sokka’s misogynistic ideals, effectively ruining any character development the man could’ve had. 

There were a few other questionable choices. Stuffing a few episodes worth of content into 50-minute episodes and effectively diminishing the characters involved in the process just doesn’t do it for me. 

Bringing in Azula and Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim) in this season rather than seasons 2 and 3, respectively, didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. However, I wished the writers kept Ozai faceless until later on like the animated series does, to keep the suspense. 

And did I almost shed a tear when I heard the familiar tunes of “Leaves from the Vine” during Uncle Iroh’s (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) son’s funeral? Maybe. You have no proof.  

But putting Katara and Sokka — siblings, mind you — into the “love tunnel” scenes which originally belonged to Aang and Katara to showcase the first hints of their connection, just made me stare at my screen in disbelief and denial. 

It felt like the show tried to focus on too much at once.

But the first season of the animated show had 20 episodes to introduce everything and let things develop naturally. Trying to condense all that into mere eight episodes, meant that a lot of it was lost or overlooked. 

At the end of the day though, I’m conflicted in my opinion. There’s so much potential that showmakers just didn’t use. 

It’s not great. But I also can’t say it’s bad either. 

It’s just alright. Which, for the live-action remake of a classic like the Nickelodeon show, just shouldn’t be enough. 

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