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5 reasons to be excited about Netflix's live-action 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Feb 22, 2024 4:05 pm

Long ago, the Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered in 2004 and quickly became one of the most beloved animated shows. Then, everything changed when Netflix's live-action adaptation was made, allowing new and old fans to once again relive the show's fantastical story.

The premise revolves around four nations—Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads—and how they once lived in harmony with the Avatar keeping the peace between them, until the Fire Nation wiped out the Air Nomads. It's up to the last Air Nomad–a young boy named Aang–to become the next Avatar and restore peace to the world.

As Aang begins his journey to master the elements with his companions on Feb. 22, PhilSTAR L!fe got the opportunity to watch an advanced screening of its first episode on the big screen at the Central Square Cinema in Bonifacio Global City.

Does the live-action reimagining do justice to the character that has long been an important childhood memory for adults, or does the series fail to enhance the elements that made the original a timeless classic?

Here are the exciting details that set apart Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action adaptation from its animated counterpart.

Visual effects

As Avatar's main feature is its elemental nations, the live-action's success largely depends on whether its visuals can translate this component well.

You can rest assured that the new show won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, or rather your eyes, as the visual effects bring a whole new dimension to Avatar's setting. For instance, it improves on the majestic sight of Aang's home that's surrounded by high, steep peaks and towering mountain ranges, filling you with the thirst to explore more of the other nations' unique architecture and lifestyle.

Speaking with L!fe in an interview, the series' visual effects supervisor Marion Spates shared that they looked into the four nations' natural habitat before taking inspiration from real-life places around the world.

"For [the water tribe's] Wolf Cove, [the team] went to an area in Norway and they captured a bunch of material there to help us build Wolf Cove. For the Southern Air Temple, we found an area in China where the Avatar mountains are, so we used that to help us build the mountains, and then we used a lot of different Asian areas to help the Southern Air Temple and the Fire Nation as well," he said.

The fight sequences are also a powerful part of the adaptation, with the martial arts choreography being fast, dynamic, and designed to complement each of the nations’ special ways of using their elemental powers. The scenes are further complemented by an intense score that adds more thrill to the action.

In a roundtable interview that L!fe attended, Katara’s actress Kiawentiio talked about how they were carefully trained on how to do the stunts.

“It was definitely an intense six weeks, and I know that they really wanted me to get my body ready and familiar with the moves and forms that my character would be doing by the end of the series,” she said. “And I'm grateful for it because it all turned out amazing.”

Lead star

Unlike the white-washed Aang in The Last Airbender live-action back in 2010, Netflix's version made sure to put the spotlight on Asian representation with Filipino-Canadian teen actor Gordon Cormier in the lead.

In the first episode alone, Cormier already shows promise of being a rising gem in acting as he smoothly captures Aang’s playful and peaceful personality that made him such a lovable protagonist among viewers.

It’s evident that the up-and-comer has fostered a strong connection with his character. You'll be left enamored with Cormier’s take on the character's notable trait of being a kind and fun-loving kid.

While this is so, the show does not shy away from exploring some serious moments with the airbending hero, which were more than what the original offered.

“We got to see more deeper into Aang’s feelings because in the kid's cartoon, you couldn't really see what he was going through because young children don't want to see a kid go through feelings,” Cormier shared to L!fe.

Chemistry between cast members

As refreshing as Cormier is, his adventure to mastering the four elements wouldn’t be as exciting as it is without his two main companions: the waterbender Katara (Kiawentiio) and her crafty older brother Sokka (Ian Ousley).

The live-action cast didn’t disappoint in recreating Team Avatar’s intriguing dynamic. 

Both Kiawentiio and Ousley manage to channel their characters’ defining traits—Katara’s level-headedness and supportive nature and Sokka’s sharp-witted and humorous tongue, which pair well with Cormier’s happy-go-lucky Aang.

Like the cartoon, you’ll find yourself growing quickly attached to the power trio and become eager to jump into the next scenes to find out how their team will rise against all odds thrown against them.

Darker storytelling

Avatar’s new live-action remake hits you with a much more serious tone than its cartoon predecessor, as it rightfully should. 

Since the original failed to show the gravity of the story’s main conflict because of its younger audience, the new adaptation filled in the puzzle pieces for longtime fans who are now grown-ups and are ready for more mature elements.

You can expect to be put on the edge of your seat as the series’ opening gives a darker meaning to the famous line, “Everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.” The mass genocide committed by the Fire Nation on Aang’s tribe is made more explicit, further heightening the stakes and making you root all the more for Aang's success.

Lizzy Yu, who plays the villainous fire user Azula, further highlights that this change allows Avatar to be told in a way that is more authentic.

“We still get to see those really cute lighthearted moments between the gang but [the fans are] now older and kind of reimagining the story of not having that sort of confining atmosphere of being on a children's network and being able to tell the story without so much of a don’t-cross-this-line kind of energy,” Yu told L!fe.

A journey with a lot of heart

This writer isn't afraid to admit that he got a little choked up at watching Aang struggle to avenge his nearest and dearest who have all fallen under the fiery wrath of the Fire Nation.

Despite all the big changes the live-action remake has made from its animated source material, it didn’t lose sight of what was truly important: a story with a lot of moving moments and valuable lessons to take away.

Avatar does a good job of putting an emotional layer into Aang's character and reminds you that in spite of his label as the almighty Avatar,” he is still just a kid who is forced to grow up fast without a second to grieve for his loss.

Viewers will especially appreciate watching the series together with their loved ones as it also demonstrates the power of genuine friendships in keeping hope alive amid bleak situations through Aang's companions.

As Yu puts it, “Having the story follow Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Zuko, all [of] them have such different dynamics with that sense of family, and that feeling of a safe haven, and they kind of find it with each other.”

She continued, “I feel like families can take away [the lesson] that there is no normal family dynamic with people in general. There's so many different ways that you can feel that sense of family with other people.”

Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender will premiere on Feb. 22 with eight episodes.